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Management Perspectives: Tracking Results from Your Email Newsletters

Jun 7, 2007 8:00 AM, By Don Kreski

Managing data for improved performance.


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One of the best things about an email promotion is that you can tell how well it has gone over with your audience.

“People are thrilled to find that they can see who is opening their emails and what they're clicking on,” says Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact, a popular email broadcast service.

With regular mail, it’s tough to tell whether anyone is reading your offer or not. Marketers use coupons, drawings, special toll-free numbers, telephone follow-up, and other strategies just to find out whether anyone’s paying attention. That’s not the case at all with electronic marketing.

Constant Contact and similar services provide realtime email tracking of mailings you do from your own customer and prospect lists. “Within minutes of sending each campaign,” Goodman says, “you will see who opened your email, which links generated the most interest, and who clicked on each link. Results include how many emails were delivered, email bounces including the reason for the bounce, and who opened and who clicked through each email.”

WHY WORRY ABOUT TRACKING RESPONSES?

There’s an old joke in the marketing business: “I know half my advertising budget is wasted. I just don’t know which half.”

The main reason to track open rates, click-throughs, or, on a website, page traffic, is to give yourself an impartial measure of where to focus your advertising budget. For example, when we first started a website at one of the dealerships I used to work for, we thought a user forum would be very popular. Yet it was obvious from our traffic reports that our customers and prospects felt differently. With an email newsletter—as with a website—you can tell which articles are being read and which aren’t; which offers are striking a nerve and which are not.

Over time, it’s easy to focus your energy on the types of promotions, feature articles, and technical help that potential customers most want to see. “Tracking data is important,” Goodman says, “because you can use the information to improve your performance on your next email campaign or send follow-ups to customers who click on a particular topic or product link.”

That last comment is very interesting. There’s a little bit of a Big Brother aspect to the tracking reports, but you can tell, to a large degree, what your readers are interested in, and you can use that knowledge to plan follow-ups.

BENCHMARKING AND ONGOING IMPROVEMENT

You can also use open and click-through rates to compare your own success with others who do email marketing.

“According to the MarketingSherpa's Email [Marketing] Benchmark Guide 2006,” Goodman says, “the most common range for business to consumer open rates for 2004 and 2005 was 30 percent to 39 percent, while the B-to-B range was 10 percent to 29 percent. Also, open rates vary by category. According to the Harte-Hanks Postfuture Index for January to June 2006, restaurants had the highest open rates of any of the 13 categories considered during that period; retail had the lowest.”

It’s important to note that Goodman is talking about legitimate, opt-in email marketing, not spam, which earns considerably lower open rates. With legitimate email sent to your own list, she says, “if you have a 35-percent open rate you are doing well.”

The power of these numbers, however, is less in comparing yourself to others than in finding ways to improve your own performance. “Examine your own results. Map out your open rate trend line,” Goodman says. “Over the past 12 months, when did you get the best open rates? Look at those campaigns you sent and ask, 'What did I do that made this successful?'"

When you look at click-through rates, pay particular attention to the rates you get on your call to action. “It is an important component,” Goodman says, “because it answers three important questions for the recipient: one, what you want them to do; two, why they should do it; and three, how to take that next step.” What seems like a brilliant call to action can sometimes fall flat; at other times you may be surprised at the interest you generate. But if you enter your call to action results from various newsletters or campaigns on, say, a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, it soon becomes obvious which work the best for your customer base.

USING A SERVICE VS. YOUR OWN SERVER

When I start an email newsletter for one of my clients, I almost always recommend that we use one of the broadcast services. They are inexpensive, store your mailing lists, keep track of opt-ins and opt-outs, and provide good reporting.

Not everyone opts for these services. If you decide to set up your own broadcast server, you will have the ability to customize reporting. Realize, though, that it’s hard to get these things working properly, and often times people don’t really use the extra measures that they gain. My own bias is toward simple measurements used faithfully.

What if you want to send email promotions to lists that you rent or purchase?

Generally speaking, you can’t use a broadcast service for this purpose. The list owner will almost always insist that he or she do the broadcast for you, rather than releasing any email addresses. Then, Constant Contact and other services will ask you to attest that you’re only adding people who have agreed to receive email from you or who have a pre-existing business relationship with you. This is a good restriction. It helps novices navigate anti-spam laws, and it helps them avoid irritating potential customers.

WHAT TO TRACK

Whether you’re using your own list or a rental list, your own server, the list owner’s server or a broadcast service, Goodman suggests that the following are the most important measures to track:

  • How many emails were sent and delivered
  • What percentage of your subscribers opened your email
  • Which links generated the most click-throughs
  • Who opened each email
  • Who clicked through to each article or offer
  • How many (and who) opted-out of each email
  • How many emails bounced back
  • How many subscribers forwarded the email

    If you track each of these measures over many campaigns, you’ll go a long way toward answering that age-old question: Which half of your advertising budget is wasted, and which half can you eliminate?


    You can reach Don Kreski with any questions at www.kreski.com/contact.html


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