Resources Hub » Blog » The Most Misunderstood Email Metrics Explained

Like most misconceptions, myths about email metrics come from a good place. However, this doesn’t mean we should accept them as fact.

So we put together some of the most common misconceptions about email marketing metrics to shine some truth on them.

Debunking 10 myths about email marketing metrics

Tracking your email marketing campaigns is a crucial part of your strategy. If you don’t go back and analyze your performance, you’ll never know if your emails are effective, regardless of your goal.

At Campaign Monitor, we hear client concerns every day about unsubscribes, bounces, lists, click rates, and other email metrics.

Read on to learn the truth about these concerns and what you can do about them.

1. “A large subscriber list is the most important metric for measuring email marketing success.”

When it comes to subscriber lists, quantity truly doesn’t matter. Engagement and activity are much more important.

Think of it this way: If you quickly grow a list of 100k subscribers, but you sell a super-niche product, you know very well that there’s no way all your subscribers are interested in actually purchasing your product.

TRUTH: Reach the right people—not the most people.

Instead, focus on engagement metrics. Are subscribers opening your emails? Do they click your links? These email metrics will tell you whether or not your marketing strategy is truly effective.

2. “Your subject line alone dictates your open rate.”

You’ve no doubt seen the surveys: 47% of people say they open emails based on the subject line and nothing more. While your subject line is important, it isn’t the only factor that contributes to your open rate.

Plus, marketers must consider actual behavior vs. survey responses. There’s a massive gap—especially in design and marketing—between real and reported behavior.

TRUTH: Many factors contribute to your open rate.

Your sender name, time of day, email position in the inbox, and preview text all contribute to your open rate.

In order to increase your open rates, focus on creating relevant and valuable content that people want to open and read.

The most misunderstood email metrics. Your open rates depend on subject lines, but that's not all.

Source: CBM

3. “Unsubscribes indicate you have a big problem with your email marketing strategy.”

You want to keep your unsubscribe rate as close to zero as possible, but this just isn’t realistic. In fact, unsubscribes can mean that you’re reaching the right people, and subscribers who aren’t interested in your content are simply removing themselves.

TRUTH: Engagement is what matters.

If you’ve noticed a jump in unsubscribes, look at your other email marketing metrics. Are others opening your emails and clicking your content?

If so, that means you’re doing a good job of narrowing down your audience and connecting with the people who will be loyal to your brand.

4. “Your click rate is the most important metric for tracking engagement.”

It makes sense: Clicking means your subscribers are one step closer to converting into customers, so why wouldn’t this be the most important metric?

In reality, marketers should monitor over 17 different email metrics to track their campaign performance. Don’t forget to take your campaign goals into consideration.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect clicks or conversions from a brand awareness campaign, for example.

TRUTH: In general, your click-to-open rate is much more important for tracking engagement.

When it comes to email analytics, look at your click-to-open rate, or your CTOR, in order to gauge engagement. This metric compares the number of unique clicks and unique opens.

This number indicates how effective the email message performed and if it interested the recipient enough to convince them to click and learn more about the content within the email.

5. “Short subject lines produce the best open rates.”

While short subject lines of 30 characters or less are perfect for push notifications and mobile devices, but the truth is that they aren’t the best for engagement.

TRUTH: Content is more important than length.

According to research from Return Path, emails with subject lines of 61-70 characters have the highest open rates. Subject lines with up to 100 characters aren’t a death sentence either.

The key is to understand your industry and audience. The more data you gather about how your subscribers are engaging with your content will allow you to optimize your subject lines for your specific readers.

When it comes to misunderstood email metrics, subject lines are up there. But subject lines aren't as important as the content you regularly send.

Source: Optinmonster

6. “You can test your campaign’s effectiveness with a small select group of subscribers.”

A lot of marketers believe it’s best to test new strategies and measure these email analytics among your most active subscribers—or any small sample, for that matter. In general, small groups aren’t representative of your broader audience.

TRUTH: Find what works for you.

While we believe in the power of running A/B tests before you send an email campaign to your entire list, nothing beats gathering data about what works over time. When you see consistent results, you’ll know you’ve found what works for your specific subscribers.

7. “Sending more emails will increase your unsubscribe rate.”

When asked why they unsubscribe from mailing lists, most people will tell you it’s because they receive too many emails—either in general or from a specific brand.

TRUTH: Provide relevant and high-quality content.

While email frequency is important, 78% of people cite irrelevant content as the reason for unsubscribing. Either they believe the content isn’t made “for them” or the brand was always trying to sell something. Try to create content that meets your subscribers’ needs and interests instead.

Unsubscribe rates are a misunderstood email metric. They don't necessarily indicate a problem with your email strategy.

Source: Marketing Sherpa

8. “You can measure your ROI through conversions more than other email metrics.”

This is a hard one for many brands to accept. If you’re tracking your email marketing ROI through bottom-line conversions, you’re not getting the full picture.

TRUTH: Look at many factors and consider your goals when determining the ROI for your email marketing strategy.

Yes, you should track conversions from email directly, but what about customers who returned through other sources?

When monitoring your email analytics for conversions, look to data from other sources, like social media and direct web traffic, to see how many of your subscribers are converting into customers.

9. “Keep your inactive subscribers around. They’ll open your emails eventually.”

It may seem harmless to keep your inactive subscribers around, but email clients could fault you for it. In 2011, Hotmail quite literally declared war on graymail: legitimate marketing emails that go unopened. At the time, Hotmail said graymail made up about 75% of emails that users reported as spam.

TRUTH: Adjust your list regularly.

Beyond following healthy list-building practices, you should remove inactive subscribers from your list regularly. Try to re-engage inactive subscribers with a special automated campaign and cut them loose if they don’t bite.

In all likelihood, this will improve your metrics and allow you to get better data on your subscribers.

10. “Sending campaigns on Monday or Tuesday morning is best for improving conversion rates.”

Obviously, you don’t want to send out a campaign right after your subscriber has gone to bed. It’ll only get buried under 15 other emails by the time they open their phone in the morning.

Although we know that every person is unique, many marketers still buy the myth that Monday and Tuesday mornings are somehow the golden hours for sending email campaigns. The day of the week may not be as relevant as you might think.

TRUTH: There’s no perfect day or time for sending email campaigns.

We live in a global economy where people across different industries work at different times of the day. Instead of sticking to one specific time, A/B test various days and times to figure out when your subscribers hang out in their inboxes.

Wrap up

Myths and misconceptions about email analytics usually come from a good place and have a grain of truth to them—so don’t ignore them entirely. Typically, however, there are no hard and fast rules for what works. Instead, you need to understand your audience and how they engage with your emails specifically.

  • There’s no one single metric for tracking email marketing ROI or effectiveness.
  • Unsubscribes and bounces aren’t the end of the world.
  • Focus on engagement—not the size of your list.

Remember to take your brand’s individual factors into account. What’s normal for you won’t necessarily be normal for your competitors. And, as always, focus on meeting your subscribers’ needs with personalized and relevant content.

Want to learn more about tracking your results? Read this post about the top 17 email metrics every marketer needs to know.

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This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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