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Measure the Success of Your E-Newsletter, Part 1

  |  June 26, 2002   |  Comments

Is your e-newsletter working? Here’s how to find out. In part one of ’Measuring Success’: quantitative metrics.

Hello? Anyone reading this? How would I know if you were?

The open rate is the number of subscribers who open your e-newsletter divided by the total number of emails successfully delivered. Ideally, it should be over 50 percent. (The open rate can’t be computed for text newsletters as it’s based on a tiny piece of invisible code inserted near the top of the HTML.)

As a publisher, I want to know how many subscribers open my e-newsletter. It tells me readers are interested in the content. They care. They’re loyal. And, by inference, that my subject line was a good one (if that’s what prompted the click).

But there’s a lot more to gauging the success of your e-newsletter than how many subscribers are opening and reading each issue.

Measuring newsletter success is part art, part science. It’s based on quantitative and qualitative variables and on your publication’s objective.

This week, I’ll cover quantitative metrics. Next time, I’ll look at qualitative ones -- which are just as important.

Key Quantitative Indicators

All the numbers below should be viewed over time. Trends up or down are what tell you something.

Open Rate

Knowing your open rate is a powerful way to boost the attractiveness of your newsletter to potential advertisers. The number of click-throughs on a sponsor’s text ad divided by the number of emails opened tells you an advertiser’s response rate. If this number is consistently over 3 or 4 percent, put that fact in your online media kit.

Interestingly, few advertisers inquire about the open rate before purchasing e-newsletter sponsorship ads. Perhaps they don’t know this number is readily available. Perhaps they’re accustomed to advertising in text e-newsletters, where it’s not. They should ask.

If you include complete articles in your newsletter, as opposed to teaser intros that link to complete articles on your Web site, you’ll need to rely on open rates to evaluate whether subscribers are reading your content.

Article Click-Throughs

Web-based email vendors can track embedded URLs in your HTML newsletter and return all kinds of detailed reporting, such as which articles (or text ads) were clicked on most, who clicked, and how many times. Use this information to fine-tune your content formula. You may be surprised what catches readers’ interest.

If you don’t mind inserting long, ugly URLs into your text newsletter, you can get the same reporting. This makes it very obvious you’re tracking every click, though.


You’ll get some each time you mail an issue. People change jobs, change email addresses, or go on vacation.

As long as the number of unsubscribes is small (under 1 percent of your list), don’t sweat it. If you’re not getting angry letters, it’s a mark of success your subscribers are able to get off your list quickly and painlessly.

New Subscribes

Ideally, you’ll see an uptick in the number of new sign-ups each time you send an issue. Focus on the steady growth of your subscriber list. How many new sign ups do you get in an average week? In a month?

No matter what the objective of your newsletter, you want your list to grow. It’s another key metric.

Forwards, or Passalongs

Email marketers swear by this metric. In my experience, few people actually use the "forward to a friend" feature built into a Web page or HTML newsletter template. Results of an instant poll in the current issue of my newsletter show over 50 percent of readers say they either don’t use this feature or prefer to send their own "hey, read this" message.

If your newsletter is text, it’s easier to hit the "Forward" button and type in a quick note to a colleague. Passalong is important, but you may not have precise reporting for it.

Direct Revenue

This metric doesn’t apply if you’re publishing an e-newsletter as a marketing and lead-generating tactic. A growing number of e-newsletters are paid-subscription products. Enough, in fact, that this measurement of success merits inclusion.

Another tactic is to use each issue of your newsletter as an upsell tool. Give away your content, but drive readers back to your site to purchase a product or service.

Next time, I’ll discuss qualitative methods of measuring success, including anecdotal feedback, recognition as an expert, and press inquiries.

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Debbie Weil

Debbie Weil is publisher of WordBiz Report, which focuses on the business of words online. It was awarded The Newsletter on Newsletters' Gold Award for Online Subscription Newsletter. A former newspaper reporter with an MBA and corporate marketing experience, Debbie is an expert on B2B online content and marketing at both the strategic and creative levels. She was Web content marketing manager for Network Solutions (now part of Verisign) before launching WordBiz.com.

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