The reading level for this article is Novice

Once you have the capability to track the vital statistics of your email marketing campaigns, the inevitable question becomes: how well are my mailings doing? This article discusses which information to gather, how to calculate the “baseline” results for a mailing, and ways to track your overall performance over time.

Gathering The Key Information
There are a number of different pieces of information that can be gathered when using any reasonably good email broadcasting service. Although there is other mailing information that can be tracked, this article deals only with the five primary measurements: the totals each of messages sent, message opens, click-thrus, bounces, and opt-out requests.

Total number of items sent must be accurately counted, based on reaching each individual email address only once (you’re always removing duplicates before sending, aren’t you?!). Opens measure the number of people who actually view the message using their email program. We prefer to use "unique" opens, so that if a recipient views a message in their preview window, then opens it into a full size window, that this only counts as a single open instead of two opens. Click-thrus are recipients that respond to your offer by clicking on a link in the email. Bounces are messages that are undeliverable to the recipient. They could be "soft bounces" due to temporary issues such as a full mailbox, or "hard bounces" from an invalid email account, but for our purposes here it means "people on your list who did not receive your message". And last, opt-out requests are recipients who request to no longer receive email.

How It All Adds Up
There are a wide range of results that can be measured for an emailing, such as:

  • How accurate is the list (how many bounces out of total sent)

  • How active is the list (how many opens out of total sent)

  • How positive was the reaction to the offer itself (number of click-thrus out of total opens)

  • How negative was the reaction to the offer itself (number of opt-outs out of total opens)

The actual number of responses on any particular campaign can vary quite a bit. A newsletter whose primary job is to inform, will not achieve the same click-thru rate as a promotion, which is intended to get a specific response. The differing levels of permission within your list of recipients will also affect results. Until a list has been “cleaned” of bad addresses and those who are not interested, you may see far different data. Pruning these from your lists will help you improve your results considerably.

In order to account for these wide variations in factors, we suggest some general “baseline” ratios that should be achieved on any particular mailing. There should be more opens than bounces, or else the list is probably out of date. Also, there should be more click-thrus than opt-outs, otherwise the offer is poorly targeted or the list is of questionable origin.

As Time Goes By
In order to get the optimum response you will need to send two or three multiples of your email marketing campaign, each time using a variation of the original offer. If they haven’t responded by 3 attempts, it’s time to change your approach. The typical response pattern is that mailings 1 and 2 will have a similar response, with number 2 often slightly fewer click-thrus than number 1. Number 3 picks up the stragglers and undecided recipients, so the response will be much lower, but usually significant enough to justify the mailing. Please note that you shouldn’t necessarily just blast out three mailings one after another. For example, you might piggyback your first offer onto a monthly newsletter, send the second offer separately as a special promotional mailing two weeks later, then finish the series with the final offer in the next month’s newsletter.

It is useful to understand how the size of your lists is changing over time. By viewing how many people sign up for your lists each day, you can attempt to correlate list growth with other marketing activities that you may be conducting. It is also important to consider how many people are signing up for your lists versus how many are opting off of them. If your lists have been cleaned, and the overall list size is still shrinking, you need to reevaluate both your list acquisition strategy and the content relevancy of your mailings.

Testing is critical to optimizing your email marketing campaigns. But in order to test, you have to measure first. Make sure you have a way to collect detailed information about your mailings, preferably in an automatic way. Careful analysis of the actual metrics will help give you the information you need to take your email campaigns to the next level.

This Web Marketing article was written by Ron Evans on 2/14/2005