Email offers marketers huge opportunities: the ability to deliver targeted messages, reach large audiences, and drive sales. To know which emails are most effective, senders use metrics to provide important measures of engagement that determine content, frequency and when to stop sending to disengaged recipients.
However, while email open rates have traditionally been senders’ key performance indicator, greater focus on consumer privacy and the removal of tracking functionality (a key example being Apple’s new Mail Privacy Protection), mean the ability to measure opens is reducing. As the email landscape evolves, senders need to maintain clear visibility of subscriber engagement.
Boost engagement organically
Rather than rely on measurement to identify engagement, marketers should think about how to increase engagement organically. This means considering which sources deliver the most engaged subscribers – e.g. customers requesting e-receipts – then focusing on building databases primed with these higher-engaging subscribers.
Greater use of zero party data is another way marketers can organically grow engagement, by explicitly asking subscribers about themselves and using this information to create relevant content. It requires a considered strategy to be effective, with marketers needing to credibly explain why they are asking for this data, be seen to use it in a way that provides value, and regularly promote preference centres to keep this data up to date.
By acquiring subscribers who are naturally more likely to be interested in the offers they receive, opens will follow naturally – regardless of whether they can be measured or not – and campaign effectiveness can be measured where it really counts: against business outcomes, such as purchases made, return on investment, and lifetime value.
Traditionally the click to open rate (CTOR) metric has provided a valuable indicator of engagement. Low CTORs may suggest an amazing subject line that wasn’t matched by the content. High CTORs may indicate great calls to action that were let down by low inbox placement rates or poor recognition. However, open rate degradation reduces the effectiveness of this metric, and marketers will need to rely more on clicks alone.
The challenge is that clicks are generated in much smaller quantities than opens (typically a 1:10 ratio), so decisions based on this metric carry less statistical confidence. It means marketers will need to become more intentional about designing emails that generate clicks, and not just with conversions in mind.
A good starting point is to evaluate additional click-through opportunities that can be included. Rate-this-email functionality is excellent and provides valuable user feedback. Highlighting product reviews and customer feedback are similarly effective and play an important role promoting trust. It’s also important to understand how mailbox providers (MBPs) measure engagement. For them, positive engagement factors include emails recovered from junk, replied to, forwarded on, or when a contact is added to the address book. When recipients take these actions, MBPs treat senders more favourably when it comes to deliverability and filtering decisions. Think how these positive behaviours can be amplified. For example, a Valentine’s Day campaign might encourage recipients to forward emails to loved ones by including the hint, “Does that special someone need a nudge this Valentine’s Day?’
Also remember clicks aren’t the only way email recipients respond. Social channels, phone, and even in-person are all popular routes of response that aren’t necessarily captured by this metric, so senders should make these alternative responses as frictionless as possible.
Distinguish yourself from malicious content
While senders want to encourage positive engagement, avoiding negative engagement – emails marked as spam, deleted unread, etc. – is also vital.
Don’t look like a spammer. A common reason emails are identified as spam is lack of consistency between display name and sending domain, so make sure these are consistent.
Also avoid using aggressive subject lines, as excessive use of block capitals or overly forceful calls to action generate increased complaint activity, indicating to email security software that these emails should be placed in spam folders.
Senders should also focus on building strong IP and domain reputations, which MBPs use like credit scores to identify good email senders from bad, and determine how favourably their deliverability is handled.
Authentication – ensuring IP addresses are authorised to send emails from approved domains – is also crucial. Setting up DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance) helps MBPs establish the authenticity of emails, and senders can instruct MBPs to automatically quarantine or reject inbound emails not matching the legitimate sender’s details.
With DMARC in place, senders can also implement BIMI (Brand Indicators for Message Identification). This automatically display senders’ logos next to their emails in subscribers’ inboxes, acting as a powerful driver of recognition that automatically boosts engagement.
While increased prioritisation of consumer privacy is a good thing, the steady loss of open-tracking functionality means marketers need to adapt how they measure email success. By encouraging organic engagement, enhancing emails to encourage greater interaction, and proactively avoiding negative engagement, senders will see big improvements in the measurements that matter – traffic to website, more conversions, increased ROI and extended customer lifetime value. When these metrics are trending positively, senders will know exactly what ‘great’ looks like.
Guy Hanson is VP of customer engagement at Validity Inc.