E-mail offers a number of powerful advantages for industrial marketers: your prospects and customers like to interact with you via e-mail, it’s cost effective, and it’s easy to measure your results.

Whether you contract with an e-mail marketing service provider, have an in-house system, or advertise in third-party e-newsletters, you generally have access to a wide range of metrics about your e-mail campaigns. And although there are many metrics and each of them has meaning, when measuring e-mail effectiveness you’re really trying to answer three questions:

1. Is my list good?
2. Is my content relevant?
3. Is my offer strong?

We’ll look at how e-mail metrics can help answer each of these questions. First, a comment about metrics: there aren’t specific thresholds you should aim to reach, such as a certain open rate or click-through rate. Instead, you should track the effectiveness of your e-mail campaigns over time, looking for improvements in your metrics. As long as you are trending in the right direction, you’re doing your job.

On the other hand, if your open rate or click-through rate on an e-mail is trending down, you’ve got a problem to solve. But that’s the beauty of e-mail: you can measure results, identify issues, and address them.

1. Is my list good?
Metrics that shed light on the quality and accuracy of your list include:

• Number of e-mails sent vs. number of e-mails delivered
• Soft bounces
• Hard bounces

Soft bounces mean your e-mail likely reached your recipient’s e-mail server but got no further, usually because the recipient’s e-mail box was full or there was a problem with their server. Most e-mail systems will continue to attempt delivery of soft bounces.

A hard bounce means the e-mail will never be delivered, likely because the address or the domain does not exist. This could be due to your recipient no longer having that e-mail account or there is an error in the address. You should check hard bounces and try to fix or update the e-mail address. If you can’t, remove them from your mailing list.

2. Is my content relevant?
E-mail marketing — any marketing for that matter — is all about being relevant to your audience. If you are sending useful, educational information to a targeted audience, your recipients will look forward to your e-mails and read them.

The metrics that indicate the relevancy of your content are:
• E-mail opens
• E-mail click-throughs
• Forwards (such as ‘forward to a friend’ feature)
• Unsubscribes

E-mail open rate counts the number of people who open your e-mail. Often you will have one metric for the total number of opens and one for the number of unique subscribers who opened your e-mail, because some subscribers open your e-mail more than once. The ‘from’ and ‘subject’ lines are the key influencers of your open rate. The open rate can sometimes be misleading because if your recipient reads your e-mail in their e-mail program preview pane, it may not register as an open. Again, the important factor is to look for a trend of the open rate increasing over time.

Click-through rate measures the percentage of recipients who clicked on a link in your e-mail. Readers who click on links are interested, indicating your content is relevant to them. If you have more than one link in your e-mail, you can see which links are more popular, helping you make decisions about what content to feature in future e-mails.

Forwards are also a good indicator of the relevancy of your content. A recipient who forwards your e-mail to someone else must think the content would be of interest to someone else.

Unsubscribes indicate your content is irrelevant or perhaps you are e-mailing too frequently and annoying recipients, or not often enough, in which case they’ve forgotten who you are.

3. Is your offer strong?
Not all of your e-mails will include an offer, such as registering for a Webinar or downloading a white paper, but for those that do include an offer, the click-through rate on the offer link is an important metric.

You likely have more than one link to the offer, such as a button and a text link. You can see which performs better. You can also use the click-through metrics to help measure the effectiveness of your landing page on your Web site if you are using one for the campaign. For example, you may send prospects to a landing page to fill out a form to receive the offer. If there is a wide discrepancy between the number of prospects who click to the form and the number who actually ‘convert’ by filling out the form, then you might have a problem with your landing page or form.

One of the best ways to measure the strength of your offer is by monitoring the conversion rate metric. The conversion rate is the percentage of recipients who complete your call-to-action, such as downloading a white paper, registering for an online event, or purchasing a component online.

The overall effectiveness of your e-mail will impact conversion rates, but especially the value and relevancy of the offer or call-to-action. Weak or irrelevant offers will result in low conversion rates.

The key takeaway to remember when measuring your e-mail effectiveness is to pay attention to your e-mail metrics over time, making incremental changes to your e-mails that will generate improved results.

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