Email Marketing Part III: Understanding, and Measuring, Exit Points

We wrote last month about the flow of marketing emails – about how the many great benefits of your email campaign can only be realized if your viewers manage to make it all the way to the end of your process to what web marketers call a conversion. Exactly what constitutes a conversion changes dramatically depending on the specific industry and campaign in question. Sometimes a conversion is as simple as a sale. But conversions can also be defined as a visitor signing up for your newsletter, clicking more than one article on your blog, or a host of other end-goal activities. Regardless of exactly what a conversion means to your campaign, visitors will never get there if something interrupts the flow that we talked about before. However, understanding a generic concept like email flow is one thing, pinning down exactly where your exit points are, and more importantly, why those points are causing exits, is the more difficult tasks. To that end, we’d like to discuss some of the ways in which you can begin to find, and ultimately to understand, these traffic bottlenecks in your email marketing process.

It’s all about measurement

To really understand your traffic flow, you must have data to analyze. This of course means you must have some data to track, and you must have actually collected it. Unfortunately, the data you need is unlikely to be neatly stored in any single location (unless of course you’re using enterprise level email campaign software, in which case we’re not sure what you’re doing reading a small business blog, other than the obvious comedic value of course). Instead, the information is spread out across at least two analytics sources, Google Analytics (or some competitor, but really, isn’t everyone on Google?) and the statistics collected by your email campaign provider (if you have not yet actually run a campaign, get in touch with us for more information on how to get started; we know which systems work well and getting setup is easier than you might think).

Open Rate:

From your email provider you should be able to learn important details about the success and quality of your emails. Here you can find how many of your emails were actually opened, how many people clicked on an included link within one of those emails, and how many of your targets gave up and unsubscribed (or worse, marked you as spam). To understand the flow rate of your emails you’ll need to start here. After all, if someone never opens your message, what are the chances that they’ll find their way to your shopping cart system? Each piece of information represents one of the potential bottlenecks in your strategy.

We covered it before, but it bears repeating here for clarity; your flow is represented by at least the following six “gates”:

  1. From field
  2. Subject Field
  3. Header (leading text displayed by most browsers)
  4. Copy (content)
  5. Call to action
  6. Destination

Not all of these gates are equally easy to measure, some estimation and imagination are necessary. Your open rate tells you how many of your targets saw enough value in items 1-3 to bother opening the email. Open rates won’t tell you exactly which number did the trick (or turned the reader away as the case may be) but if your open rate is low; these three are likely what you need to fix.

Open rate is impacted by:

  1. From field
  2. Subject
  3. Header

There are other factors to consider such as the time of day, day of the week, and the length of time between your email campaigns, each of which can impact your open rate. However, for this article, we’re focusing on specifically email structure and content. We’ll touch on these other topics later in the series.

Click Rate:

If your open rate is where you like it, the next stop on the analytics train is the click through rate. This measures the number of people who, after opening your email, then bothered to click on one of your outbound links. If, for example, your open rate is high, but your click through rate is very low, the problem is likely with the content of your email. On our list of gates, click rates measure numbers 4 and 5.

Click rates are impacted by:

  1. Copy (content)
  2. Call to action

Destination/Conversion

To understand what happens to your readers after they leave the email system, you’ll need to move over to a new set of statistics. On the Google Analytics side you’ll find the details about what happened once your visitors crossed over from the email you sent them to more productive tasks like visiting your website to sign that petition or pay you some money. We could write a whole article (or even a whole book, or three) on the subject of conversion measurement (and maybe we will someday), but that’s really beyond the scope of this article. For now, suffice it to say that what happens after your reader clicks out of the email ecosystem can get complex. If your outbound email link leads directly to a conversion, then you may have already won the battle. But for most situations, getting someone out of the email and on to bigger things is only half the fight. Sure, they’re moving, but it’s still all too easy to lose their interest.

A lot depends on the landing page at which they find themselves after clicking your email link. Is it attractive? Does it fit well with the content they’ve just left and continue the conversation? Does it work from a technical perspective (remember the almost ubiquitous mobile browser must be kept happy)?

Analyze, tune, repeat.

With this system of analysis in place, you should be well positioned to begin testing your theories. It’s a good idea to run through the entire process yourself, with the perspective of your target market firmly in mind. In other words, try your own emails, test them. Do they work? Remember to change only one thing at a time. If you adjust both the subject line of your next campaign and the from field, you will not be able to tell which one caused whatever effect you see. I recommend starting with step one and working through your flow-gates in order. This is the order people will be following when they interact with your emails and I think it makes sense to work from that perspective. It’s difficult, for example, to improve click-throughs if your open rate is too low to give you any viewers with which to work.

This process may take some time, so be patient.  A methodical approach to trying and testing new ideas will yield the clearest, most actionable, and most reproducible results. If you rush through testing, you’re likely to miss the little things that are actually making the differences you see in your results and your future efforts to repeat positive trends might not work like you expect them to.

Tune in next time...

Starting with part one of our email lecture series, we’ve now covered the introductory bits of email marketing from the benefits (and they are many) to the process, to the specifics of measurement. With this foundation firmly laid, we’ll move next month to a discussion about the content of your emails; starting with an article on email from fields and subject lines. For those of you already well steeped in email marketing campaigns, the most useful information may be ahead. Stay tuned...

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Kjeld Lindsted Kjeld Lindsted
Content Architecture, Copywriting, and Editing
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