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Measure the Success of Your E-Newsletter, Part 2

  |  July 10, 2002   |  Comments

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

Last time, I wrote about open rates as a key indicator to measure the success of your newsletter. Boy, did that open a can of worms.

The subject isn’t definitively closed, given how email technology works. I can offer clarification that should make some of you happier. Then, I’ll get to those qualitative metrics for gauging success I promised.

Open Rate, Continued

I proposed the open rate is a key metric for deducing whether subscribers are reading your newsletter and viewing your ads. I stand by that statement.

I define open rate as the number of emails opened divided by the number of messages successfully delivered, as opposed to sent. A small, but important, distinction. Your open rate will be higher if you use this equation. It’s also a more accurate measurement. If a subscriber’s Hotmail inbox is full and she never received your e-newsletter, how can you expect her to open it?

What constitutes "opening" an email message? It’s a legitimate question. A number of readers asked whether a message is counted as opened if it appears in the preview pane in the ubiquitous Outlook and Outlook Express email clients.

I consulted with several techies. Here’s what I learned from Email Infrastructure columnist Edward Grossman. Picture scrolling through your Outlook inbox with the preview function turned on. You pause for a few seconds, long enough for all the images contained in an HTML message to load. That counts as an open.

If you scroll more quickly, there’s not enough time for the images to be called up from the remote server. In that case, no open is recorded.

In Grossman’s view, the "pause" is a legitimate measurement of opening. "Some people read all their email in preview mode," he said. "If they pause, they’re most likely reading the first few lines or the table of contents anyway."

I agree. Look at it this way: Someone who clicks open a message may not read any more than a few lines anyway.

The technology is imperfect. As Peter Mesnick, CTO of iMakeNews, puts it: "The open rate is a tricky statistic when dealing with HTML email. It’s the statistic every marketer would love to have, but it is hampered by the technical realities of the medium."

List Size, Emails Delivered, and Click-Throughs

My best advice is to review, over time, three other quantitative measurements with the open rate:

  • Growth in your list’s size (equivalent to the total number of emails sent for a given issue)

  • Number of emails successfully delivered (typically, 90 to 95 percent)

  • Click-throughs on articles or ads within the newsletter

You determine what you put in the denominator when computing the response rate to your content or to a sponsor’s ad.

Seems like common sense to me that the effective response rate should be based on the number of click-throughs divided by the number of emails opened -- as opposed to the number sent (despite the fact the latter computation underlies CPM pricing).

On to the fuzzier, qualitative stuff.

Key Qualitative Indicators

Credibility and Recognition As an Expert

Isn’t this one of the primary reasons to develop an e-newsletter? If you see a bump in the number of new clients for your professional services or an increase in sales inquiries for your product, you may be able to chalk it up to your newsletter.

You decide how to measure "credibility." One e-newsletter publisher I know puts it this way, "People come up to me at business meetings and quote back to me something they remember."

Press Inquiries

The value of free publicity can never be overrated. As VP of marketing for Socketware, Tricia Robinson oversees the email service company’s newsletter, Subject Lines. Besides having a great name, it’s one of the few purely promotional e-newsletters actually worth reading.

That fact was enough to attract attention from Ezine-Tips’s Janet Roberts, who interviewed Robinson about her company’s house organ. As a former reporter, I can tell you journalists and commentators have a nose for the real deal: quality, substance, and flawless execution.

Aim for that and you’re bound to get noticed.

Speaking Engagements

Conference and panel organizers always seek expert speakers. If your newsletter has made it on to the radar of those knowledgeable about your industry, you can expect the phone to ring with speaking requests.

Many of these gigs are unpaid, so you need to ask if it’s worth your time out of the office. If you get even one solid lead from the audience, it usually is.

Anecdotal Feedback From Readers

This is the Holy Grail for most e-newsletter publishers. Good or bad, feedback lets you know you’re being heard. Your e-pub is making an impact. Subscribers care enough to read it and take the trouble to write to you.

You’re connecting with your readers, one by one. Isn’t that what success in life (not just e-newsletters) is all about?

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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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