Life Along The E-Mail Continuum

Unlike other forms of marketing, email offers a unique opportunity to evaluate half a dozen metrics, all of which contribute to the success or failure of a campaign. To enhance results, creative, offer and price can be tweaked at any and all points along what I call the “email continuum.”

Think of the email cycle as a continuous line, with operative checkpoints along the way:

email cycle

For those of you who don’t measure all these items, or may be unfamiliar with them, let’s quickly define the terms:

  • Sent: Number of emails you actually send.
  • Bounces: Undeliverable emails. Bear in mind many messages don’t get through due to ISP and consumer spam filters.
  • Delivered: Successfully sent emails (minus the bounces).
  • Opened: E-mails opened.
  • Unsubs: Subscriptions cancelled after the mailing.
  • Clicks: Link(s) within the message that were clicked.
  • Landing Page Activity: What took place on the landing page, mini-site or Web site the message links to, e.g. visits, pages viewed, left without taking action, etc.
  • Actions: Orders, leads, newsletter signups, etc.

Typical ranges for the above:

  • Bounces: less than 10 percent is considered good.
  • Filtered: All over the board dependent on the ISP, quantity of mail sent, content and construction of the message, and consumer-configured controls.
  • Unsubs: Less than five percent of what’s actually delivered is acceptable.
  • Delivered: If you deliver 80 percent, that’s fine. Spam filtering alters what were once fairly stable percentages.
  • Opened: Depends on the offer, but 10 to 50 percent is desirable. Strong offers with relevant content can yield 80 percent opens, or better.
  • Clicks: the higher the better. Look for at least 10 percent. Relevant content can yield 50 percent or higher.
  • Landing page activity: Varies greatly, dependent on depth and complexity of site.
  • Actions: Relative to what you sell. We typically see ranges from one to 20 percent. Target conversions depend on cost per order (CPO) and cost per lead (CPL) analytics. One percent can be a highly successful campaign if you’re selling a Mercedes, whereas a one percent conversion for a $20 item is probably not viable.

Now, to the heart of the matter: determining what observations you can make along the continuum, and what you can do to improve campaign ROI.

A high bounce rate indicates your list is not clean, or that there were some technical problems in the delivery process. If there was no tech issue, you can use one of the standardization services to clean up your list. Also, make sure bounces are removed from your database.

A high level of filtering can indicate a number of issues:

  • The creative may cause ISPs to block your mail.
  • You could be sending email too quickly.
  • Irrelevant content causes consumers to report the message as spam.

Immediately revisit the creative. Learn why ISPs are blocking your email.

A high unsub rate usually indicates people no longer wish to receive your email. This can be due to frequency or irrelevant content. Consider changing the delivery time or reducing the number of messages sent.

Open rate is the first opportunity to constructively apply what you’ve learned to improve metrics. Assuming email is delivered, a low open rate may mean:

  • “From” address turned people off.
  • Subject line was boring, unimaginative or misleading.
  • Copy and/or graphics in the “preview window” didn’t get the job done.
  • Content was irrelevant to the recipient, or the message seemed unsolicited.

Once you’ve reviewed these areas and made appropriate changes, test to see if changes improved the open rate. Test small segments before mailing to the entire list.

Once people open the email, the objective is to move the consumer to action. Often, this means motivating the consumer to click to a landing page or mini-site.

Click rates can be used as a means to enhance a campaign. If open rates are at an acceptable level but click rate is low, there’s something wrong with the core message. Potential areas for improvement:

  • Offer: Does the offer turn people on? Is it relevant? Has the offer been around for a while? If the same offer has been seen by some recipients numerous times, separate them and send different creative.
  • Copy and graphics: If the offer’s fresh, new and compelling, look at the creative. Ensure offer, benefits, features and details are clear, and there’s a strong call-to-action.
  • Price: If the creative and offer are OK, maybe the price is a turnoff. You can easily do price testing. Send an additional 5,000 test emails with a different price. Making sure to update the price on the landing page so it’s consistent with the email.

Assuming all metrics are good at this point, the landing page, micro-site or Web site where people are directed from the email should be evaluated. How email campaigns can break down when people arrive:

  • Too big or distracting. If the email’s goal is a trial magazine subscription, providing an advance look at stories, content searches or a look into the archives will reduce response. These distract. You may want to test text email with strong copy, as many ISPs and some email clients have reset software to automatically filter out HTML email.
  • Unclear. E-mail can be well designed and executed, but the corresponding Web site may be a complete disaster. The site should restate the offer, provide additional detail, and motivate a consumer to act.
  • Offer doesn’t match email. Pay attention to the obvious. In many cases, squirrelly email marketers do this deliberately to fool ISPs into delivering outrageous offers.
  • Ordering isn’t easy. A primary reason people abandon shopping carts is because the ordering process confuses or breaks down. Ask 5 to 10 trusted non-experts (like your mom) to go to your site and try to order something. Obstacles? The outcome may surprise you.
  • Orders don’t get through. I ordered something last week, and never got a confirmation. Apparently, a power blackout resulted in lost orders. Do you have a failsafe program or backup system?
  • Landing page mismatch. If you test multiple prices or offers, does the link in the email for price “A” go to the landing page for price “A”? Or does someone see $19.95 in the email, and $29.95 on the landing page?
  • Tech issue. Perhaps the landing page isn’t working properly. Has it been thoroughly tested on all browsers and software platforms?

That’s the email continuum. If you utilize email, keep track of all metrics on each step and evaluate where the campaign can be improved. It’s one of the most important practices. Keep reading…

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Strategies is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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