Ready. Aim. Fire. That’s pretty much how it goes with most email campaigns. At least with a squirt gun, you can see immediately whether your aim was good. With email campaigns, you can’t see a thing unless you measure the results. So, how do you know if your email marketing campaign was a success, and what can you do to improve next time? Simple—data, analysis, and brainstorming solutions.
To better illustrate the metrics needed to understand the performance of an email marketing campaign, let’s start with a basic campaign consisting of a single email with a single call to action (CTA) button leading to a landing page. Of course, you can have an email point to many pages, but focusing on just one will help you identify how to improve the email for the next blast. It guides users into performing the key action you want to achieve, the single most important goal you have for the campaign.
Additionally, you’ll need a landing page with a single download button or simple form for the user to submit (e.g., asking for an email address). You can duplicate the button if it makes sense to have it in multiple places from a user experience perspective, but don’t make the form too complicated. The more fields users see, the more likely they are to bounce.
Before breaking down the metrics and calculations, let’s define the term “unique,” since it shows up a lot. A “unique” email open, click, visitor, and so on means counting only one type of action per user. For example, if someone “opens” your email multiple times, it’s only counted once (one unique open). Controlling for unique data is imperative in keeping metrics clean, clear, and useful.
Email blast metrics
First, let’s look at the key metrics that help measure the success of the email itself.
- Successful email deliveries. Unless your email list is curated regularly, the number of successful deliveries is likely smaller than the total number sent because of email bounces. Some reasons for bounces include:
- Recipient email server issues.
- Hard bounces due to spam filters, email security filter policies, and unknown user errors (such as invalid, misspelled, or blocked email addresses).
- Soft bounces due to recipients’ email security filter software.
- Email open rate. This looks at the number of times a unique email recipient clicked on the message to view its contents. Reopens are ignored. So, an email’s open rate is the number of unique opens divided by the number of emails successfully delivered.
- Email click rate. The click rate, or click-through rate, is the number of email recipients who clicked a button or link in the email to take some action on your landing page. The click rate is the number of clicks divided by the number of successful email deliveries.
Landing page metrics
After measuring the performance of your email, your landing page comes next.
- Landing page visitors. To calculate your conversion rate (see below), you’ll need to know how many unique visitors came directly from the email (versus arriving at the landing page via some other route). For simplicity, I use the number of unique clicks from the email. You may have heard of other ways to measure a landing page’s traffic such as page views or entrances, but they are likely to include more sources than just those from your email.
- Landing page bounce rate. A “bounce” is when a user comes to a page but then decides to leave the site altogether. The bounce rate is the number of bounces divided by the number of unique click-throughs from the email.
- Landing page conversion rate. When a visitor has downloaded a report or filled out a form, you’ve “converted” them into an active prospect to follow up with (maybe with a more targeted email, or even a human sales call). The landing page’s conversion rate is the number of unique button clicks that were recorded for the intended action divided by the number of email unique clicks.
Email conversion rate
The final piece of the data puzzle is the email conversion rate, which measures the ultimate success of the campaign. Some people divide the conversion rate by the number of email click-throughs, but that’s the same as the page’s conversion rate. I prefer this metric to connect the dots from landing page conversions back to the number of successful email deliveries because that gives a clearer picture of the email’s overall success. Thus, the email conversion rate is calculated by taking the number of conversions on your landing page divided by the number of successful email deliveries.
If not now, when (to report)?
Email opens will likely spike right after the email is sent. Then there’ll be a steep drop-off in a matter of hours. Some B2B emails might see a slight bump sometime the next day, when recipients have more time to look at emails not directly pertinent to their workday. So although you may want to report on the email’s progress by close of business the day of launch, common practice is to report on the campaign performance at least 24 hours after.
Benchmarking metrics—feast or flop?
To understand whether your campaign’s performance was a success, you’ll need to know your industry’s standard averages for what you are attempting to accomplish. An email promoting a Marvel movie sequel to existing fans will have different open rates than one cold-selling dog food to cat lovers.
Here's a good article comparing conversion rates for email marketing campaigns by industry.
How to improve your next email marketing blast
Are some of your primary metrics pointing the wrong direction? Some of them have straightforward (but not always easy) fixes.
Email open rate. If your open rate is low against industry averages, tweak your subject line. Think of it as a mini ad that’s sitting among other text ads in the recipient’s inbox. Each subject line is vying for the user’s attention, so treat it like a CTA (call to action) and clue the user in on a benefit they can gain by opening the email. This should help boost open rates.
Email click rate. High click rates indicate an email is written and designed well. The email speaks to the recipient’s needs. If the click rate is low, look at the design. Is the button so far down that the user needs to scroll? Don’t make them scroll and click (two actions). Do yourself and your campaign a favor and put your button “above the fold.” A low click rate could also indicate poor or overcomplicated copy, poor or confusing visual design, or dissonance between what you want and what your target audience wants. Reconsider your goals and their needs.
Landing page bounce rate. Users bounce if the landing page doesn’t fulfill the promise of your email. It means they didn’t get what they were expecting. For those who visit a web page after searching for a topic in Google, bounce rates can be high, like 75% to 90%. For an email campaign that’s speaking to a curated audience, bounce rates should be closer to 50% or 60%. If your landing page bounce rates look more like search bounce rates, consider tweaking the same things you would to improve email click rates: design, copy, and goal alignment.
Landing page conversion rate. The conversion rates of landing pages can vary depending on where the visitor came from and what they hoped to accomplish. Conversion rates across industries average about 2%, but the top 25% achieve an average of 5%, and the top 10% can have conversion rates as high as 11% or even higher. A low rate could mean the copy, design, and/or CTA aren’t optimal. Consider moving the button or form up the page above the fold, or find ways to clarify how the user will benefit from acting.
There are other things you can do to improve your campaign, such as using heat map analysis to find out where users are clicking in your email or landing page. HubSpot has heat maps built into its email marketing platform, for instance.
Another way to improve your landing page conversion rate is to conduct A/B tests of the email and/or the landing page. A/B testing works by creating two versions where only one thing is different. Then you serve one version to half the pool of recipients, and the other version to the other half. Whichever version performs best is the new normal upon which to base more A/B tests to further refine your experiments.
These metrics may be simple, but they’re powerful. Not only will you be able to measure the success of your email campaigns, but you’ll also know what went wrong or what you’re doing well. The prize? You’ll always keep learning while (hopefully) watching your sales increase.
So to summarize, here are the two pieces of data you need to start with:
- The number of successful email deliveries
- The number of visitors to the landing page that came directly from the email
And the formulas to calculate your email’s success:
- Email open rate = unique opens / successful email deliveries
- Email click rate = unique clicks / successful email deliveries
- Landing page bounce rate = bounces / unique page views attributable only to the email
- Landing page conversion rate = landing page conversions (button clicks, etc.) / unique page views attributable only to the email
- Email conversion rate = landing page conversions / successful email deliveries