Spring refresh part 2: email marketing KPIs

Last week, Amy Doyle Ellwood wrote a spring refresh blog post, covering essential items like list cleaning, segment reviews and other highly valuable aspects that make up the building blocks for successful email marketing. If you haven’t checked it out, you can do so here.

While you’re in spring cleaning mode, now is a good time to review your email marketing KPIs. Past performance data often reveals areas of opportunity – things to continue/stop doing, and clues about trends in your audience behavior that can help spark new ideas for email content and promotions. While reviewing your current KPIs, it’s also a good time to ask yourself if they are still relevant to your goals and your business.

The building blocks that Amy examined do influence the KPIs that I’m going to review today, the ones that most of us consider essential when it comes to email marketing. In the spirit of the refresh theme, take time to consider whether or not they all matter for your particular business. More data is better, but data that is not relevant is distracting. Taking the time to review your past performance, and understanding which KPIs really indicate the health of your email marketing and its contribution to the business, can set you up for even greater performance as spring turns to summer.

1. Open Rate – The first impression

We can all agree that the open rate is one of the foundational metrics of email marketing. It is the first indication of interest in your email, often influenced by your subject line and preheader text. However, the introduction of features like Mail Privacy Protection, and the ever-growing presence of bots, have diluted the value of the open rate by introducing machine opens or non-human interactions (NHI) into the mix.

ESPs and email delivery suites have responded with reports that can help us understand true opens vs. machine opens, and this is indeed helpful, but the fact remains that opens have less meaning than they once did. While marketers still look to open rates as a core KPI, shifting focus to more action-based metrics is a better strategy.

That being said, a strong subject line and compelling preheader text go a long way to getting actual humans to open your email, thus paving the way for the action-based metrics to take over.

2. Click-Through Rate (CTR) – The kickoff

CTR is one of the aforementioned action-based metrics that is another staple of email marketing KPIs. How many recipients clicked on a link within your email is that first, key data point on campaign performance as it relates to interest and engagement. Over time, it is also a front line indicator of shifting interests and preferences of your audience, and as such can be used as a data point when considering a refresh of your mailing lists and segments.

If you feel your CTR is not where it should be, review the basics – copy, placement of CTAs and CTA wording. A/B testing all of the above can also help uncover what resonates best with your audience, and continue to guide you over time.

3. Conversion Rate – GOOOAAAAAL!!

At the end of the day your biggest measure of email marketing success is the conversion rate. Whether you define a conversion as making a purchase, signing up for a webinar, subscribing to a newsletter, downloading an ebook, or any other action of value, this is what we all strive for.

Optimizing your conversion rate requires a bit more work, as it means evaluating any steps between the click of an email link and the final step in the conversion process, but it is the most valuable action by far so it’s worth the time. As applicable, ensure that your landing pages are optimized, your checkout process is largely friction-free, your sign-up form has a clear opt-in, etc. A/B testing is your friend here also.

4. Bounce Rate – The wall

Bounce rates, especially hard bounces, have always been something to monitor, but with the previously announced changes for Gmail and Yahoo! Mail now being rolled out, keeping an eye on your bounce rate is crucial. Enforcement appears to be tightening, so the negative effect of a high bounce rate is going to impact your email deliverability.

Aside from good list hygiene practices, proactive email address validation at the time someone provides their email address (sign-up forms, as part of a purchase) can help catch issues before the first email ever goes out.

5. List Growth Rate – Topping up the tank

Your email list is the lifeblood of your email marketing efforts. Without a growing list of engaged subscribers, your audience will naturally shrink over time, so keeping a healthy list growth rate provides a nice mix of new and familiar audiences to email.

Focus on both quantity and quality when it comes to list growth. Implement strategies like offering lead magnets, running contests, and optimizing your website’s signup forms. However, always prioritize obtaining explicit consent from subscribers to ensure compliance with privacy regulations. Since these regulations can vary depending on both where you are located and where your subscribers/customers are located, be sure you know which regulations apply to you!

6. Unsubscribe Rate – The quiet goodbye

While it’s essential to grow your email list, it’s equally important to monitor your unsubscribe rate. A high unsubscribe rate can be a red flag, indicating that your content or frequency may not align with your subscribers’ expectations, either because you’ve strayed from your original intent, or because they’re interests or expectations have changed.

Personalization and the occasional refreshing of your lists/segments can keep things fresh and relevant. Ensuring that your subscribers can easily manage their preferences, including email frequency and content topics also helps. Give them the occasional opportunity to provide feedback on what they’d like to receive from you as well, it’s another great way to keep engagement high and unsubscribes low.

7. Spam Complaint Rate – The loud goodbye

While nobody wants their emails to land in the spam folder on delivery, we absolutely don’t want recipients proactively marking our emails as spam. A high spam complaint rate not only can damage your sender reputation and affect email deliverability, many ESPs will stop a campaign mid-send if the complaint rate exceeds 0.3% as a means of protecting their own sending reputation.

To avoid the spam complaint, keep everything permission-based and keep the content relevant. Always make it easy to unsubscribe, and once again, regularly review and segment your list to target subscribers with content that aligns with their interests and preferences.

8. Engagement Over Time – Keep the spark alive

Speaking of engagement, while one-time campaigns that perform well are a good thing, sustained engagement over time is even better. All of the KPIs mentioned so far can help you understand if your subscribers are becoming more or less engaged over time. Typically your audience will fall into three common segments – highly engaged, occasionally engaged, and rarely/never engaged.

Your engagement data can help you decide how to best treat these three audiences, along with any relevant data you have about the contacts in each segment. Create loyalty campaigns for the highly engaged, try some compelling offers to tip the occasional segment over to the highly engaged one, and try a re-engagement campaign for inactive subscribers.

Keeping watch over shifting engagement behavior over time and responding appropriately can help you grow an audience that can’t wait for your next email!

9. Email Client and Device Stats – A tailored fit

In the age of mobile-first, it’s vital to know how your subscribers are accessing your emails. Email client and device stats provide insights into which email clients (Gmail, Outlook, Apple Mail, etc.) and devices (desktop, mobile, tablet) your subscribers use. ESPs commonly provide data on operating systems and browsers as well.

If you’re not already doing so, use this data to optimize your email design and rendering to ensure that your emails look and function seamlessly across different email clients and devices. Litmus is great for allowing you to see how your email will render across all the different variables that are available to recipients today.

10. ROI – The pot of gold

Last but certainly not least, ROI (Return on Investment) is the metric that ties everything together, by showing you the financial return from your email marketing efforts. As marketing has shifted over time from being considered a cost center to one that is now responsible for revenue generation, demonstrating the tangible impact of your campaigns in revenue is critical.

To enhance your email marketing ROI, focus on careful analysis of the metrics covered in this post, and take the necessary actions to optimize your email marketing on a regular basis. Together, each aspect discussed combines to influence ROI.

In Summary

In the ever-evolving world of email marketing, staying ahead of the curve requires an understanding of the metrics that matter most, so keep watch over these essential email marketing KPIs.

Open Rate: Make a great first impression.
Click-Through Rate (CTR): Get the subscriber journey started.
Conversion Rate: Measure the ultimate success.
Bounce Rate: Keep your email lists healthy.
List Growth Rate: Expand your reach responsibly.
Unsubscribe Rate: Manage subscriber expectations.
Spam Complaint Rate: Keep subscribers happy.
Email Engagement Over Time: Sustain long-term engagement.
Email Client and Device Stats: Optimize for various audiences.
ROI: Demonstrate your contribution.

By reviewing these metrics on a regular cadence, and using them to inform your email marketing strategy, you’ll be better equipped to engage your audience, drive conversions, and achieve a remarkable ROI over time.