July 13, 2017

How to Improve Your Top 6 Email Marketing Metrics

Reading time about 11 min

Crafting the best email is a subjective matter.

How can someone say that his or her email campaign is better than yours?

Many would say that the more revenue an email campaign generates, the better the email is. It’s a reasonable viewpoint, but revenue alone is not enough—a decent email design with passable copy may generate considerably more revenue on Black Friday than a creative email sent on an ordinary day in August.

Judging the performance of an email campaign is dependent on so many factors that it’s almost impossible to offer a universal piece of advice for all email marketers. It could be that what worked for 99% of marketers fails for you.

However, it’s still necessary to evaluate the ROI on your email campaigns.

So, where do you start?

Many marketers make the mistake of relying on a single key performance indicator (KPI) to evaluate their email campaigns.

The better approach is to check a series of common email marketing metrics. This can offer you a strategic overview of a campaign’s performance. The combined metrics are more useful than single indicators alone.

In this article, I will discuss six email marketing metrics that you should be tracking in order to evaluate your email campaigns.

These metrics will help you see the bird’s-eye view and decide which aspects should be improved. Of course, the list is hardly exhaustive, and we would love to hear about any other metrics you find useful in the comments below.

1. Spam Complaint Rate

Spam complaint rate (aka spam complaints) refers to the number of people who received your email and hit the “Report Spam” button divided by the total number of contacts who received the campaign.

Many marketers don’t pay attention to this indicator because it is often in the range accepted by all email service providers (ESP). Each ESP has its own acceptable spam percentage, so you should check the knowledge base before purchasing their services. In general, a percentage below 0.01–0.02% is accepted for most ESPs.

How to interpret it

You haven’t made a fatal mistake if you simply ignored this metric up until now. Usually, the ESPs will send a warning message when your spam percentage is above the limit. But, it is still something that is worth paying attention to.

In the case of a really high spam complaint rate, you should dig deeper and find the cause. Some potential causes could be:

  • You committed the cardinal sin of email: buying an email list
  • Your recipients didn’t recognize the sender address
  • The email is delivering poor content
  • The unsubscribe button is hidden.

There may be other reasons for this as well, so make sure to investigate if you notice a problem.

How to improve it

If your ESP has notified you that the spam percentage is above its standards, you need to take action.

There are many factors might contribute to this situation:

  • Start with the subject line by avoiding any unconventional or salesy messages. This could easily be the piece that’s offending recipients.
  • Next, check the design and the content of the emails. You may have mistakenly included trivial messages or obscene hidden messages. Try to remain serious and avoid any avant-garde approaches. Perhaps what you consider funny or innovative might be offensive or unrecognizable to others.
  • Finally, don’t neglect your dormant subscribers—there is a high chance that many of them are no longer interested in what you offer and have hit the spam button without opening the email. Ask them if they are willing to receive your messages. If you don’t get a reply, it’s better to delete them from your list.

2. Open Rate

As its name indicates, open rate refers to the percentage of people who opened your message.

ESPs load an invisible GIF image into each email, and an “open” is counted when that image is downloaded from the server. This method is simple and unobtrusive, but it’s not 100% accurate because there are users who don’t download the images but might have opened the email.

Still, this metric offers great insight into how your contacts are engaging with your emails.

How to interpret it

Open rate doesn’t say anything about the design and the copy of the email.

Instead, an above-average open rate means that your subject line attracts the eyes of the recipients.

To evaluate an open rate, you need to check the average open rate in your industry. Here is a report of these numbers from SmartInsights.

This report gives you benchmarks for the open rates of the most common industries. If you are within or above the stated range, you are doing well.

How to improve it

Open rate differs from industry to industry. However, if your open rate is 20% or higher, you probably don’t need to worry too much.

If you have average or below-average rates for your industry, that means that you should tweak and test your subject line. Testing is a marketer’s best friend, and email is no exception.

A below average open rate is predominantly determined by a weak subject line or an inconsistent emailing frequency. Here are some tips if you need help writing a better subject line.

However, determining the proper emailing frequency is a much more complex matter than just tweaking a few words.

Ideally, you should email when you can offer value to the recipients. Practically speaking, sending an email campaign at least every two weeks is a good idea. Make sure you’re sending at the optimal time of day and day of the week!

Take this advice with a grain of salt, though, because every email list is different. Don’t be afraid to test the waters to find your frequency sweet spot.

3. Click-Through Rate

Click-through rate refers to the percentage of recipients who clicked at least one link within an email after opening. It’s a basic indicator that varies from industry to industry.

How to interpret it

A good click-through rate means that at least your subject line and email content are good; people resonate with your title and your call to action. Click-through rate alone doesn’t say too much but compared to other metrics, it provides actionable data.

A below-average open rate and a good click-through rate mean that the subject line is decent, but the design and copy are outstanding. An above-average open rate and a poor click-through rate mean that the subject line is okay, but the email doesn’t satisfy the viewers.

How to improve it

Improving the click-through rate is a challenging issue because it relies on many factors.

It could be the design, copy, or call-to-action button that is causing the poor click-through rate. Here are a few tips that might help you improve it:

  • Use only responsive email design. Many people check their email on their smartphones first thing in the morning. You don’t want to ruin the day of your email receivers with a distorted newsletter.
  • Don’t use only one link within your email copy. Viewers might skip it when scanning the email. There is no golden rule regarding the number of links within an email, but two or three is a low suggestion for each email sent.
  • The call-to-action buttons should be big and bold. Make people want to lick them! (Yeah, that’s a Steve Jobs quote.)

4. Conversion Rate

Every email sent should have a goal (e.g., sell a product, download an e-book, complete a questionnaire, etc.).

Conversion rate refers to the percentage of people who accomplish the goal out of the total amount of receivers. It also differs from industry to industry, as well as by the nature of the goal.

The conversion rate will be higher if your goal is to convince people to download an e-book rather than buy an expensive online course. Benchmarking the conversion rate of each email campaign is an absolute must.

How to interpret it

A reasonable conversion rate means that your email brings value to the recipients. A high-standard goal implies a lower conversion rate while a low-standard goal implies a high conversion. Whatever your email goal is, make sure you set up realistic benchmarks when evaluating this metric.

How to improve it

Once you set up realistic goals, you can start improving the conversion rate.

Optimizing conversion rate could be the topic of a lengthy book, but to save time, here are a few potential solutions:

  • Offer value before asking for any value in return. Your email should be advantageous for the receivers if you want to sell them something.
  • Don’t over-estimate your product. Believe me, people are bored with the best diets in the world, best methods of learning a new language, and the secret strategy of working quickly. Instead, describe your product in realistic terms and don’t sell miracles.
  • Segmentation and personalization aren’t optional. The more personalized an email is, the more chances you have to fulfill your goal.

5. Bounce Rate

Bounce rate represents the percentage of emails sent that failed to be delivered due to various reasons. There are two types of bounce rate: hard and soft.

  • The hard bounce rate represents the emails sent to invalid or non-existent email addresses.
  • The soft bounce rate represents the emails sent to recipients that encounter a temporary problem.

How to interpret it

Bounce rate is not a reflection of your email or its content, but rather an indicator of list quality.

A high hard bounce rate affects your credibility, and some ESPs may flag you as a spammer. It usually signals that you have bought a list, or you have contacts that have not opted in.

This is why you should keep an eye on this rate from time-to-time; neglecting it may cause you big trouble.

How to improve it

The solution is simple—implement a list cleaning strategy to remove the invalid or inexistent email addresses from your list. Don’t worry too much about the soft bounce rate—that’s about the availability of the recipient. No one will penalize you for this issue unless it persists (in which case you might want to consider removing these emails as well.

6. Unsubscribe Rate

Unfortunately, any time you send an email campaign, some recipients will unsubscribe.

People unsubscribe to the emails sent by even the most gifted marketers. The unsubscribe rate is the percentage of people who unsubscribe out of the overall number of recipients. As long as it is below 1%, you shouldn’t be too concerned by it.

How to interpret it

An unsubscribe rate in line with the average in your industry is acceptable. Practically speaking, it lets you know that your latest emails aren’t bad and that your contacts are getting what they asked for.

The big problem comes when the unsubscribe rate is above average.

That means that your latest email probably made the readers angry, or your offer didn’t satisfy them.

The unsubscribe rate is usually correlated with conversion rate. A good conversion rate and a high unsubscribe rate informs you that your email is good, people found value in it, but a part of them simply don’t need what you promote.

A poor conversion rate and a high unsubscribe rate means that you should reevaluate the email campaigns you are sending. The email might be guilty of offending the readers, or the goals might be too ambitious.

How to improve it

A high unsubscribe rate requires a deep analysis of your previous emails.

Compare all the email campaigns with a low unsubscribe rate and see which items they have in common. Do the same for all emails with a high unsubscribe rate. In this way, you will identify what drives anger or delight in your recipients.

You should always be tracking these email marketing metrics.

Some should be checked frequently while others can be checked periodically.

However, you should never neglect your hard bounce rate or spam complaints. It’s like driving your car without a medical kit because you believe that you won’t get in an accident.

Each marketer has crafted his or her own methods and tracks specific metrics. So, we are delighted to share our knowledge and get in touch with fellow marketers. Leave a comment with your opinion about which metrics marketers should pay more attention to. Do you agree with our system, or do you have a different idea? Let us know in the comments section!

About the author:
Roland Pokornyik is the CEO / Co-founder of Chamaileon.io & EDMdesigner.com. He is helping marketing teams, agencies, and enterprises create top quality responsive email templates for maximum ROI.

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