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Focusing on Key Metrics


As the new year rolls around, many people begin to evaluate their health, diet and fitness, and think about making changes. I personally keep tabs on my weight by using my favorite jeans as a measurement tool. They fit. What more do I need to know? Well, my doctor may be impressed with my weight, but he believes there are other important tests needed to give me a clean bill of health.

The same idea applies to email campaigns. Many marketers think open rates are the chief metric upon which they can measure the health of their programs. But one metric alone won't give marketers the in-depth knowledge they need to make changes that will improve results year after year.

The great thing about email marketing is its ability to be evaluated quickly and effectively. Yet surprisingly, CMO magazine has reported that one-fourth of marketing executives don't have a formal measurement system in place. Whether you're one of the laggards or among those eager to learn how your email programs stack up against others, here are some key metrics to focus on in the coming year.

Metrics that matter

Savvy marketers take to heart the idea that you can only achieve solid improvement on campaign elements that you actually take the time to measure. If you're not evaluating past campaign performance, you're missing out on the key insights email marketing reports can provide.

Email marketers should regularly evaluate some core metrics. These include:

  • Delivery rate

  • Open rate

  • Clickthrough rate

  • Unsubscribe rate

  • Conversion rate

Let's take a look at each and examine some ways you can improve your results.

Delivery rate

Email deliverability continues to be a concern. Four out of 10 email marketers told JupiterResearch that deliverability is their greatest challenge. In all likelihood, your deliverability rate is probably much lower than you think. If you calculate deliverability by simply subtracting the number of reported bounces from sends, you're failing to take into account that a significant percentage of email is neither delivered nor bounced by ISPs.

If spam is the affliction suffered by email recipients, then false positives are the bane of email marketers. As both ISPs and recipients tighten spam filters, more permission-based email messages are failing to reach customers. Because ISPs and spam filters often fail to inform senders when their email is blocked or redirected, email marketers are experiencing a growing number of false positives. It's been estimated that as much as 20 percent of permission-based email messages are mistakenly blocked. Inbox monitoring is an important tool available from some ISPs, as well as standalone providers like Pivotal Veracity. This tool provides metrics on how many messages actually make it into the bulk folder and into the inbox.

Delivery rates can be improved in a number of ways. Getting your recipients to white-list your address certainly helps, as does diligent list hygiene and carefully monitoring spam complaints. Surprisingly, these simple approaches are not yet widely adopted. For instance, Silverpop's "2005 Retail Email Marketing Study" found that only two out of 10 companies' requested recipients add the company address to their email address book. There's a lot of room to improve this key metric for most marketers.

Open rate

There's been plenty of discussion lately about what open rates really mean. Because open rate statistics are dependent upon HTML images, the growing use of email clients that don't support HTML or suppress it is believed to be causing a decline in open rates.

The marketing strategies that allow you to build a relationship with your customers affect not only open rates but also other metrics downstream. Research shows that the number-one factor that influences people to open an email today is knowing and trusting the sender. Presuming you have done everything to ensure a recipient wants your email -- that is, you've obtained permission and are sending only relevant communications at an appropriate frequency -- using your company name in the "from" field and in the subject line will help increase the chance that your email will be opened and read.

JupiterResearch found that average unique open rates are at 30 percent. If your opens are lower, it's time to work harder at boosting your brand image and proving to those on your list that what you offer is what they want.

Clickthrough rate

Even if your goal isn't to get the cash register to ring every time you send an email to your customers, you still want some reaction from recipients. The interactive nature of email marketing is one of its chief allures. With email, interaction comes when a recipient clicks on a link. Average unique clickthrough rates are estimated by JupiterResearch to be at 12 percent.

As with so many other elements leading to success in email marketing, relevance will increase clicks. The key is personalized content. Always address recipients by name. Try sending different offers to recipients based upon geography or demography, and use behavior (i.e. purchase history, email click history, visits to your website) as an attribute to guide campaigns.

Research also shows that including too many elements or offers can divert reader attention and degrade response, so keep content simple, direct and targeted. Promotional messages should focus on one main offer and consist of short, compelling statements.

Also think about the look and location of your links. Prominently-displayed hyperlinks and big "click-here" buttons, accompanied with compelling reasons for the action, make it clear to recipients what you want them to do. Further create a sense of urgency by giving reasons why they should act soon, such as limited availability, subscription expiration or "offer-ends" dates.

Unsubscribe rate

Even in the new world of email where recipients are more likely to press the spam button than to unsubscribe, this time tested metric remains important. The fact is, if you see big jumps in the number of unsubscribes, your email program is in trouble and it's time to take a hard look at what you're doing.

Separate new addresses from old and evaluate each list differently. If you're seeing a growing number of new subscribers opting out of your email program, perhaps it's because what you told them they'd receive when they registered doesn't measure up to their expectations. Review the call to action enticing people to sign up for your emails to determine if it accurately reflects the program you're offering.

If you're seeing customers who have been with you for some time begin to drop off, review past email messages and evaluate how fresh the promotions are and how compelling the merchandising is.

Unsubscribe rates can be lessened with appropriately constructed preference centers. Perhaps the frequency of emails is too high for some on your list. Offering weekly updates rather than daily bulletins, for example, could salvage an unsubscribe. Giving a choice of topics or product offerings can also help to maintain a relationship with customers and prospects.

Conversion rate

Ultimately, the goal of your email campaign is to entice recipients to take some desired action, whether it's to purchase a product, sign up for a newsletter or white paper or schedule an appointment. The conversion rate is another important metric that gives you a read on how relevant your email campaign is to your customers. JupiterResearch reports that average unique conversion rates for email marketing is around four percent-- a hefty return considering response rates for other marketing channels.

Getting recipients to do what you want is best accomplished when you make it clear what you expect them to do. Make the call to action obvious, and then make it easy for the recipient to comply.

Design landing pages with the thought in mind that it's your last chance to entice a recipient to act. Research by MarketingSherpa shows that customizing a landing page's text, forms and buttons so that it reflects a campaign, and including a photo or graphic of the actual product offered, can help convince recipients to take the desired action and can boost conversions by more than 40 percent. Further, make the conversion process easy by populating forms with the customer's name, shipping address and other information at your disposal. 

Pulling it all together

Feeling a bit intimidated? Just like any new exercise program or diet, small but steady steps are sure ways to achieve desired results. There's a wealth of information available to marketers from most email reports. If you begin focusing on one metric a month, come summer you'll have an invigorated email program achieving dramatically improved results. 

Bill Nussey is the president and CEO of Silverpop, a provider of permission-based email marketing solutions, strategy and services. Ranked as having the highest business value and richest feature set by JupiterResearch in 2004, Silverpop was also acknowledged by research company Forrester as a "strong performer" that "stands out with an interface that is quite easy to use while providing strong functionality." Before joining Silverpop, Nussey was president and CEO of iXL, Inc., a publicly traded e-business consulting firm. During his three-year tenure, iXL executed its initial public offering, increased revenues from $10 million to $120 million per quarter and grew from 400 to over 2,000 employees. Nussey has also served as an investment professional with the venture capital firm Greylock Management Corporation. He co-founded and was CEO of DaVinci Systems, an award-winning email software company. 

Community is the heart of soul of iVillage, which attracts more than 30 million women each month to connect, share, and seek advice on topics that matter most to them. To put the power of storytelling directly in the hands of these millions of women, iVillage and NBC Local Media launched a unique, nationwide search for local citizens across America to contribute, chronicle, and share "real" women-centric topics that matter most to them and their community. A top selection committee of journalism experts, including Today's Natalie Morales, MSNBC's Contessa Brewer, LXTV's Jane Hanson, and iVillage chief correspondent Kelly Wallace, chose 15 diverse and dynamic community members to become part of a newly created program called "iVoices on iVillage." Through this unprecedented program, these women were given a one-of-a-kind opportunity to provide blogs and video commentary for iVillage, and possibly select NBC local markets. The topics center on areas that are most important to women in categories such as health, pregnancy and parenting, finance, entertainment, and beauty and style -- mirroring the kinds of meaningful conversations that are being discussed on iVillage each day.

MSNBC Digital Network
The MSNBC Digital Network recently unveiled its new ad-rendering system called ServeView and announced that it has been rolled out across 100 percent of its story pages. ServeView intelligently places ads on the page when and where consumers will see them. With ServeView, the company says advertisers are assured that every ad impression they purchase has, in fact, been seen by consumers.

When a story page loads, consumers interact with the video, text, photos, and other content on the page. As that is happening, the ServeView technology seamlessly runs on the page and will only render the ad once the ad location is within the viewable area of the consumer's display. Then and only then is the ad counted as a delivered impression. ServeView works for each individual ad on every browser and every screen size.

In addition to better-performing ads, marketers benefit from optimized ad views without any effects or changes to standard ad delivery practices in use today. The MSNBC Digital Network says that ServeView in full compliance with the Interactive Advertising Bureau's impression measurement guidelines and, in fact, improves upon its baseline recommendations.

Baseball season is winding down, but NPR has bases loaded in the mobile space. As the world's largest podcaster and an innovator on the iPhone, NPR says its new iPad app has the network poised for a grand slam this year.

The strength of the app is in its simplicity -- an extension of NPR's uncompromising, uncluttered environment on-air and online. A magazine-centric approach is built for gesture navigation and generates significant user engagement in the app; user sessions last more than 10 minutes on average, with engagement spanning text, audio, and multimedia content.

The sponsorship treatment is both innovative and understated. Each sponsor receives a session roadblock, with its logo integrated into the app for the duration of a user session. With the launch of the media player, users also receive a short audio sponsorship credit tied to a full-page interstitial. This unit has seen click-through rates as high as 20 percent, helped by innovative creative developed in partnership with Medialets, a leading rich media ad solution provider for the app space.

The NPR iPad app has been downloaded onto nearly 10 percent of the iPads sold to date and is also used on demo units in Apple stores.

Financial news and information website Reuters.com prides itself on offering best-of-breed products, exciting early adopters, and creating customized solutions for marketers. With the launch of Apple's iPad, Reuters seized the opportunity to meet all three objectives by creating an application called News Pro that harnesses the IOS platform with video-rich stories, dramatic photography, and lively market data.

"We reach our customers no matter where they are," says Reuters general manager Riley McDonough. "And that means leveraging our strengths to the fullest by providing a rich, robust experience through multimedia storytelling."

More than 20 million page views are generated each month through Reuters' mobile touch points alone. These innovations, including Reuters News Pro app for the iPhone, which has been downloaded more than 500,000 times, caught the attention of FedEx. The company came to Reuters early on in the development of its News Pro iPad app to sign on as the inaugural sponsor and reach a targeted audience of business decision makers. "We have global scope and the targeted reach necessary for marketers to meet their campaign goals," McDonough said.

In addition, Reuters remains committed to bettering the customer experience and increasing advertiser demand with plans to revamp of all its mobile sites by end of the year.

At No. 3 in the comScore Tech News rankings, TechMediaNetwork is one of the fastest-growing publishers of high-quality technology and science news, reviews, videos, and reference articles. With the help of award-winning journalists, TechMediaNetwork focuses on helping consumers navigate the glut of information by becoming a trusted advisor on the subjects of interest to readers.

TechMediaNetwork starts with TopTenReviews, which offers reviews of more than 550 categories of products and services; Space.com, which is the authoritative source for astronomy and space exploration news and analysis; and LiveScience, focusing on the study of psychology, sociology, and human behavior for people curious about their minds, bodies, and the world around them.

This year, TechMediaNetwork expanded its trusted advisor role by launching eight new websites that focus on high-quality content in specific vertical areas of interest. Those sites include BusinessNewsDaily, a comprehensive resource for people who are in the process of starting up a business; OurAmazingPlanet, a site that explores the wonder and beauty of Earth; iPadNewsDaily, an accessible source of iPad news and information for both non-geeks and seasoned iPad users; NorthOrion, tools to help consumers and businesses navigate purchasing decisions in a wide variety of topics; and MyHealthNewsDaily, information about the latest medical research and health news and trends.

Turner/SI Digital sales, a division of Turner Broadcasting Inc., along with sales colleagues at CNN Digital, formed the Turner Network in 2008 as a solutions-driven alternative to third-party ad network and exchanges. It combines the company's exceptional digital resources under one in-house sales force to offer advertising partners distinct opportunities that leverage Turner's portfolio of digital properties that include leading news, entertainment, sports, and kids' sites.

One of the first exclusive products to come out of this collaboration was the Turner Netblock, which is a homepage roadblock that uses the OPA pushdown unit executed simultaneously across Turner-operated websites. The Netblock was developed to provide advertising partners quality audiences, at scale, under one safe branded platform to help clients achieve their campaign objectives. Executed for the first time in late 2009, the Netblock continues to be a popular and effective product with advertisers for its high-impact placement. From CNN.com to NBA.com, and everything in between, the product has proved especially attractive to clients unveiling new creative or launching new branding for a particular service or product. The Turner Netblock can be purchased alone or as one part of a comprehensive media buy.

Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal for iPad blends the best of print and online. It offers the look of the Journal while providing updated news and information, full-screen video, market data, and customizable features, including the ability to save articles and full sections -- such as What's News, Marketplace, Money & Investing, Greater New York, and Personal Journal -- for later or offline reading. Share and save features allow an even more personalized experience.

The platform allows users to experience the visuals and interaction of digital with the more familiar look of print, which has proven a successful combination; the app has been downloaded more than 700,000 times since launch. In addition, advertiser response proves the app's ability to help them reach the Journal's high-quality audience via innovative ad units in a dynamic environment; six exclusive sponsors signed on for the launch, with more on board in the following months.

Lori Luechtefeld is editor of iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow Luechtefeld at @loriluechtefeld. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Bill Nussey is the president and CEO of Silverpop, a provider of permission-based email marketing solutions, strategy and services. Ranked as having the highest business value and richest feature set by JupiterResearch in 2004, Silverpop was also...

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