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An Insider's View on Email Delivery Reporting

An Insider's View on Email Delivery Reporting Spencer Kollas

Over the last several months, I have talked about what you need to do to set up your mailing systems for . Now, it's time to take the next step with your mailings.

"How do I do that?" you ask. It all comes down to looking at the right things, identifying what is important, and knowing what to do with that information. Earlier in the series, I wrote about the importance of a good bounce management system, but this month I'm expanding on that topic with a quick course in Reporting 101.

Your bounce management system is where you will access most of your reporting, but even if you haven't had time to improve your systems, the reports that you look at are very important.

My clients often ask me, "What should I be tracking?" My answer is, ideally, everything. Of course, time and resources often prevent such a comprehensive approach, which means you need to do some prioritizing.

First, identify the email communications that are most important for meeting your company's objectives. Then, examine what the desired response is for each email and track that metric. For example, the key metric for an email marketing campaign could be clickthroughs, sales or in-store traffic, depending on the call to action.

Don't get caught in the trap of only tracking opens and clicks, which won't always show you the whole picture. If you focus solely on the delivery of your newsletter and neglect tracking your welcome messages or other transactional mailings, you are losing out on huge learning opportunities.

Before delving into the various reports, you need to make sure that you understand what your systems can provide.

Reporting Orientation
When looking at reporting, there are a number of things to consider:

1. Establish the terms you'll be using and make sure that everyone understands and agrees with them. For example, are you calculating clickthrough rates based on delivered emails or opens? It's important to get internal consensus on a definition and then stick with it moving forward.

2. Track the same benchmark statistics each month in order to see trends and identify possible issues.

3. Create a simple way to show these reports to key stakeholders within your company. If you only discuss the numbers with your marketing team, you might be losing out on valuable information from others, such as your technical folks.

4. When you see issues arise, take action immediately. Don't wait to see if it was just that one message or something that happened that month. You can't risk waiting to see if it happens again.

Key Reports
So what should you be tracking? As I mentioned above, you will want to adjust what you're tracking for each message type, but there are some overall reports that you should check on regular basis. These key reports include:

  1. Messages sent

  2. Messages delivered

  3. Open rate

  4. Click rate

  5. Purchases

  6. Unsubscribe rate

  7. Complaint rate

This is the most basic information that you should be reviewing after each mailing, and definitely on a monthly basis for benchmarking purposes. In order to simplify the process, you should create a standard dashboard of all your key indicators to quickly review your performance.

By looking at these numbers, how they relate to various email message types, along with using some type of delivery monitoring tool, you will be able to get a decent understanding of what works for your customers.

Troubleshooting With Reports
There are a million different ways to slice and dice data to gain valuable insight into your mailing practices. While I don't have the time to get into each here, I will demonstrate how reports can be used to diagnose problems in several key areas. Keep in mind that using reporting to catch problems early can improve campaign effectiveness, fine-tune your practices and safeguard your sending reputation.

  • Content Effectiveness
    Your reporting will tell you a lot about what content is working and what isn't. Depending on the reports you look at, you can help isolate problems with the subject line or embedded offers. If you have high open rates but low clickthrough, that would point to a lack of compelling content. However, if you have high deliverability, but low open rates, that might indicate a poor subject line, or perhaps a problem with frequency, which I'll discuss next.

  • Mailing Frequency
    It's not always easy to find the right frequency that keeps customers engaged with your brand without annoying them with too many emails. One way to find out if you're over-mailing your customers is to look at trends in your open, unsubscribe and complaint rates. Review your data over a six-month period and look for a correlation between an increase in mailings, a decrease in opens and spikes in unsubscribe and complaint rates. If you segment your mail, compare the number of mailings against these three criteria. You should also establish a benchmark of typical open and unsubscribe rates, so you can notice any anomalies moving forward.

  • List Practices
    Reporting is one of the most important tools for identifying problems with your list practices. If you suddenly see a spike in delivery failure rates you should use reporting to isolate the main problem. If it's not due to an ISP spam block or other outside factors, you will want to investigate whether you have a problem with your data capture process, or if you've recently added a bunch of new contacts to your database. 

So remember, review as many relevant reports as possible, agree on clear definitions for those reports and discuss the findings with all that are involved. Good luck and happy sending.

Spencer Kollas is director of delivery services, StrongMail Systems.

Spencer Kollas is a recognized industry leader in email deliverability and subscriber engagement. For more than a decade, Kollas has worked with the world’s foremost email marketers to help them connect with their customers and increase the...

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