Marketers have relied on open and click-through rates as the major measures of the success of a program or campaign for the last decade plus. These metrics are good, but don’t always tell the entire story. At my company we began monitoring email marketing engagement as we gathered more and more panel data (aggregated behavioral data on how actual mailbox users interact with messages) over the past year. The metrics we developed while analyzing that data provide deeper insight into program performance, even relative to other marketers’ campaigns. The following are three measures we’ve found to be especially valuable:
1. Inbox Placement-adjusted Clicks and Opens. When marketers see an unexplained dip in email campaign performance, inbox placement rates (IPR) are often the root cause. Low open rates and CTR can make it appear that a campaign stopped working, but the real problem is a sudden drop in the percentage of delivered messages that made it to the inbox (as opposed to the bulk folder, for instance). If your performance metrics don’t account for inbox placement, you can’t accurately track opens or clicks -- but more important, you can’t see when your campaigns are being blocked or bulked.
While panel data are more accurate, seed lists are an effective way to measure inbox placement percentages at most smaller ISPs. (The exception is for senders with very low or very high engagement rates.) At top mailbox providers like AOL, Gmail, and Yahoo, panel data should be available from real inbox users as a more reliable proxy for inbox placement.
2. Net-Read Rate (this is different from Open Rate): Apart from IPR-related issues, the problems with open rates are well understood. So what’s a better approach? Using the panel data that I talked about above, you can see the percentage of messages that were read by users. (For the technologists in the crowd, that means that the IMAP “seen,” ”flagged,” or “answered” flags have been set for the messages under review.) Unlike traditional open-rate metrics, this approach doesn’t put you at the mercy of the email client to render images, so it’s a far more accurate measure.
3. Relative Gross Read Rate / Competitive Read Rate Index: Comparing your campaign’s metrics to your past performance is clearly useful, and so is comparing them to the (very good) ESP-driven benchmark data typically broken out by vertical. But neither helps you to confidently create and optimize new campaigns. For that you need to know how your direct competitors’ campaigns performed against others, including yours. Panel data can show you exactly that, letting you see the percentage of users that read other marketers’ messages, so you can immediately determine whether yours were more or less engaging.
These are new metrics, and they’re part of a new approach to email marketing measurement. We’re still working on the best ways to use this panel data. What other measurements would be useful? I’d like to hear your opinions.