Email marketing is one of the most measurable marketing tactics on the planet. You can track everything from who opened and clicked your campaigns, to where in the world the subscriber lives and which links they clicked on.
But as marketers we need and want more detailed insights, especially when it comes from a channel that’s as powerful as email marketing, delivering an incredible ROI of $44 for every $1 spent.
Sophisticated marketers are looking beyond traditional vanity metrics and are digging into engagement trends that look at the health of their email lists and performance of their campaigns and segments allowing them to gain valuable insights that shape their evolving email marketing strategies. But data and analytics can be overwhelming especially if you don’t know where to get the data and what to do with the results.
This guide will explore why analytics are critical to your email marketing strategy, show you the most insightful metrics to measure, and give you resources to take action on the results to drive your business forward.
Why Insights are Critical to Your Business
As a marketer, tracking all your efforts can often be a challenge. However, tracking the performance of your email marketing campaigns in aggregate is important for a number of reasons:
Like most marketers, you’ve probably got a plethora of things to do and not enough time and resources to do them. Because of this, the key to your success is focusing on the strategies and tactics that drive results and not spending too much time on those that don’t. By measuring the performance of your email marketing, you can see how it compares to other channels (like social media, PPC, content syndication) and better prioritize your time and efforts to drive maximum results.
In the past we may have looked at our email performance in a one-off, campaign-by-campaign basis looking at how each campaign performed in a silo, but truly understanding our analytics and trends at an aggregate level is critical to inform our email marketing strategy. If you only look campaign by campaign and are not measuring engagement growth over time, you could be missing out on valuable insights.
The more effective approach is to take a step back and look at which engagement and acquisition strategies are working better and why in order to inform your decisions.
Using Analytics to Drive Strategy
To get the most from your email marketing, you need easy to understand yet powerful insights that are actionable. Most marketers don’t have time to spend their days bogged down in spreadsheets pouring over data searching for an “aha moment.”
In the past, email reporting has been lackluster (mostly reporting vanity metrics like open and click-through rates and not much else) which caused many marketers to focus on basic email metrics like the number of subscribers, opens, and clicks.
But sophisticated marketers need to go beyond opens and clicks as an authentic email marketing strategy is about long term subscriber activity, engagement trends, email list health, and optimization. By focusing on these engagement trends vs. just traditional email marketing KPIs, you can maximize the return on investment for your email strategy and get more bang for your marketing bucks. You can be more efficient with your time, energy, and send and deliver the most relevant, targeted content to the most engaged subscribers. It’s a win-win.
Before diving into the specifics around measurement, we’ll explore some of the fundamental concepts of a solid and profitable email marketing strategy – engagement, growth, and health.
An Engagement-First Mentality
Consumers expect the emails they receive to be personal, relevant, and valuable. If you deliver on these expectations, you can foster loyal and engaged subscribers that take action on your campaigns. An active and engaged subscriber base usually equates to a healthy (and profitable) subscriber base.
The purpose of email marketing has always been to develop a long term/loyal relationship with your audience. The path to that relationship is through the value of the content you deliver in your campaigns. If you deliver value-add content that your subscribers want they will, in turn, engage with your messages and likely take the desired action. By focusing on all the touchpoints along the way to that desired outcome, you employ an engagement-first mentality that will result in a healthy audience. In contrast, if you send a huge email “blast” out to your entire subscriber base that is low value, they’ll likely be turned off and delete your message, mark it as spam, and be less inclined to open your messages in the future. These kinds of tactics result in an unhealthy list full of disengaged subscribers.
Having insight into the “health” of your audience provides you a holistic view of how your campaigns perform because you can see beyond opens and clicks and reveal how your audience is interacting with your campaigns. And interaction is priceless.
Quality over Quantity
Although we focus a lot on interaction and engagement being a true indicator of a healthy, profitable subscriber base we still need to understand where our highest quality subscribers are coming from. Do certain channels produce higher quality subscribers than others? By understanding this, you can see where to focus your acquisition efforts and tactics and understand you don’t have to be everywhere and do everything.
It used to be that marketers were focused on building the largest email list possible. To stay competitive, marketers tried heaps of tactics to grow their lists, from pop-ups to running contests on social media that require an email address to sign up.
But some of these outdated tactics no longer work well. Sending out large email “blasts” to huge subscriber lists no longer returns good results. List decay is increasing. Simply put, a large list doesn’t translate to better results. The average open rate for branded emails is a mere 20-40%, and the click-through rate is even less.
Today, results-oriented marketers are focusing on growing high-quality, engaged lists of subscribers not massive lists of subscribers that may never interact with their campaigns.
A Healthy Audience = A More Profitable Audience
As marketers, we may have always just assumed our email lists were healthy, strong, and delivering but what we know is that all email lists encounter some degree of decay over time and begin to experience increased bounce rates, unsubscribes, and inactivity.
The success of your email campaigns is largely dependent on a number of factors that need to be monitored and maintained over time to get the best results.
If you blow off maintaining your email list health, use non-permission based data or let the quality of your email content slide you can damage your email deliverability in a way that can be difficult to repair.
Is a large percentage of your list inactive? Have a majority of your subscribers not clicked on a link in the last three months? If so, instead of continuing to mail to inactive subscribers over and over again only to have them ignore or delete your messages, you can create a reactivation campaign to win them back with different content or a relevant offer.
If reactivation campaigns don’t succeed, you may choose to remove these inactive and non-engaged subscribers from your list leaving you with slightly smaller, but more engaged email list. By mailing to active, engaged subscribers and reactivating or removing inactive or unengaged subscribers, you’ll be working with the healthiest list possible that can drive returns for your business.
The Insights and KPIs You Need to Track
You can think about the measurement of your email marketing through two lenses – email performance and subscriber activity – you do this to understand how your emails are performing, but also to get insight into subscriber behavior and engagement.
Email performance encompasses most of the traditional metrics and reports that you think of tracking to benchmark the KPIs from one campaign to the next (e.g., open rate, click-through rate, bounces and unsubscribes), giving you an indication of how well your emails are performing and what opportunities there are for improvement.
Next, we’ll provide a short explanation of what each metric is and what it helps measure about the performance of your campaigns.
How Are My Campaigns Performing?
Campaign Open Rate
Open rates vary largely depending on the size of your list, method of collecting email addresses and a host of other factors, but generally speaking, a healthy open rate is in the 20% – 40% range. If your open rates are above that, then your campaigns are well optimized, and if they’re below that range, then there’s likely some opportunity for improvement.
Your open rate is typically an indicator of how well your subject lines are performing. By tracking the open rate trends for individual campaigns, against your benchmark you’ll be able to test which subject lines are the most compelling for your audience.
Campaign Click rate
Your click-through rate can vary largely depending on the size of your list, the content of your email and a host of other factors, but generally speaking, a healthy email click-through rate is in 15% range.
Your CTR is usually an indication of how valuable the content of your email is to your audience as well as the call to action associated with it.
By evaluating unsubscribe rates, you can quickly see if the content that you’re sending and the frequency of your communications are valuable to your audience. Unsubscribe rates less than 2% are within industry norms.
What Are Your Highest Performing Campaigns?
Top 5 campaigns
Wouldn’t it be awesome to easily see your top performing campaigns? With the Top 5 campaigns report you can quickly see which of your campaigns are performing best. This can help you then help you analyze why these campaigns performed well. What subject line did you use? What was the content? Did you send it at a specific, targeted time by time zone or use send time optimization? Did you send to targeted segments? Was personalization or behavioral data used? All of these elements can lead to successful email campaigns.
Top 5 journeys
Understanding how your customer journeys perform is critical given these campaigns serve a distinct purpose in your overall email marketing strategy. Now it is easy to see what your top 5 journeys are so you can drill down to the elements of the journey that make it successful.
When creating a customer journey we consider the content, rules, and triggers. Each of these elements and the way you use them can affect the success of your journey. For instance, you may set up a customer journey with the end goal of getting a customer to make a repeat purchase. When setting up your journey, you could trigger it off the segment of certain customers that have made a purchase in a given time frame. You could then create a series of emails that would lead them down the path to repeat the purchase behavior or purchase another item(s). You would also consider the cadence of these messages; when do you send the first message? How long do you wait between each message? You can see how examining each of these components can be insightful in informing changes you may want to make to existing journeys, and your strategy for future journeys.
What Are My Deliverability Trends?
Deliverability benchmarks may vary by industry and company, so it’s important to understand how your company’s overall delivery rates are trending – to create a benchmark for all of your campaigns and automated emails.
The delivery rates are calculated by summing up all of the emails sent and subtracting out the bounces.
If your deliverability rates are low, you may be unintentionally doing one of these nine things.
Delivery rate by geography
By looking at your deliverability rates by geography, you may notice that there is a cluster of subscribers in a specific region that is suffering. You can isolate these subscribers into a segment and work to improve deliverability with a re-engagement campaign or by removing or unsubscribing disengaged subscribers. As we’ve noted, it’s much better to send to a smaller, more engaged list than a larger less engaged list and can impact your deliverability accordingly.
How Can I Use Insights to Improve My Strategy?
Click to open rate
Click-to-open rate, or CTOR, is determined by taking the unique clicks and dividing by unique opens, and then expressed as a percentage. It tells you of the recipients who opened the email, how many clicked and is a leading indicator of the value of the content that you’re sending.
If you send multiple pieces of content in your newsletters or include multiple links, then understanding exactly which links subscribers are clicking can help you improve the way you format CTAs and structure your campaigns.
Our Content dashboard can help with this. These reports provide a detailed view into which links and CTAs are driving the most engagement in every campaign.
Insights like this can ultimately help you make more strategic choices about the placement of content in your campaigns and can help you make changes that positively impact your CTOR and significantly influence your overall email performance.
Subscriber activity is all about understanding the behavior of your audience and the health of your subscriber base. Detailed analytics allow you to uncover where your most active subscribers are coming from and how their engagement with your content varies to help you create a plan for developing a highly effective and profitable email marketing strategy.
How Is My Audience Growing over Time?
Total and new subscriber growth trends
It’s always important to keep a pulse on the growth of your audience, and continuously track if your total subscribers are trending up.
If your investment in acquisition varies from quarter to quarter or year over year, comparing new subscribers growth between those periods will be incredibly important to prove the impact of your investments.
Where do my most valuable subscribers come from?
Top acquisition channel trends
Do you know where your most valuable subscribers come from? Do they come in through organic, paid, social, or another channel?
Most marketers invest in anywhere between 5 and 15 different acquisition channels, so it’s important to track how your subscriber growth is trending from each source. When you understand your most valuable subscriber acquisition channels, you can see where to focus your efforts and acquisition dollars.
Subscriber growth by list
Some brands may have multiple lists coming from the same acquisition channel (e.g., a variety of different sign-up forms on their website, or promotional “sweepstakes” to fuel their subscriber growth.) Understanding which of these lists is growing at the fastest rate gives you a deeper understanding of what your subscribers care about and which specific offers or messaging are the most effective at driving acquisition – all insights that can be incredibly helpful for improving your acquisition strategy.
By examining the geographic breakdown of your subscribers, you can see where in the world your subscribers are located and clustered. This can help inform aspects of your email strategy including your send times and dates, any language variations you use, content you send and more.
How is the health of my audience increasing over time?
Active subscriber comparison
Understanding the portion of your subscriber base that is active, disengaged or unsubscribing is incredibly important to develop a strategy that supports a healthy balance of growth and engagement.
Your engagement dashboard will reflect these measures allowing you to take action on any indications of declining engagement, increasing unsubscribes or other red flags for your email campaigns.
In contrast, it will also enable you to see your most active and engaged subscribers so you can scale campaigns or content that have been the most effective.
Most engaged subscribers
Developing a healthy level of engagement with your audience is arguably more important than sheer subscriber growth.
You can use the click rate by channel to explore which acquisition sources are developing the most engaged subscribers. And if you want to see how different content that you’re promoting through various channels is affecting that engagement, all you need to do is modify the date ranges, and let the click rates tell the rest of the story.
Where are subscribers engaging with my emails?
Engagement by platform
There are more devices and more email clients than ever before, and to ensure your campaigns look great wherever your audience is opening them, you need to know what devices and clients they are using.
Engagement by platform provides a breakdown of the platforms your subscribers are using to engage with your campaigns.
Using the click rate trends as a proxy for engagement, you can then optimize your campaigns to suit the environments they are being read in.
For instance, if you see a lot of your subscribers are reading your campaigns on mobile devices then it might be worth optimizing your campaigns for mobile by applying some mobile email best practices.
Engagement by email client
Engagement by email client provides you the insight about what email clients your subscribers are reading your emails in. This is helpful to know because not all email clients render emails the same and if for instance, you have a large part of your subscriber base using Outlook, you may use different design tactics than if the vast majority of your list uses Gmail.
Email reporting is all about clear yet powerful insights that are easy to take action on. Use your insights to continually improve your email marketing strategy and create better performing campaigns that generate undeniable results for your business.