Monday, April 10, 2017

MAIL HOST METRICS - Anatomy of an eMail Inbox 4-10-2017

Wow, time sure flies!  Here it is already April and we are into the second quarter of the year.  I'm excited to be working for this month on a speaking engagement with the Atlanta Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators on the topic of eMail marketing.  As I prepare, I am able to use a lot of the content from this blog to create a primer on what are the important elements of your email marketing program.  If you like what you read here and are interested in having me present at your event, be sure to contact me.

As part of my regular reading and preparing for this event, I came across an article from Return Path that I think is worthy of repeating and discussing.  It is important because it provides some unique and incremental metrics to our marketing tool kit that have not been available until recently.

The report is based on "global consumer data consisting of over 17,000 commercial senders, 2.5 million consumer panelists, and over 5 billion commercial email messages sent to Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and AOL users between January 1 and December 31, 2016."

What will be interesting is if the mail hosts will make this kind of data commercially available specific to our programs going forward and at what cost.  But, for this analysis, they uncover some metrics that I think are worthy of thinking about.  The report also provides some benchmark data by industry so if you can get your hands on this data for your database, would be valuable to understand where you have problems and opportunities.

What do they mean and how can they help us as marketers?  Let's take a look one by one.

SPAM Placement Rate 

In essence, they are measuring what percentage of your emails land in the SPAM email box rather than the inbox.  Now, we have to presume that the emails included in the study were from legitimate emailers, all 17,000 of them.  So given that presumption, a bit scary to know that even for legitimate email marketers the 2016 average of emails landing in the SPAM box was 13% (a little worse than the 12% from 2015).

While it wasn't presented in this data, I have to wonder what the differences were between mail hosts and what things we could do.  They do speak to some areas as marketers that we can pay attention to like content, reputation and engagement, but the reality is we are at the mercy of the mail host. I know having worked with mail hosts on black list and other complaint and deliverability issues that this is a big endeavor and one that will require some dedicated resources in your agency or team to really impact.

Read Rate

The percentage of emails marked as "read."  This definition is a bit problematic for me as I don't know if that means read one line, word, paragraph or the full thing and how they can actually tell that I am reading something without eye tracking and intrusive monitoring systems.  So, on this one, I have more questions than answers on whether it is worthy of even pursuing as a legitimate metric that goes beyond Open Rates as they propose.  Generally their benchmark rates look fairly similar to Open Rates as well, so at a minimum if we all become comfortable that this is a valid metric, it would be more of a replacement metric than something new in my mind.

Deleted Before Reading Rate

This one causes me some concern too.  Again, I ask the question, how do you know I read that and how much.  I would like to understand more about this metric.

Reply Rate

This one sounds interesting.  For sure if someone is replying to our emails, then there clearly is engagement, so that is good.  However, many of you may be sending emails without the ability to reply to them.  I also don't see that they have delineated in the study if these emails were transactional or promotional.  This could have a very big impact on the reply rate.  For example if the email is to confirm an appointment, you would expect that a very large percentage would be replied to versus a sales promotion where the company really doesn't want you to reply, but wants you to click somewhere and go to their website or into a store.  So while this metric certainly could be of interest, I don't think email marketers are focused on garnering replies as a goal in their email marketing programs, so may have limited value. This is pretty evident by the minuscule averages for this metric (0.13% in 2016). After all, if they reply, then you need to be prepared to answer!

Forward Rate

This one like Reply Rate has tiny numbers with an average of 0.03% for 2016. However, what is interesting as a marketer is if we should think of this as a goal of email.  There was a time where there was lots of functionality around the concept of "forward to a friend" that you hardly see used at all these days.  Maybe that should tell us something such as perhaps it didn't really work, so why focus on it.  In the world of opportunity costs and trying to find the highest and best use of your talents and resources this seems like a non-event in my mind.

Complaint Rate

We already get this one and certainly want to be aware of it.  The numbers are low, but unless you are really upset, do you even bother?  I do think there could be some insights in knowing the why of this metric.  That would then allow us to figure out how to change.  Fortunately, it appears Return Path has already thought about this and has a white paper to help you out.

This is Not Spam Rate

Like complaint rate, this is something proactive and rare that people do in their inbox.  I know at times when I have done so, it was typically a transactional email or one that I was expecting, not something that was part of a marketing revenue driving campaign, so again, not so sure of the validity or one that I should care about as a marketer.

For me, while these are interesting metrics to think about, really only two of them are material in terms of understanding missed opportunities:  SPAM and Delete Before Reading.  Based on the 2016 average, that cuts over a quarter of our emails off the top right away that we know aren't getting read. On the other hand, the read rate and other metrics give us about another 25% that are getting some engagement, mostly positive, but some negative.  The questions are can we push those in the middle up the engagement curve, how much are we able to impact what goes into the SPAM box and how do we insure we manage our reputation proactively to improve performance.  Certainly working with the Mail Hosts on this is important, no matter what metrics are in play.

For your own copy of the full Return Path article, click here.

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