Tracking Results on a Budget

  |  August 7, 2003   |  Comments

Small businesses don’t have larger companies’ deep pockets. How to track e-mail campaign results on a budget.

Small businesses have it rough. When it comes to email marketing, they typically don’t have the resources of larger companies. Their budget constraints affect all aspects of a campaign, from building an opt-in mailing list to developing the creative and tracking its results. It’s the last piece of the campaign I’ll focus on today.

American Meadows supplies flower seeds throughout North America. It began as a tourist attraction in the 1980s, but the seed catalog quickly became the main focus. As the Internet took off, so did American Meadows’ online presence, and the company now relies solely on the Internet for its advertising. Of course, email marketing is a key part of that.

At first, American Meadows used server logs to track its email marketing efforts. Founder Ray Allen would look at the real-time hourly stats and could see when a spike in traffic occurred after sending out a mailing.

"I could see the browser traffic, but that’s all I knew," Allen says. "The quality of the spike and the ability to quantitatively measure the traffic wasn’t there, and that wasn’t good enough."

So he invested in a service called ConversionRuler.com, a subscription-based performance-tracking reporting service. Allen now uses it to track each of his seasonal newsletters and weekly offers. With the data he has gathered via the ConversionRuler tool, he applies what he has learned to achieve better results from future campaigns. Here’s some of what Allen has discovered:

  • Day of week. A lot of readers have asked me about the best day to send a mailing. My response is it depends upon your business. If you’re in the automotive business and want to drive customers to your real-world dealership, you may want to send out a mailing just before the weekend.

    The best way to know when to send a mailing, of course, is to track your campaigns. Since the start of this year, American Meadows has found the top six performing email messages have all gone out on either a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Logically, the company now sends nearly all its offers early in the week.

  • Time of day. Allen found almost all their responses are in the middle of the day, around the lunch hour. Most likely, people at work are taking a break and ordering wildflower seeds. OK, no big surprise. But that’s one reason why companies should track mailings. Now that Allen has eliminated this variable, he can make sure his servers are able to handle heavy midday traffic. He can instead focus on other campaign aspects.

  • Free shipping. A third of the top-performing offers include free shipping, which American Meadows proffers several times a year. Allen says that seems to be the only real incentive that can change offer response, other than (of course) the offer itself.

  • Top of the fold. The American Meadows offers are all fairly simple HTML mailings, with a colorful photograph at the top followed by text. The designer typically puts three links throughout the mailing, and Allen has found more than 70 percent of recipients will click the first link. "As a copywriter, you want to force them to read it, but that doesn’t work," he says. He has also noticed length of the mailing doesn’t make much difference. My guess is by the first link either readers are hooked or not interested, so what’s beyond the top of the email doesn’t matter much.

  • Miscellaneous. Allen didn’t have quantitative data to share with me, but he did say he was surprised by how long some recipients kept mailings in their inboxes. Allen now knows some individuals save mailings and order seeds weeks or months after the mailing. Before using ConversionRuler, he was unable to tie a small jump in orders to a particular mailing.

These are just a few of the results Allen has either confirmed or learned by using the tracking service. He notes ConversionRuler starts at $19.99 a month and goes up in price based on volume. Other companies offering similar services include Clicklab, LISTSERV Maestro, and Site Stats.

For small businesses that haven’t tracked email marketing campaigns because it seemed too expensive, investigate tracking software and service options. The knowledge you gain may be well worth the investment.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heidi Anderson

Heidi is a freelance writer who covers the Internet for both consumers and businesses. She's a former editor of the E-mail Publishing Resource Center and coauthor of "Sometimes the Messenger Should Be Shot: Building a Spam-Free E-mail Marketing Program." Her work also appears in Smart Computing, PC Novice, What's Working Online, and Editor & Publisher.

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