Email works. Perhaps too well for our own darn good. The revenue that we generate every time we send out a generic, non-segmented blast mailing masks a lot of missed opportunities. It's time for online marketers to kick our baby out of the nest.

For too many marketers, email revenue per subscriber is not growing, and more and more subscribers are simply ignoring our messages. Do not ignore that reality if you need the email channel to drive predictable, optimal results.

No question. Email is the highest ROI channel by far. Email marketing returns $57.25 for every dollar spent, more than 150% greater than the ROI for non-email online marketing (DMA, 2007).

Honestly, however, most email marketing today is pretty terrible. It's irrelevant, poorly timed, creatively uninteresting, and completely generic. The vast majority of us still follow a batch-and-blast broadcast approach that will never make our email messages relevant to most of our subscribers most of the time.

Consider that if we can earn a nearly $60 ROI by creating email programs that are compelling to just a few subscribers, just occasionally... imagine what we could do if we actually optimized our programs.

Your true email ROI isn't captured by averages. It's misleading to think about email's contribution without factoring in the risks of batch and blast, which include higher spam complaints and diminished deliverability, list churn and inattentive customers, brand damage and lost future revenue through continued irrelevancy.

Here's the challenge. We send out a message, we get revenue. That's good! But that isn't the end of the story. Sending out messages that are irrelevant to most of your file has other costs. Look at your unsubscribe rate. Check the complaint rate (subscribers clicking the "this is spam" button). Both will rise when you send irrelevant or too frequent messages.

The cost to replace those subscribers and maintain your file integrity will cut into that incremental boost. Plus, in every case we've seen, the non-responder rate (subscribers with no opens or clicks) also goes up dramatically.

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Stephanie Miller is vice-president of market development for Return Path, Inc. ( Reach her via Twitter (@StephanieSAM) or