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Measuring and improving subscriber email engagement

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 14 May, 2014
Essential Essential topic

5 advanced measures to evaluate and improve subscriber engagement with your emails

yawn pictureHow engaging are your emails? You will certainly have ideas about their strengths and weaknesses - but do you really know how engaging they are? It’s likely that you review open and clickthrough rates of different email campaigns and newsletters, but can you measure and prove how engaging your email marketing is?

In this article I’ll show some advanced techniques we recommend to assess subscriber engagement which go beyond the basic email metrics of delivery, open and clickthrough rates.

Techniques to Review Email Marketing Engagement

By using these more sophisticated measures to review your emails you will be able to zero in on which aspects of your emails aren’t working and so improve engagement.

  • 1. Engagement with creative. Let’s start with the obvious short-term engagement with an email communication. This is where it’s common to measure opens and clicks. A good technique here is to combine these measures to look at click-to-open (CTO) rate. This shows the percentage of subscribers who open the email and then click-through.You can compare this metric across campaigns to see how effective your creative, content and calls to action (CTAs) are.  Once you have established your benchmark, it’s time to get testing and optimising your CTO rate to drive better engagement with your creative! Try testing your CTA using multiple links for the same action – test out an image, button and inline links, each with different anchor text. Including multiple links has been proven to improve email click-through rates.[Editor's note:  If you use Google Analytics,  you may want to track clicks from different parts of an email layout using email tracking with analytics, for example by tagging up emails of a certain type, or links in different positions in an email layout, for example header against body of the email, images against text links]
  • 2. Minimise Negative Engagement. You should look to optimise all email marketing metrics – and that includes unsubscribe rates and marked-as-spam rates. For these, to optimise is to achieve the lowest possible number. Establish clear expectations for your subscribers at the point of registration, in terms of the content and frequency of emails your subscribers can expect from you.Even better, offer a choice at the point of registration – e.g. let subscribers select if they want regular communications like a weekly newsletter, or if they are interested in occasional ‘special offers’. Explain in simple and compelling language what he or she can expect in exchange for their details. This is your first and best chance to establish a positive relationship with your subscribers and to build a relevant database of subscribers, which should help to minimise negative engagement metrics down-the-line.Of course, if someone wants to unsubscribe – make it simple for them. Provide a clear link in your emails, and include a ‘manage your preferences’ option rather than a one-size-fits-all master unsubscribe option. We all know the legal definition of spam, but to your subscribers simply receiving an email they don’t expect or not having a clear unsubscribe link could be enough to hit the spam button. To minimise your unsubscribe and marked-as-spam rate always send timely, targeted, valuable, human content to people who have requested it.
  • 3. Identify audience engagement with emails over a longer time period. Of course it’s useful to review open and click-through rates, but these operational metrics don’t tell us how engaged our audience is with our communications over a longer-term period. Reviewing long-term engagement is a MUCH better measure of the engagement of your email programs.To assess how engaging your emails are over the longer-term, you need to combine all metrics such as the open rate, click-through rate, or conversion (download, social share, purchase etc.) over a defined longer time period such as a quarter, six months or a year. This way, you can define an ‘Engagement Score’ for measuring your messages over the longer-term – helping you to fine-tune and improve the engagement of your emails.
  • 4. Create Conversations for Better Lifecycle Engagement. A subscriber’s needs and interests will change as they move through your sales cycle – and you will want to ensure that you listen and adapt the messages you send accordingly. In this download explaining how to develop conversations, not campaigns, we describe how you should think about your lifecycle emails as conversations.Your lifecycle email marketing should be an engaging conversation that moves the relationship forward—they’re not just one-way “blasts”, but instead involve delivering more relevant content based on each subscriber’s behaviour and demographics.

    To start a two-way conversation, you must provide content relevant to a person’s interests – so using their demographic information to send something relevant based on e.g. their age, gender, location is a good start.Then, you must be ready to adapt and adjust your marketing based on how your subscriber reacts and behaves across channels – e.g. someone engages with a video on your website - ask them to share it socially with their friends and connections; someone has browsed a product but not yet purchased – send them a timely email with a discount code; someone has purchased product X – tell them to check out a similar, complimentary product Y.

  • 5. Attributing your Email Marketing to the Bottom Line.

    A riveting subject line, persuasive email copy, or sky-high CTO rate is only as good as the revenue it generates. Email measurement is moving towards true financial metrics, such as revenue impact and ROI – and when you get to this point, it is when your email marketing becomes truly strategic.

    A consumer rarely makes a purchase as a result of a single campaign. Perhaps the customer’s last touch point was your website, but prior to hitting “buy,” he spent time in an email, on your Facebook page, and on your Twitter feed. For most companies, the last touch point (in this case the website) will be where the sale is attributed to.

    In a multi-touch attribution scenario, you should assign a value to each successful touch – in a four touch point example (website, email, Facebook and Twitter) we use simple distribution: each touch point gets 1/4th of the credit for the ultimate sale value. So there’s more to email evaluation than delivery, open and clicks!

You can see that there are a lot of different methods to review email engagement and performance, which should hopefully give you more insight to create more relevant emails which translate into better results. This is what really counts!

To check whether more engaging emails are translating into better commercial returns, the final tip I will give is to measure the performance and ROI of your email against ALL channels. You might find that email outperforms other channels and you should invest MORE on email, or perhaps you’ll find that in some cases LESS email investment is called for. The key point is to know what is working – and what isn’t – across channels. If you don’t sell direct online, so can’t evaluate using revenue, devise a measure which is a proxy for value showing progression in purchase intent such as number of downloads or views of products or where to buy pages.

All the best for developing more engaging emails! To help you improve your emails we have created this simple checklist to score your level of email marketing engagement and so identify next steps. Give it a go - what do you score?

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