Resources Hub » Blog » Tracking Email Marketing: Optimizing the Metrics that Matter

This is a guest post from Christine Soeun Choi at Fit Small Business.

Email is the undisputed king of performance marketing. For every dollar invested, you can expect an average return of $32. Yet the inbox is becoming increasingly crowded: With half of US marketers planning to increase their marketing activities, you’ll need to implement a data-driven strategy to continuously optimize your email approach and beat the competition.

This means setting the right goals, understanding what to track, and constantly tracking email marketing performance. From email lists to bounce rates, open rates, click-throughs, and, ultimately, purchases and subscriptions, there are many metrics that need marketers’ constant attention.

Measuring and optimizing email marketing is a continuous journey; it lives and grows along with your business.

In this article, we’ll discuss what you should track, as well as how you can improve your results to master the art of high-performing emails.

Read on for a step-by-step guide on taking charge of your email marketing metrics.

How you can start tracking email marketing metrics

It all starts with your email list(s)—i.e., the audience you’re trying to reach and engage. While at first glance you might feel as though the bigger the list, the better, that isn’t always the case.

You’ll want to maintain a high-quality list. What does that mean? Email lists that include engaged people with up-to-date addresses decrease bounce rates and drive click-throughs up, as you’re reaching potential customers.

When was the last time you managed your email lists? On average, your email list quality goes down by over 20% each year.

What contributes to list decay and churn? People change email addresses, switch companies, or opt out of your marketing communications. Perhaps they’re no longer in the market for your service.

Another factor driving performance down are simple typos. Go through your subscribers and look out for misspelled names and addresses (e.g., instead of

Not sure how to build your first list? Learn how here.

The metrics you should focus on are essentially all of the key markers of your email marketing performance.

If you start seeing a stark uptick in unsubscribes, spam reports, and bounces, while open rates and click-throughs are decreasing, it’s a tell-tale sign of a poor-quality list. Aim to keep your bounce rates under 2% for high-performing campaigns.

Anything between 2-5% is worth paying close attention to.

While many email software providers can help remove hard bounces automatically, you could try to re-engage your passive subscribers by sending them an email sequence with a special perk, or offer them the option to unsubscribe.

If you’re lacking in subscriber volume, invest in a subscriber growth campaign instead of buying a list.

Frequently used signup campaign tactics include: adding a popup on your website, offering a discount in exchange for an email, and running paid social ads to capture new subscribers. Test to see what works for your brand.

Open rates are paramount to email performance.

With email marketing, you’re tasked with two missions: Get people to consume your content, and then get them to take action (click to read more, book a service, purchase a product, and so on).

First, before they ever get to your email content, you’ll need to master creating persuasive and compelling email subject lines.

Before we dive into the best practices, as well as what to avoid in subject lines to drive results, let’s focus on the key metric of open rates.

What’s considered a good open rate? The short answer is that it depends on your business, industry, and even email type. For example, an e-commerce brand may send a variety of emails related to both prospecting for new sales as well as automated, order-related messages.

Those that contain purchase information are naturally more likely to draw higher open rates compared to marketing content, so you can’t really compare apples to oranges.

A good way to benchmark your performance is to compare your open rates to industry averages. (See your industry’s averages at a glance with our infographic.) According to Campaign Monitor’s original research, the average open rate is 17.92%, but there’s quite a bit of fluctuation once you dissect different industries.

Once you’ve done your research and established your open rate threshold, it’s time to start optimizing towards higher open rates.

The first stop on the journey is to ensure that you look the part. Consider attaining a professionally branded email address that includes your name (or whoever sends the emails and ends with your business name).

For instance, if your clothing store is called Fashion First, your email address could look something like [email protected].

81% percent of businesses currently use email, so coming across as professional and trustworthy will help you get those coveted email opens, while sending business or commercial content from a personal email address may not go over well with subscribers.

What drives open rates? Besides high-quality lists, there are a variety of tactics used by smart marketers across industries.

Below, we’ve listed popular subject line approaches for higher open rates:

  • Personalize: Include the name of the recipient in the subject line
  • Open with a compelling question
  • Highlight the benefit: Is there an offer? A new product?
  • Numbers drive clicks: Using stats or percentages can help convince the reader
  • Keep it concise, as long subject lines sometimes get cut off on mobile devices
  • VIP access: give your audience an exclusive perk

There are also a few practices to steer clear of, which you can see here.

Driving click-throughs

Click-through rate is the percentage of people who clicked on any of the links, images, or CTA buttons you included in your email.

70% of marketers use this metric to measure the success of their email marketing, and there are many ways to optimize and drive this metric up.

Click-through rates can help you gauge how relevant your content is to your audience—although it’s not always an exact science.

For example, a customer may see your email on a spring sale, not click on the content, but search for your online store later, when they’re ready to make a purchase. Having said that, measuring and optimizing CTRs will have an immense impact on your bottom line.

The more people you have clicking, the more will potentially convert to customers.

Click through rate is one metric you can use when tracking email marketing performance, as evidenced by this CTR graph.

Image source: Superoffice

As shown in the graph above, click-through rates are on the rise. With audiences clicking more, the competition for attention will accelerate, and you need to ensure that your content is designed and written to attract action.

What are the most effective ways to ensure that your audience finds its way to the desired destination? Let’s begin with copy.

When it comes to emails, keeping the body copy short and sweet is the way to go. Make sure you write with a single goal in mind: Emphasize the one message you wish to convey and craft it in a manner that supports the end goal.

Having said that, it’s important to inject your brand personality into your emails, as customers are more likely to buy new products from brands they’re familiar with.

When you’re formatting your content, avoid walls of text by dividing the content into paragraphs, use subheadlines, and emphasize key content by hyperlinking to the destination website.

In addition to embedding links in plain text, CTA buttons are another essential component of email performance.

What are they and why do they matter? Call-to-action buttons, commonly abbreviated to CTAs, are designed graphical elements that look like digital buttons.

They often stand out from the rest of the content in design and color. Paying attention to CTAs is well worth it: Emails with a single CTA can drive close to a 4x increase in clicks and a whopping 1617% increase in sales.

Create them to simultaneously fit your email visually, but make them different enough that they pop out from the rest. Data-driven marketers test CTA performance by creating multiple variations and testing them against each other in A/B tests.

This way, marketers can identify the best-performing variants and scale their use in future campaigns.

Images also play a role in click-throughs, as you can link them directly to the products or services you’re offering. Your images should be optimized for mobile consumption; high file sizes load slowly on mobile devices and areas of poor connectivity.

Some consumers read emails on programs that block images, so you should never include crucial information into the image only, but repeat the key message in the text as well as the design.

Email affects the bottom line.

The final step of measuring the success of your email marketing efforts is to look at the total impact of your email campaigns. How many new customers signed up to your service? How many people bought a product as a result of an email?

Measurement tools like Google Analytics allow you to see a detailed breakdown of traffic sources, including those driven by emails.

The data that details clicks, cart behavior, and purchases can tell you a lot about your email performance and even your product offering. By running and analyzing multiple campaigns, you’ll be able to see trends over time and optimize toward high-performing tactics.

You could try running a product-focused promotion against a more brand-first approach to see which campaign drives revenue. Or, if you’re seeing a lot of clicks but only a few buys, try nurturing the “clickers” by enlisting them in a sequence of content that convinces them of your product or offering.

Over time, they may become more lenient to purchasing as they become acquainted with your brand.

Wrap up

Once you’ve mastered measurement and aligning email activities with your top-level marketing calendar, it’s time to take your campaign and email insights and put them to work.

Tracking email marketing variables (lists, subject lines, click-through rates) in an organized way allows you to get more granular with your strategy. You can start segmenting your campaigns by funnel stage: awareness, consideration, and conversions.

Craft distinct content for each stage of the funnel using the tactics and tips detailed above.

One last thing to consider: you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you set up a new campaign.

Leverage best-performing pieces of content, such as promotions from previous campaigns, and set them up to trigger automatically. For instance, if you have a high-performing perk email for new subscribers, set it up to send automatically once they subscribe.

You can even re-send the content with a different subject line if they don’t open it the first time around.

About the author

Christine Soeun Choi is a digital marketing associate at Fit Small Business. Currently based in NYC, she has a background in business studies and math with a passion for business development. Outside of work, Christine enjoys traveling and exploring art.

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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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