Learn the critical metrics for email marketing from six of the world's top email marketing experts.
Email marketing works. Don’t believe me? Just look at the data.
More than seven percent of all customer acquisitions are driven by email. This makes email the second most effective customer acquisition channel (behind search at 15.9 percent).
Perhaps even more interestingly, customers acquired through email marketing spend 12 percent more than average.
Finally, one of the most fascinating (and hey, exciting) statistics on marketing is the following:
The average return-on-investment for email marketing is $44.25 for every dollar spent.
Read that again.
Email marketing is a fantastic channel through which you can acquire hordes of customers, but only if you know what you’re doing. You need to know if what you’re doing is working, and if it isn’t, what you need to change.
You need to understand the art and science of email analytics.
That’s why I spoke with John McIntyre from ReEngager, which provides a done-for-you E-commerce email marketing solution for online retailers and E-commerce stores. John is one of the world’s foremost email marketing experts, and he’s here to save the email analytics day.
Related Article: You've Got Mail: The Comprehensive Email Marketing Guide
The ONE Thing You Need To Know About Email Analytics
According to John, it’s important to focus on the right metrics, or in this case, the right metric. “Instead of worrying about opens, clicks, replies, and other vanity metrics, pay attention to your revenue. It sounds simple, and it IS simple, but I see companies forget this all the time. They waste time focusing on metrics that are much less important than revenue in the grand scheme of things.”
I’d done my research for this article, and that wasn’t what I expected to hear. I thought John was going to tell me about how to track and improve open rates, click rates and deliverability, yet here he was telling me to ignore those things.
I asked him to explain.
“Here’s the thing. It’s entirely possible to have a great open rate for your industry without the corresponding revenue. In other words, your open rate can be great while your sales stink. On the other hand, you can have a great sales from your email campaign, but the open rate might be lousy.”
“In life, you get what you focus on. If you focus on sales and revenue and money in the door, that’s what you get more of. If you focus on open rates and clicks and everything else except revenue, you end up doing things like using cutesy subject lines because they get more opens, even if they don’t necessarily drive more revenue.”
Should You Ignore Opens, Clicks and Responses?
Yes, revenue and sales are the most important metrics to track, but no, that doesn’t mean you should ignore opens, clicks, replies and so on.
It’s about putting these secondary metrics in the right place - in service of your desire to drive more revenue. Don’t focus on improving your open rates without simultaneously tracking the revenue on each campaign.
How To Track Opens, Clicks, and Responses To Make More Money
Businesses are in business to make money. Once we get past the cutesy subject lines, big red buttons, and beautifully-designed emails, we have to remember that. The question is, where do open rates, click-through rate, response-rate and all the other metrics become useful? It’s simple. They’re useful when considered in the context of the bigger picture.
For example, consider this campaign:
Pay attention to how the campaign on the left generated higher opens and higher clicks but less sales. This is an example of how just focusing on opens will lead you and company astray.
Sometimes, a funnier subject line will get more opens, but it won’t lead to conversions because making people laugh doesn’t necessarily make them buy stuff. Other times, you’ll say something in your emails that makes some people ignore you, but winds up generating more sales than usual.
If you want sales, focus on sales. Focus on what makes people buy.
However, suppose the campaigns generated the same amount of revenue per email, but one campaign had a higher open rate. The higher open rate campaign would be the better campaign because it generated the highest total revenue. Or suppose one campaign created customers which spent twice as much. These are some of the other things you need to think about when creating emails.
John described it best:
“Instead of thinking about how to get the highest open rate, think about how to get your target customer onto your website. Just them. You don’t want everyone. You just want one type of person. Your target customer.”
The trick with email analytics is to focus on the customer. Not the prospect. Not the random person down the street who is only half-interested. You want to find the people who desperately need what you offer. Craft emails with that in mind, focus on the sales metric, and use opens, clicks, and other metrics to support that.
Given all his help, I should mention that John offers free 30-minute consultations to companies that qualify.
What Do Other Experts Think?
While writing this article, I also spoke with several other email marketing experts to get their take on email analytics. Some of them differed from John, some agreed, and some think metrics are largely BS.
“I look at open rates and click rates. The subject line typically impacts the open rates more than anything else. And of course the more opens to you get the more clicks you will receive. As for click rates, copy usually has the biggest effect on it. The more persuasive your copy the better off you are.”
Although he also stated that ‘opens’ is a metric being reported by many email programs… and he’s not a fan unless they’re unique.
“Opens is a useless metric if they aren’t looking at unique people because if the same person opens up your email 10 times it skews the metrics.” Given his background with KissMetrics, I was curious too about his opinion on A/B testing emails, something I do very little of (none). It’s worth it. I’ve A/B tested emails for years now… increasing open and click rates does have a significant impact on revenue.”
Better late than never I guess.
And then there’s Neil’s business partner at KISSmetrics, QuickSprout, and more: Hiten Shah. When asked his personal opinion of email marketing?
“It's quite an effective channel and the most understood by humans because it's a relatively basic online system of communication. Why wouldn't you invest heavily in it?”
But when asked about metrics, he and John agreed:
“When we can attribute email campaigns all the way down to conversions and ideally $$$ generated, we smile because that data is like gold if you want to grow.”
What I like about Ben is his very laid-back, get-to-the-point approach. Such as:
Me: “What’s the most important metric?”
Ben: “Sales. If email is my sport, then sales, not clicks, opens (which are notoriously inaccurate anyway due to smartphones), or low opt outs, is my scoreboard.”
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His approach, however, is both interesting and somewhat counter-intuitive. “Consistently writing an email (or more than one) each and every day [has the largest impact driving sales]. Consistency trumps proficiency in a lot of ways. Emailing every day the right way makes you a leader, not just an expert, to your list. People listen to experts, but they follow leaders. And, often buy from leaders more readily and, in some cases, even sight unseen.”
“They buy sight unseen…” Fascinating.
I have to admit, there are plenty of people I’ve seen as experts over the years. I look up to them because of their fancy title, well known name, or experience. But there’s many many many many experts who I both look up to - and have never given a dime. Then there’s Michel Fortin, the “Roger Bannister of Online Copy", and customer support wiz who was the first to break the copywriter’s 4 minute mile with an email that sold over $1,000,000… in a day. At this point I thought I’d make it more interesting by asking him what the most ridiculous copy was that he wrote which converted like mad.
His reply? “Literally, a 135-page sales letter of pure testimonials. But that's not the kicker. The kicker is, the headline was just one single word. All it said was, in big, bold, red letters, "PROOF!" (It had a short subheadline to give context, but that was it.) I spent weeks capturing, cherry picking, and editing several hundreds of testimonials from Traffic Secrets customers. And it made another million dollars in just a few days, if I recall correctly.”
One thing I really liked about Michel’s response is, when asked if he crushed all his knowledge into one sentence, he gave me one word, “Storyselling”. “Tell compelling stories. Use mystery and intrigue like you do with real stories.”
And often, he’ll use the ‘spoon feeding technique’ that he credits Daniel Levis.
“Each email is literally part of a long copy sales letter... The campaign simply spoon feeds the letter back to the reader, one bite at a time. One email it's a qualifying story. Next one is a list of benefits. Another is how the product was created. The next is a story that builds value in the product. Then it's the offer. Another email (several, in fact) are case studies (aka, testimonials with "before and after" text to turn the testimonial into a case study). Then each subsequent email is like an FAQ. Etc, etc, etc.”
This opens an interesting potential metric, especially when paired with the next expert’s advice: what percentage of people are reading every email in a sequence? Do you have them on the edge of their seat?
If Ben Settles’s ‘daily email’ approach resembles a machine-gun mercenary, our next expert, Andre Chaperon, is more of a sniper.
Andre is the creator of Auto Responder Madness and another powerhouse of email marketing. When asked about metrics, he differed from everyone:
“I’ll be honest, I’m not a big “metrics” person. I really don’t think they’re all that important. There are other activities that are FAR more important, and deserve most of your attention and focus. It’s where you can really move the needle, not by obsessing over a metric.
I’ll get controversial for a second, if that’s OK?
I think a lot of people apply too much importance to “open” and “click” rates. I think these metrics make for great meeting agenda decisions. So that management has something to chew on with the minions actually doing the work.
There are only two things you need to do well as an email marketer to produce world class results (a happy engaged audience eagerly waiting for your next email):
Know your audience better than they know themselves. Thinking you know doesn’t count. Assumptions are for people who think a 20 percent open rate is good. For me “good” is 50 percent. But a typical open rate would be upwards of 60 percent. Great is up there at 80 plus percent.
Spend 95 percent of your time crafting and writing the best emails in the world that add value and solve problems.”
At this point, however, he did go into some more details about metrics when I specifically asked him what the single most important email metric he looks at to judge the success of a campaign.
From Andre: “Easy … people responding to an email or email series. Responding can be hitting reply to an email or taking a desired action. You won’t always “see” this metric as a number in your dashboard. Making real human connections rarely are represented as a ‘number’.”
In some ways, not the answer I’d hoped for. In other ways, it’s priceless advice. What he’s saying, if I understand correctly, is that there’s an ‘engagement’ and ‘happiness’ metric that is both hard to define and invaluable. Did you get 56 percent open rates and 10 percent clicks? Sounds good… unless you lost credibility and respect from your list.
But Andre didn’t stop there as he hammered the point home. What really impacts his metrics? “Caring. Giving a damn about the person (people) receiving the emails. Helping solve their problems should be your core desire. When you do that well, you get paid. You get paid by earning their attention and trust for a while longer, and you get paid in sales as a RESULT of focusing on your core desire.”
When it comes to email analytics, we are (or, at least, I am) often hoping for a nice, simple, fast-food answer, for example. ‘repeat open rates’, clicks, etc.
But… caring? Happiness? Connection? How the hell am I supposed to measure this? Is it just fuzzy, new-age nonsense? Well, yes. But that’s the sad part. The number of people online is staggering. We can mass market. Hyper target market via social media. Or just blast our way into our prospects’ minds. But the more we blast, the harder the walls come up against our message.
It’s a never ending arms race trying to cram our message down the throat of the ‘prospect’, trying to grab a piece of mindshare from the thousands of other ads our prospect will be exposed to today.
Unless, of course, we actually care about them, earn their trust, and have them begging for more. Caring. Good call, Andre.
Finally, we had pinged Ryan Levesque, number one best-selling author of Ask, who uses surveys to hyper-focus his messaging and products. His opinion on metrics?
“The single most important metric for me is: Revenue per subscriber per month within an allowable churn (5 percent/month unsubscribe rate). In other words, the net revenue generated per subscriber on the list, without having too many people unsubscribe. Promote too hard, and you may generate more money this month, but lose too many people on the list to churn. Promote too gently, and the revenue per subscriber becomes unprofitable. It’s all about finding the right balance.”
What I like about this answer is that it takes both the short and long term views into account and adds nuance to some of the previous answers. It’s one thing to focus solely on revenue, but if you ride your readership too hard, you might not have a readership for the next promotion.
So, what emails convert well for him? Clearly not milk-toast “tame ones”:
“First of all, the craziest headline: “That Cheating BITCH. But I still love her... So what the hell should I do NOW?” (This is aimed toward men whose wives have cheated, trying to figure out if they should divorce or try to save the marriage.)
The most ridiculous subject line would have to be “Do You HATE Me?” This is the subject line for an email that I talk about in my book Ask. Essentially it’s a survey that asks people why they didn't buy, by asking them in a tongue-in-cheek way, “Do You HATE Me?” I usually include a happy face emoticon to lighten the tone. This email always generates a huge response, some of it controversial, but gives you valuable information about your market’s objections and sticking points that you might not get with a “tamer” subject line.”
I’ve seen similar in Ben Settle’s email list… being unafraid to pull punches helps a marketer stand out. I’ve also seen this abused. This morning I saw an email from someone I knew with just “Help” as the subject line. I immediately opened the email, wondering what was wrong. Turns out, he just wanted a hand with marketing. I marketed the email as unread (I’ll get to it later, probably), closed my app, and felt a bit… used.
Because my contact came on too strong, yet didn’t have the content to back it, I left the interaction feeling cheated and a little bit dirty. Was it intentional? Does it matter? Having seen how Ryan uses “Do you HATE me?”, and the content in the email, he doesn’t suffer from this, but a prudent marketer makes sure that there’s meat in the content or risks losing credibility in the eyes of the reader.
And neither Andre, nor Ryan, would be happy with that.
Related Article: Simple Steps to Optimizing Your Email Marketing Campaigns
Secret Tips of the Masters
Since I had their attention, I couldn’t help but ask these email experts about a unique, bizarre, or fascinating thing they learned about email marketing.
They did not disappoint.
Hiten Shah: “People are happy to receive more emails than we had originally thought, even up to a few times a day. They have to be highly relevant, contextual to what they signed up for and truly valuable to the receiver.”
Ben Settle: “... you cannot “scientifically” track email results. The variables change constantly. This is why I focus on sales over other metrics. The other metrics can be useful, and it’s good to track everything, but they aren’t necessarily a reflection of the cash register ringing. It’s not uncommon to get a huge open rate, for example, and few if any sales. While emails that got terrible open rates got lots of sales. In the end, the best thing to do is email daily offers your list want, focus on excelling at writing emails, and being consistent.”
Ben also had one more interesting insight. “I’ve had emails that were ridiculous “throw away” emails (I wrote fast, and brain farted out) that have done way better than expected. One that comes to mind is an email where I talked about in 8th grade I accidentally farted in study hall and, to avoid embarrassment, I looked at the guy behind me as if he did it.”
Useful to his audience? Maybe not. But I’ll be honest, I smiled. And that’s a strong positive association to have.
Andre Chaperon: “I was writing emails for the baby boomer market for a weight loss offer. My assumption was that they would want to lose weight to be more mobile. I did “deep dive” analysis and what I learnt shocked me. I got responses like, 'I don’t want to die'. I want to see my grandkids grow up'”.
The responses were selfless. It wasn’t about them, it was all about the other people they cared about. It’s why they wanted to stick around.
Writing the emails at that point was easy. There was no need to guess (incorrectly). The focus of the emails wasn’t even about losing weight anymore. It was all about them getting healthier so that they could be with your loved ones for longer. Eyeballing a stupid open/click metric wouldn’t have told me this. “Boss man” would have simply told “Sally the minion” to try push opes up from 15 percent to 20 percent by implementing this or that super duper ninja tactic.”
Ryan Levesque: “Less, but better. By using the Ask Method to survey our customers, who told us they were receiving too many emails, as well as looking at the numbers, we discovered that promoting less stuff actually makes us more money. Specifically, going from promoting a partner product every other week (26 times per year) to promoting a partner product every other month (6 times per year). Doing fewer promotions allows us to devote a lot more attention to “pre-launch” content and framing the offer, and also forces us to be very selective in what we do choose to promote.”
Drive Value, Balance Revenue and Churn, and Forget Vanity Metrics
There you have it. I think I’m ready to go send some emails. How about you? Remember, before anything, drive value to your readers first. Once you’re driving value, remember, when it comes to email analytics, focus on revenue and sales.
Then, in the process of optimizing for higher revenue and sales, track your open rates, click rates, and so on, and use that data to increase your sales.