Some 60% of marketers report that their email marketing efforts yield a positive ROI. On the surface, that's a positive sign, but that fact doesn't reveal how marketers can attribute, with certainty, those returns to email marketing.

In other words, how do email marketers measure success?

Best-practices regarding key performance indicators (KPIs) exist. The trouble is that not every marketing team follows them—which to a degree makes sense. If a brand isn't using social media, there's no sense in tracking clicks to social.

Where marketers get in trouble, however, is by having a narrow view of the metrics they're tracking. A click-to-open rate may speak most directly to a brand's goals, but tracking a complete set of metrics will give a better sense of what customers are responding to.

Here's a look at the seven most important KPIs for email marketing. Some may seem basic, but they are the metrics that brands should keep in their email marketing toolbox.

Know your email marketing goals, and keep the following in mind as you pursue them.

  1. Delivery rate measures the number of emails delivered versus the number sent. In essence, it tracks the bounce rate. By tracking delivery rate, marketers confirm the size of their subscriber base.

    If the delivery rate is not checked regularly, marketers may realize too late that their emails are reaching very few people. Not only is that embarrassing, but a high bounce rate can lead to blacklisting, which harms marketing efforts and brand reputation.
  2. Unique open rate goes beyond the basic open rate, which just tells marketers the number of times an email is opened. Tracking unique open rate reveals the number of individual subscribers who viewed an email.

    If one subscriber opens an email multiple times, this action inflates the open rate. This metric can provide insight on the effectiveness of subject lines because it shows which ones were intriguing enough for the recipient to open.
  3. Unique click-to-open rate measures the number of unique subscribers who clicked on the message compared to the number of people who viewed it. This is a good indicator of how engaging the content of the email actually is.

    (Many marketers will measure click-through-rates using the number of individuals who clicked on the message compared to the number of delivered messages, but this comparison does not reveal the content's influence on the click.)
  4. Conversion rate shows how many subscribers complete the call-to-action within the email. Often, that means that they made a purchase, but it can also mean they signed up for a newsletter, downloaded a whitepaper, completed a survey, or did whatever else the email asked. This can either refer to the number of conversions compared to number of deliveries or unique clicks.

    As long as the entire marketing team is consistent, either method is effective in measuring conversions.
  5. Unsubscribe rate measures the percentage of subscribers who choose to unsubscribe from an email list. Users may unsubscribe for a number of reasons (e.g., they accidentally subscribed to the list, the content is no longer relevant to them, or they see too many emails from the brand).

    The issue of content is the most worrisome, especially if the unsubscribe rate is high. If that's the case, consider revising content.
  6. Clicks to social media is an important metric for measuring the success of the campaign if the email content links to social media sites. (All email campaigns should include links; it's an easy way to make a campaign multichannel.)

    This metric measures the number of clicks from an email to a social network. It reveals which social outlets a brand's subscribers favor. Knowing this, brands can then tailor email content to fit their subscribers' preferences.
  7. Revenue and number of orders is crucial in evaluating the success of an email marketing campaign if the goal is to generate sales.

    Knowing these numbers helps marketers determine the effectiveness of those campaigns and make better email marketing decisions in the future.

Most marketers are already tracking some basics. Delivery and open rates are standard metrics, but marketers fall short in using click-to-open and other more meaningful metrics. Let's change that. Let's all resolve to be email metric sticklers.

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Seven Must-Have Metrics to Keep in Your Email Marketing Toolbox

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image of Yazmin Harris

Yazmin Harris is an analyst in Social and Disruptive Marketing Strategies, focusing on bringing innovation to the ESP space, at Yesmail Interactive.

LinkedIn: Yazmin Harris