Overcoming Email Reporting Blind Spots

 
 

This article originally appeared in MediaPost on January 29, 2015.

Most email marketers rely on a standard set of metrics that are fairly consistent.  We typically measure sent, delivered, opens, clicks, conversions, revenue, spam complaints, unsubscribes and some variation of rates among those metrics.

Email is a mature channel with a fairly good set of measurements, right?  Yes and no.  On one hand, it’s good to have a set of measurements that appear to be somewhat consistent across our industry.  It makes it possible to create industry benchmarks and for email marketers to quickly understand the state an email program when transitioning to a new role or working with a new client. On the flip side, relying on standard metrics has created blind spots. These gaps are causing email marketers to overlook important points that are great opportunities to modify strategy and approach.  

Here are three blind spots that you can easily overcome by adding additional views to your ongoing reports or by thinking differently:

 

Blind Spot #1: Unsubscribe Rate

Unsubscribe rate is calculated by taking the number of unsubscribes and dividing by the number of emails delivered (unsubscribes/delivered).  The problem is that this doesn’t properly tell the story of those who engaged with the email and then decided to drop as a result of that email (or those leading up to that particular email).

Companies I’ve worked with often don’t see a high variance in unsubscribe rate between one campaign to another, so the impact of unsubscribes on specific campaigns doesn’t stand out as much as it would if that rate were based on actual engagement.  I’d like to resurface a column that has stuck with me for many years: Melinda Krueger’s Email Insider column from 2005, where she proposes a new way of measuring unsubscribes called the Disaffection Index (DI). The DI equation can be calculated as:

Unsubscribes/Unique Clicks=Disaffection Index

This measurement will help you see defections as a result of those who truly interacted with a specific email vs. looking at the entire population that received it.  You’ll easily see what campaigns cause attrition and need improvement.

 

Blind Spot #2: Click-Through Rate

While I am guilty of regularly assuming a high click-through rate is good, it doesn’t take into account all of those clicks that are unsubscribes. Many campaigns can look like they have high engagement when in fact they may actually be toxic campaigns from an attrition standpoint. To combat the short-sighted view of click-through rate, I recommend the following equations to get to what I am calling “engaged click-through rate”:

Clicks-Unsubscribes=Engaged Clickers

Engaged Clickers/Delivered=Engaged Click-Through Rate

 

Blind Spot #3: Open Rate

Many email marketers already know that an open isn’t always an open, but it’s worth reiterating for newer email marketers or digital generalists who may be in the dark on this one. Opens are calculated when an invisible pixel loads on an email recipient’s device. If images are turned off, yet a recipient reads the entire email, it does not calculate as an open. Conversely, if a recipient has a preview pane or is scrolling through emails on a mobile device and the email images load, the interaction counts as an open even though the user never really engaged with the email.

While I’m afraid there’s no replacement metric that I can recommend for this one, there should be a different mindset when looking at opens.  Open rates will tell you directional trends based on a specific segment of your database as a whole. If your emails have a 25% open rate, be sure to take note that it doesn’t mean that 25% of your emails get opened.  It means 25% of your emails have rendered in the inbox, whether your recipients engaged or not.  Some in the industry have suggested that open rate be known as HTML render rate to give a truer description of what this metric is telling us.

Don’t let these blind spots keep you from making much-needed improvements to your program. By thinking a bit differently and even modifying reporting views, you can easily spotlight where opportunities for optimization exist. What other blind spots have you found in your reporting, and how did you overcome them?