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Three Numbers You Should Always Know About Your Email Marketing Program

When you work in email for a decade on both sides of the industry, you pick up a few things here and there on how to do things the right way — some of which are challenges to the way a marketing brain is trained to think.

One of those challenges is awareness and a trend I’ve noticed on the consulting side is how company leadership still doesn’t know what or how their email program is doing while they can rattle off their social media following without blinking an eye.

If you’re one of those people, it’s ok. I won’t ring the shame bell ala Game Of Thrones, but let’s get you on the right path with three simple numbers you or your email team should always know.

#1: Your inbox placement percentage at major mailbox providers.

Inbox placement is the estimated percentage of your email that ends up in the inbox based on seed inboxes with major mailbox providers. It’s not good enough to know that you sent email; you need to know where it ended up.

Inbox placement has a direct line to revenue. The better you place, the more opportunity you have to generate revenue by people seeing your email.

For example, say you have 68% placement in Gmail for the last 12 months. That means 32% of your email is ending up in the spam folder which indicates there’s a big problem somewhere along the way. Assuming you know how much revenue your program generates, there’s a lot of opportunity in that 32%.

But you can’t act on a problem unless you know it’s a problem. Ask.

#2: Your engagement rates for your various lists.

When it comes to list size, bigger isn’t always better, and many companies delude themselves into thinking they’re doing a great job because they have an enormous marketing list built over years.

The far superior metric to swear by, and one that is directly tied to placement, is engagement: how many of those contacts have opened an email. You can take it a step further and add how many of those recipients have clicked an email if you are looking for a higher level of engagement.

While it seems quite obvious that a more engaged contact is better than a non-engaged one, engagement plays a major role in improving your placement percentage with mailbox providers like Gmail and Microsoft (Hotmail, Outlook, etc).

If you send thousands of emails that aren’t opened for, say, more than a year, it sends a signal to those providers that this content is not engaging. Unengaging content tends to end up in the spam folder, which is bad for business.

Another example: daily emails where recipients only open one per week. It’s a numbers game and that’s a bad equation.

Here’s a few tips you can practice to maintain healthy engagement:

  • Review your lists to figure out what percentage is unengaged. Start with a two year window as inactive emails for two-plus years are prime for conversion into spamtraps by the aforementioned major mailbox providers. Get rid of those addresses ASAP as they are potentially more harmful than good.
  • Then, look at your remaining list and the engagement rates by month. You’ll likely see a specific drop-off point which is a good spot to begin the unengaged user removal process paired with a solid re-engagement campaign.
  • If you’re seeing bad placement with just one mailbox provider, focus on that one specifically to start and be a bit more aggressive, especially if it’s Gmail or Microsoft. For example, if your general unengaged removal timeframe is nine months, try three months for Gmail if you’re struggling there.

#3: Your complaint and bounce rates.

What is worse than someone not opening an email? A complaint: the result of a recipient marking your mail as spam. It’s a dagger to the marketing heart.

Consistently high levels of complaints (more than a rate of .01%) should be taken seriously because they likely indicate an issue with your sending habits.

Begin by reviewing your creative, your lists, and even simple things like whether your unsubscribe link is working, and consider an unsub link in both the header and the footer. While unsubscribes are often painted as a negative, it’s much better than than the alternative of a complaint.

Moving to bounces, when an email message is sent but not delivered, it results in either a hard bounce or a soft bounce. A hard bounce means there is a permanent error, so no matter how many times you send to that address, it will never get there.

A soft bounce is a temporary error that could be caused by a variety of issues, such as an issue in transit, the receiving database not accepting emails or spam related reasons. Unlike hard bounces, however, soft bounces can be mailed to again.

A continually large amount of hard bounces can be kryptonite to your reputation as a super sender. It can signal to a mailbox provider that you may have purchased or rented a list. It is very important to continually clean your lists, which can help reduce hard bounces and thus increase your placement percentage.

For soft bounces, get to the bottom of what is causing the bounce. If you see large amounts of email bounced for spam related reasons, re-evaluate your provider, your content, or both. Soft bounces happen, but you want to know why and how to fix the issue.

To recap, pull together a lunch meeting and ask your email team the following questions:

  • What is our placement among major mailbox providers like Gmail, Yahoo, etc?
  • What are the engagement rates with our main lists? Where can we improve?
  • How are our bounce and complaint rates?

Lastly, to learn more about the three numbers you need to know for email delivery, check out this video of me and my partner-in-crime, Dickie LaFlamme:


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Whois: Josh Nason

Josh Nason is a Reputation Manager at Oracle Dyn Global Business Unit, a pioneer in managed DNS and a leader in cloud-based infrastructure that connects users with digital content and experiences across a global internet.