Use Email Metrics For Diagnostics, Not Just Performance Measurement


One of the things that has always attracted people to email marketing is how measurable the channel is. But a lot of marketers are not taking advantage of the many valuable “diagnostic” email metrics, and only focus on measuring results.

Most email marketers probably spend a lot of their reporting time and energy on base process email metrics that I refer to as “OCBUS” - open, click-through, bounce, unsubscribe, and spam complaint rates. These 5 metrics have become the standard and a key focus for the email marketing industry simply because these metrics are available as default reports in virtually every email service provider (ESP) platform on the planet. 

Some of the ESPs define and report these metrics slightly differently, but all email marketers have access to these metrics without having to open an Excel sheet, import other data, or do any math.

In this article I want to share some less frequently used metrics and/or those that may require a little additional work to produce and analyze with a calculator or Excel/Google spreadsheet.

Sample Diagnostics Metrics to Get You Started

To get you started on the path to using email marketing metrics for diagnostic purposes, the following are five sample metrics:

Opens, clicks, conversions, and revenue by acquisition source:

A few years ago I was working with a client that had a very successful acquisition program that involved doing a daily iPad sweepstakes. The volume of new subscribers was literally off the charts, but when the ecommerce team analyzed those subscribers, they did not see a single, not one, purchase from these sweepstakes-driven subscribers.

And while this example is perhaps extreme, it shows the importance of analyzing engagement, conversions, and most importantly revenue, by acquisition source. Armed with this data you can now confidently make the case to modify your approach to subscriber acquisition as may be needed.

Welcome email engagement:

For more than 15 years I’ve urged email marketers to create not just a welcome email, but rather move to an onboarding email series to help manage and set new subscriber and customer expectations. Expertly constructed welcome/onboarding emails with value-add content are likely the second most opened emails after transactional messages. 

Welcome/onboarding emails should likely have open rates north of 40% and click-through rates well north of 10% (determine your own benchmarks, these are just starting points). If not, you likely have issues and need to diagnose the causes. 

Are your emails going to the junk folder? Are you using a logical and expected ‘from’ name and address? Are you using a creative subject line beyond just something like “Thanks for subscribing.” 

And if your welcome message click-through rate is low, such as just a few percent, it probably means that the content and links are simply providing little to no value for your new subscribers. Analyse the content and links and ask yourself (and others) if the content is useful and helpful to brand new subscribers. Use this diagnosis to greatly improve the value of your onboarding messages, and it will pay dividends by increasing new subscriber engagement.

Navigation link clicks:

Email marketing design guru Alex Williams has long talked about removing clutter in your email templates, including header and footer navigation links on which no one ever clicks. Use your link click map to analyze if your navigation links are receiving any clicks. Replace links with few or no clicks with those linking to sections and pages on your website that have the most traffic, or that have current or seasonal reference like “Gift Cards” or “Shipping Options” during the holidays.

Clicks per clicker:

One key measure of success for most emails is: Did the email drive a significant percentage of recipients to take an action (click a link)? Certain emails with a singular focus such as a promotion trying to drive registrations of an upcoming webinar is designed to drive a high number of clicks on one main link - the registration link. 

But if sending a newsletter with multiple links to different blog posts, white papers and other content or an e-commerce email with several products - a measure of success might be if a large percentage of subscribers click on multiple links. Back around 2003 I came up with “clicks per clicker” to measure this click behavior. You simply divide the total number of clicks by the number of subscribers with at least one click to get the ratio. Use this metric to compare your different messages with each other and analyze and determine what causes higher or lower than normal click-to-clicker rates.

Early opt-outs:

Unsubscribes are a normal part of email marketing. In fact I’ve always viewed a consistent low-rate of opt-outs as a good thing. Subscribers’ jobs change, their interests evolve, their infants become teenagers, they move, and literally thousands of other factors can cause someone to no longer be interested in your offerings or content. But if you have a reasonably high percentage of opt-outs after people receive just the welcome email(s) or first few regular emails, something might be awry.

Is the content of your emails consistent with how new subscribers perceive your brand? Look at your top performing SEO terms, and which pages on your site are converting to the highest percentage of email subscribers? Is the focus and content of those top performing pages consistent with the focus and content of your emails? Do you have a special offer for new subscribers? In essence, understand why people are subscribing and make sure it aligns with the value proposition of your email program.

My hope with this article was to get you to think beyond the normal, base email metrics you use to measure performance, and to dive into custom or unique metrics that can help you uncover issues and opportunities for improvement in your program. If the sample metrics in this article are not relevant for your program, do use them to help you brainstorm new types of diagnostic metrics.


Loren McDonald

Loren McDonald
Marketing Strategist/Content Marketer

Loren consults with companies to maximize revenue, leads, and customer retention through content marketing programs including webinars, thought leadership/research and email marketing. He has 36 years of experience as a consultant, marketing executive and thought leader at companies including IBM, Silverpop, Acoustic, Arthur Andersen, USWeb/CKS, EmailLabs, and Lyris.

He has written more than 500 articles, produced dozens of white papers and special reports, spoken at more than 350 conferences in 14 countries and presented on 200+ webinars. Loren has won multiple awards including 2005 Best Marketing Executive (American Business Awards - "Stevie's") and 2011 Email Marketer of the Year (Email Evolution Council).

Social Media:

Twitter: @LorenMcDonald


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