While the world of email marketing is evolving, many of the tools used for analysis and reporting have not changed with it. With its ability to track deliveries, bounces, opens, clicks and conversion activities, email marketing produces a lot of data. However, most reports using this data are just a proliferation of statistics which fail to provide marketers with the intelligence required to make informed decisions about future marketing activities or campaigns.

Traditional reporting methods do not measure the long term decline in email performance, how this differs between old versus new subscribers, engaged versus disengaged, male versus female, etc. Data from email campaigns is generally quite raw and marketers have to spend time analysing endless spreadsheets files before they can even begin to use the information to drive strategic decisions.

Even the reporting techniques themselves are limiting. Heatmaps, for example, may look visually impressive but the findings are usually very basic. Similarly, an activity timeline does not necessarily allow a marketer to work out the best time of day to send an email.  Industry benchmarks can also be misleading.  The danger is that if a marketers emails perform two percent better than the benchmark, this would be viewed as a success, when in fact there may be much more that can be achieved.

There are alternative ways of gleaning the most out of email marketing data, all of which provide greater value to the marketer than the examples discussed above. This article looks at the best reporting techniques and how they can be used to help the measurement of email marketing catch up with the sophistication of the campaigns themselves.

1. Reporting Dashboards

Dashboards avoid information overload, but still capture enough data to be meaningful. These should show the information marketers and management teams need to make instant decisions, such as:

  • Trends in performance of each type of campaign over time
  • Breakdown of different types of campaigns to see where the most revenue is being generated
  • Comparisons between campaign types and other chosen ways of reporting
  • Analysis of overall performance of the last 30 days against the previous 30 day period

A dashboard, complete with annotations, comments and analysis allows marketers to cut through the clutter of email reporting and discover why a trend has sharply changed without guesswork or having to dig through old archives.

2. Campaign Tagging

Most email service provider (ESP) reporting tools enable marketers to compare and crunch stats on emails using standard elements such as the date the email was sent, or by ticking a list of emails to compare.

It can also be useful to analyse data in different ways, such as:

  • Type of campaign (newsletter/welcome/reactivation etc)
  • Time: day of week or hour of the day
  • External events that impact on campaign performance, such as the weather, the World Cup or riots!
  • Main type of offer or news story included ‘above-the-fold’
  • Style of email – special offer emails/new product releases

By aggregating this data according to tag type on all marketing emails, greater contrasts and more statistically robust results than comparing individual campaigns in isolation. This allows marketers to be confident in their findings as to which day of the week or what type of content works best without spending days manually crunching data.

3. Segmentation Reports

A tried and tested method, segmentation reporting allows marketers to drill-down on campaign statistics to understand response rates from each of their defined segments. By breaking down per segment, not only do they identify groups whose performance needs improving, but also the size of the opportunity. This makes it possible to decide which segments are worth focussing effort on, and in what order.

For example:

  • How does campaign performance compare between genders?
  • What is the true value of each source of data? Do some sign-up sources provide a better quality subscriber than others?
  • Control Group Analysis; do people who received a welcome email perform better over the first year of subscribing than those kept in the control group?
  • Is there a strong correlation between the performance of emails mentioning a type of product in the subject line and aimed at people who have previously bought in that product category?

4. Measuring actual engagement

When viewing top level statistics on email marketing, marketers might see an average 15% open rate, but is that the same 15% of subscribers or different ones each time?  An engagement report provides an open rate for each individual subscriber for specific emails/campaigns.

Typically, between 40-60% of people on any given business’ email lists will not have opened any of the emails they’ve received in the last year. Being able to identify who these people are allows marketers to plan a strategy for them. For example, introducing a reactivation campaign, trialling a new style of ‘From name’ or reducing the sending frequency can help improve open and engagement rates.

Marketers should be asking about the performance and opportunity size for each of their defined segments.  Where does email engagement differ within the customer lifecycle? Who are the defected subscribers that I need to target with re-activation strategies?

5. Lifecycle Reports

Most marketers will experience a drop in open and click rates over time as their lists get older. What sets a tailored, relevant email programme apart from ‘batch & blast’ is the speed of this decline.

The very start of the email relationship between the sender and customer is vital. If the customer develops a perception that there is never anything of interest within the emails they receive then they will unsubscribe, report as spam, or simply ignore the emails.

Once a customer has decided that the emails are not of interest to them, then it is very difficult to correct this perception. Indeed the biggest factor as to why someone opens an email or otherwise is their past experience of these emails, not the subject line or other message attributes.

A Lifecycle report shows how quickly this decline can occur from the start of the email relationship, showing the open rate for all chosen subscribers from the first email received and onwards.

A large part of the value of email is the ability to track customer behaviour and generate valuable data, allowing organisations to develop profiles of their customers and target them accordingly.  Whether a business adopts one, several or all of these measurement techniques, they provide a good starting point for getting the most value out of email marketing campaigns

Nigel Williams

Nigel Williams


Nigel Williams is the Managing Director of Emailcenter.