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Marketing | Apr 6
Elise Dopson on February 13, 2020 • 22 minute read
So, where should you start? How do you know which email marketing metrics are important to track?
Well, first, it depends on the goals of each specific campaign (for example, you wouldn’t track the same email metrics for lead generation campaigns as you would customer marketing campaigns.)
Also, there’s a lot of collective wisdom out there in the email community regarding which email marketing metrics should absolutely be included in every report.
We wanted to harness that wisdom here.
We asked over 40 email experts to share the KPIs they track religiously. Here’s what they track and think you should be monitoring, too.
Want to know the most important marketing KPIs to track across all functions (i.e. content, SEO, email, social, etc.)? Check out the definitive list of marketing KPIs all marketers should be tracking according to 400+ marketing professionals.
While the following is a general list of the most common email marketing metrics that companies are using to track the success of their campaigns, keep in mind that as the goals of your specific campaigns change, so too should the email metrics you’re tracking.
The following are just some examples of the different email metrics you might track as the goals of your campaign change.
Most of us promote newsletters, ebooks, webinars and other forms of premium content experiences in order to develop a relationship with people who may not be ready to purchase our product or service.
In the subsequent email campaigns, we’re measuring things like click rate, conversions, conversion rates, etc., in order to gauge the success our email campaigns have on nurturing subscribers closer to a potential sale.
Here, it might not necessarily make sense to focus on downstream metrics like purchases because these people may not be ready yet. Instead, we want to measure the level of engagement they have with additional content that could help further their education.
You might even prioritize metrics like ‘unsubscribe rate’ just to ensure that the content you are nurturing people with is resonating. After all, you don’t want to destroy the email list you’ve worked so hard building because you’re promoting irrelevant content.
Measuring a lead generation campaign against things like purchases might put undue pressure on an email campaign that’s simply designed to drive engagement with additional content.
Here, you’ll focus more on metrics that track purchase behavior. Things like purchases (obviously), conversion rate, purchase rate, etc.
While you’ll still care about and track things like open and click rates (because ultimately people won’t buy if they’re not seeing your message) more emphasis should be placed on purchase behavior in terms of measuring the overall success of the campaign.
When you’re running customer marketing campaigns via email, you might worry less about metrics like click rate and instead place more importance on engagement and/or usage metrics that tell you that actual actions that your email campaign helped influence.
Things like click rate don’t matter so much in these instances, because even if the click rate is great, if the email didn’t inspire product usage, it ultimately wasn’t a success.
Jump to each section to find insights from more than 40 email marketing pros on why each email metric is important as well as tips for understanding what’s “normal” and ways for improving it.
Ellen Roumeliotis’ team at Aston Social also track email open rate because it’s “the best way to tell whether your subject lines are working well or are lacking in engagement.”
“After all, it’s your subject line that is going to make people interested enough to read your email.”
Sagefrog Marketing Group‘s Ben Johnston also tracks this metric, and thinks “it’s important to monitor because it’s representative of the effectiveness of a few parts of your emails. For instance, it can easily tell if your audience isn’t qualified, because the majority of users that receive your email won’t be opening it.”
“It can also determine if your subject line is effective enough to get users to open the email in the first place,” Johnston continues. “If your open rate percentage is low, it may be time to reassess your target list and your subject line.”
Similarly, Fundera‘s Lizzie Dunn thinks email open rates “can be improved by creating compelling, intuitive CTAs (calls to action) that encourage users to visit your site from their email.
So, what makes a good open rate?
According to Roumeliotis, “if your open rate is anywhere above 25.00%, then your strategy is working very well. […] Anything between 20-25% is still reasonable but there is room for improvement.”
…But “anything below 20.00% is a cause for concern.”
“The priority is to get your emails opened. Once they’re opened, you can work on other metrics such as CTR or reply rate. But, these only come after an email is opened,” Growth Hackers‘ Jonathan Aufray summarizes.
Refining your data and picking out areas for improvement, is a great way to improve your metric.
A great starting point is looking at your mobile open rate.
“People use mobile much more than desktop almost three times,” writes Signity Solutions‘ Hima Pujara. “So, targeting them with good mobile-friendly emails will [improve your overall] CTR.”
LyntonWeb‘s Jennifer Lux thinks this data breakdown is “important for optimization.”
“For example, if you find that most of your emails are opened on mobile, that can inform mobile optimizations such as larger font sizes, less text, and more buttons on your design.”
You want everyone on your list to open your emails, right?
Ryan Underwood of YourParkingSpace shares a quick tip to make that possible: “Use the recipients first name. Studies have shown that subject lines with first names in them are 26% more likely to be opened.”
Dan Christensen of Morningdove Marketing also recommends A/B testing to determine which emails have the best open rates: “If you send five different email templates to 100 people each, you can see which subject lines are performing well and which ones to ditch.”
“Constantly A/B testing emails and comparing open rates can give you deep insight into human nature, their motivations, and what will best promote action on their part.”
Christensen isn’t the only marketer advocating A/B tests. Our survey found email is the second-most common place for split-testing to happen:
Andrea Moxham of Horseshoe + co recommends comparing total opens vs. unique opens because “by understanding how many times our recipients went back and opened an email for a second or third time, it often indicates that the original send time wasn’t ideal.”
Think about it: If people open your email on the fourth send (which happened to be in the evening), you know that sending in the evening could probably skyrocket your overall open rate.
Moxham also explains that comparing these two email metrics “can also indicate that the user was interested in the content but didn’t have time to read it all. This might mean there was too much content in the email. Or sometimes multiple opens means the user was really interested in the content!”
Attio‘s Alex Vale thinks “opening time is a great metric to track” because “knowing when they’re opening your email can lead to significant boosts to your open rate.”
Vale explains: “Perhaps your newsletter has a much higher open rate on Monday mornings than on Friday afternoons, with this information you can tailor when you send out your newsletters and increase your open rates.”
As Raja Manoharan of Dot Com Infoway explains, “an average person gets many emails. If he or she doesn’t open your email within the first hour of receiving it due to many more incoming messages, your message will be pushed down and he or she may end up missing it.”
That’s why Mahoharan also recommends tracking the opening times of your emails: “It’s important that you broadcast your email marketing campaign when your recipient is more likely to check it. This way you can make sure he or she doesn’t miss your message.”
“Repeat opens are the most valuable metric to track,” writes Blair McKee of Constellix. “You can build segmented audience lists based on this metric and create tailored email campaigns for each group.”
McKee puts this into practice by considering their “top openers my VIP’s, and if I want to ask for a review or some sort of participation, I know this group will be more likely to respond and engage in the content.”
“Conversely, you can send emails with subject lines like “Did I smell?” or something catchy that will encourage your bottom of the list openers to reengage with your content again,” McKee explains.
Bounce rate is typically classed as a content marketing metric. Why do we need to track bounce rate for email campaigns?
“When a bounce occurs, a return-to-sender message will be sent back from the recipient’s mail server to diagnose the issue,” writes Rob Browne of G2.
“You can use this diagnosis to determine whether the bounce was hard or soft, and whether there is anything you can do on your end, such as determine whether you need to obtain an updated email address from your recipient, to ensure success on a second try.”
As Nikita Bhagat of Wealth Words explains, “there are generally two types of bounces:
“If you do not clean your lists or buy your lists, and keep on inactive/deleted email addresses, your bounce rate is likely to be high,” Ampjar‘s Roslyn Teng explains.
Poor bounce rates “damage your sender reputation. Ensuring high deliverability can make the difference between your recipient receiving your email, or the email getting caught in spam.”
How do you determine whether your emails are reaching your audience?
According to Action Marketing Co‘s Gloria Lafont, “things to look for are a high bounce rate, indicating bad addresses, and should be deleted.”
“Also, high unsubscribe rate, indicating poor targeting, and lastly, spammy content tactics, that can be detected by the email provider before sending the email out.”
Sam Olmstead’s team at Online Optimism think “the most important email marketing metric to track is clicks within the email.”
“Newsletters are a great way to share information about your company or industry. However, their real purpose should be to incentivize readers to take an action.”
“Try getting users to click to your website, product, or service and your emails will have real value.”
The click-through rate (CTR) of your email campaigns signifies the percentage of people who clicked a link in your email out of everyone who opened the email.
Fundera‘s Nicolas Straut tracks this metric because “the goal of most email marketers is to get subscribers to convert on a webpage upon clicking a link.”
“If you successfully convinced a subscriber to leave their email and follow a link, half the battle is done. Next, you must convince them on another page to convert and make a purchase or complete some other goal.”
Mallory Fetchu of SmartBug Media sums its importance up perfectly: “Your CTR is the gateway to conversions–the more people clicking, the better chance you have of getting that person to take the desired action.”
Similarly, thumbprint‘s Morgan Lathaen tracks CTR because “every well-made email should have a goal – sales, providing users with content, directing users to your site, etc. These goals should include a call to action. “
“If users aren’t clicking on your call to action, chances are theres a problem with either your copy, design, call to action, or a mix of all three.”
*Editor’s note: Get a clearer picture of the activity happening on your website when subscribers leave their inbox with our Email Traffic Overview dashboard. You’ll be able to see which campaigns generate the most traffic, which subscribers clicked through, and much more:
As McCall Robison of Best Company explains, “if you have a high rate of unsubscribes, something is wrong and you need to find out what it is if you want your email marketing to be successful.”
“For example, if you tried something new with your email campaigns and it resulted in a large amount of unsubscribes, that would let you know you may need to undo the changes you just made because your audience isn’t responding well.”
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking unsubscribers are bad. People are opting out of receiving messages from you. That’s not a good thing, right?
Robison advises that you “understand that unsubscribes happen, and they don’t always mean you need to change your tactics.”
“If you are tracking your unsubscribes regularly, you will know what the normal rate of unsubscribes is monthly and after email campaigns. So, if your unsubscribes number greatly increases after a certain email campaign, more than what is usual, this is when you need to use your unsubscribes metrics to determine what elicited this change.”
And, as Angelina Harper of Nightwatch explains, tracking unsubscribers “can be a good metric to follow because it also indicates that you are fine-tuning your subscriber list.”
It’s better to have a handful of super-engaged subscribers than thousands of people who aren’t too fussed about receiving your emails.
(That’d work wonders for your CTR and conversion rate, too.)
You know the overall unsubscribe rate of your email strategy.
Energy Seek‘s Ollie Smith thinks “unsubscribe rate per email is a vital metric that every marketer should be aware of.”
“By monitoring this metric, you will be immediately aware of any loss in subscribers enabling you to react to avoid further loss. It is worth remembering that it is much easier and cheaper to retain existing subscribers than attract new ones.”
“It is easy to get lost in the deep dive into opens and clicks and those are important but for us, the biggest metric is new subs vs. unsubs,” writes ClydeBank Media‘s John Donnachie.
Donnachie’s team call this ‘list development’: “The more new subscribers we are attracting the better of course, but we are also comparing that number to the rate at which we lose subscribers. This is critical feedback to understand how effective our messaging and subscriber retention efforts are at keeping our subscribers engaged.”
“Just attracting new subscribers is no good unless we are keeping these people engaged for the long run,” Donnachie summarizes.
Did you know that email marketing campaigns have an average ROI of 124%? It blows social media and display advertising out of the water.
Take a leaf from Andrew Ruditser’s book, and track conversions like the team at MAXBURST, Inc. However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking ‘conversions’ means ‘purchases.’
Ruditser explains that a conversion “can include clicking on a link in the email and making a purchase or filling out a form.”
Rebecca Drake of We Accelerate Growth agrees, and thinks “it’s very important not to lose sight of the end goal when analysing email marketing metrics – that’s the action you want the reader to carry out as a result of your email.”
“For example, if you send an email promoting a content offer, it’s the number of content downloads out of the number of emails delivered. If you are testing different emails, this is the metric that matters most and will define the most successful campaign (providing landing page stays the same).”
And if you’re in B2B? Tracking conversions is even more crucial, according to Advance B2B‘s Pinja Virtanen: “Since sales cycles are typically pretty long, the main goal of email marketing is to drive engagement with people who have already subscribed.”
“Optimizing for conversations allows us to get to know our prospects before they become our customers.”
So, how do you accurately track the conversions happening on your website that originated in a subscriber’s inbox?
Laetitia Caron of MedicalSearch recommends tracking “via UTM parameters what people are doing on your website after they opened your email and clicked through.”
“Sending emails that look nice but don’t convert makes not much sense,” Caron writes. “Check how many orders, calls or leads you received from an email campaign, and you’ll know which email campaigns are really worth the effort.”
Mammoth Web Solutions‘ David Sanchez tracks purchase rate: “This is a little different than a simple conversion rate, because you’re not just trying to get subscribers to click on a link, read a blog, or share a coupon.”
“This measures the percentage of people who are actually making a purchase through that campaign, making it a real dollars-and-cents KPI,” Sanchez writes.
“Often we think of email as “free”, but it’s dangerous to ignore the costs associated with building, and maintaining your email list,” writes adMixt‘s Zach Greenberger.
It’s true. Chances are, you’re paying for the platform you’re using, not to mention the time your team spend sending emails–all of which add up.
That’s why Greenberger thinks “tracking all the profits and losses from each email campaign is key to optimizing your messaging strategy.”
Andrew McLoughlin’s team at Colibri Digital Marketing also track ROI because “when we measure things like lead generation or engagement, we need to be able to put hard numbers for cost against those returns to track our performance.”
Remember what we said about breaking down the data and finding opportunities to improve?
Similarly, you can check which type of email is generating the most conversions (and replicate it) by tracking revenue per open email.
Tiffany Schreane thinks “this is the optimal way of tracking the return on investment of your e-mail campaigns. Additionally, it allows you to better understand how each e-mail campaign is performing and where to optimize content over time.”
Take a look at how much revenue each subscriber generates.
According to Nextiva‘s Yaniv Masjedi, “this single statistic will provide actionable insight for activities beyond email marketing, from onpage lead capture forms to offsite content marketing and more.
Andrew Becks of 301 Digital Media names this metric subscriber lifetime value: “That is, the total value in revenue, be it from advertising, product sales, affiliate sales, media value or any combination or valuation metrics, understanding the lifetime value of your email subscribers will help you measure the true contribution to your bottom line that email drives.”
Becks continues: “This analysis can often also help justify investment of marketing dollars in email acquisition campaigns with a focus on optimsing efforts for a positive return on ad spend (paying less for the new subscribers than the subscribers themselves drive in revenue over their lifetimes).”
Depending on which email service provider (ESP) you are using, you might have specific analytics available to you like the amount of time subscribers spend actually viewing your email.
Which ESPs are people using most? Well, we’re glad you asked. Because, we did, too….
Among the questions we asked of the more than 40 email marketing pros we surveyed, we asked them which ESP they preferred most.
The results in order were:
View the chart below for full context. MailChimp and HubSpot were far and away the most used and preferred ESPs among the email marketers we surveyed.
According to John Thomas Lang of G2, the HubSpot email platform has the advantage of being able to track time spent viewing email: “It provides a good indication of how powerful your creative is within the email itself.”
The metric is broken down into three categories:
Lang explains: “Keeping your “skimmed and glanced” audience under 25% is a good benchmark to start with, but this may vary based on the type of email you are sending.”
Brian Casey of Ironpaper also thinks this metric “allows marketers to see at a high-level if the content within an email is engaging.”
“Looking at open rates is a great indicator of the quality of your subject line. Looking at click rates is a great indicator of the relevance of the content offer. Analyzing time spent viewing email is a third data point that can help you optimize emails.”
*Editor’s note: View this email metric using our HubSpot Email Performance dashboard. You also can customize the dashboard to view the other metrics we’ve mentioned here.
“Conventional wisdom would say if my email open rate is 20% then everyone on my list is opening one out of every five emails,” explains Seventh Sense‘s Mike Donnelly.
“In reality, it’s quite the opposite. Every organization has an active, passive and inactive email audience, however, most treat them the same.”
That’s why Donnelly thinks “the most important metric marketers should focus on with their email program is understanding the activity levels of their audience. By not doing so, you’re going to hurt your sending domain reputation and over time may not even be able to reach the people that want to hear from you.”
“To calculate your active audience, you take the total number of unique people that have opened or clicked at least one email within a specified time frame (we recommend a month) and divide this by the total unique people that were sent at least one email within the specified time frame.
Donnelly continues: “If on average, your active audience falls below 25%, you should start to focus more effort on your list segmentation strategy and first suppressing your inactive audience and if you’re still falling below that threshold your passive audience.”
“At B2B Data Guy, we find the most important metric to track is warm reply rate,” explains Vance Plunkett. “The rest are simply vanity metrics.”
“Looking at your open rates of +40% might make you feel good, but they do nothing for your bottom line, and don’t directly bring in any revenue.”
For that reason, Plunkett thinks cold emails shouldn’t be sent until you can confidently say ‘yes’ to these questions: “Is my message resonating with this audience? Am I getting the leads I want from this campaign?”
“For most campaigns, we aim for a 5-6% warm reply rate on cold emails. With a targeted offer/data-set, it’s an achievable goal that makes campaigns worthwhile to run,” Plunkett summarizes.
“Spam Score is the metric that I think every email marketer should check before sending an email campaign because if your mail is going to go into the spam box then all the other metrics are of no use to track,” writes Dhruv Jadav of First Launch.
It makes sense; you don’t want your emails to fail at the first hurdle.
Jadav explains that “the benchmark here is at least a spam score of 8 out of 10.”
(You can find your email’s spam score by using this Spam Checker.)
Adam McCulloch of Digital Impact also thinks this is “a really important metric to track when it comes to your email campaign.”
“Most email providers will allow users to mark particular emails as spam or junk mail. This makes it harder for emails from that particular account to make it through the spam filters of different email providers.”
McCullock continues: “Every time this happens to an email, a big digital, black cross is put against the name of your company, making it harder for your emails to find their way into their respective email boxes. If too many of your emails end up being marked as spam, it can decimate the effectiveness of your email campaign.”
That’s why McCullock thinks “you should aim to keep ‘Report Spam’ instances under 5% of the total emails that you send.”
“Obviously, there’s always bound to be a proportion of people who just mark your email as Spam, regardless of if they’ve even read it but instances under this number shouldn’t cause any problems.”
Do you know which program your subscribers are using to manage their inbox?
Whether it’s Outlook or Gmail, Paige Denton of Digital 22 thinks “email client data is a metric that can have a huge impact on [other] email marketing metrics.”
Why? Because “if you can see the most common email clients your recipients are using to open and interact with your emails, you can use that data to create templates that display properly for them.
“Outlook, for example, is known for being one of the most difficult clients to optimize for. It has stricter security/business filters compared to other email clients like Gmail. Plus, images typically don’t open unless you explicitly allow them,” Denton explains.
“And if you see that your contacts primarily use Outlook, you know that you need to focus on ensuring your content displays properly.”
Have you got a list of email marketing KPIs you’re going to track?
Select the ones that signal your email campaigns are resonating with your subscribers (like open rate and CTR), and the metrics that reflect your business’ goals (like conversion or purchase rate.)
Then, connect your platform with Databox, create a new databoard, and drag the metrics you’ve picked onto your dashboard:
It’s the easiest way to view your most important metrics all in one place.
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