Einstein may have pre-dated email marketing by many years but when he said “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted” he could have well been thinking about email marketing metrics.

Email marketing is rich in metrics; open rate, click rate, click to open, conversions, spam complaint rates, hard bounces, soft bounces, inbox placement rate, hurdle rates, unsubscribe rates, list growth rate, time spent reading, mobile opens and much more.

Unlike many marketing channels that are crying out for more meaningful metrics, the question for email is a little different.  

Just which metrics to use?

I recently caught up with Tim Watson Founder of Zettasphere  and Chair of the Legal & Best Practise hub at the DMA’s Email Marketing Council to find out more about the new email metrics and evaluation whitepaper he’s authored for the DMA.

The whitepaper covers common email metrics, how to pick the right metrics and risks in using metrics.

Knowing the risks in using metrics is important, as metrics are only a tool and no tool is perfect. Knowing what a metrics doesn’t tell you is valuable too.

Consider this scenario: a lower campaign open rate that delivers higher revenue. As Einstein said “not everything that can be counted, counts”, in this case just how valuable is counting opens?

That’s not just theoretical either; lower email campaign opens can deliver increased revenue.

  • When considering what metrics are important the questions to answer are:
  • What is the objective that needs to be measured?
  • What metrics best represent this objective?
  • Who is going to use this metric?
  • How is it going to be used?
  • Who will make the measurement?
  • How is the measurement going to be made?

The key metrics are those that are important to the business, typically those that measure business impact in terms of revenue and customers. In some cases immediate revenue may not be the objective or measureable, in which case a proxy such as clicks or other conversion goal such as online form completed might be used.

If the metric is for the CFO or in support of a business case then revenue based metrics speak the loudest. If the CFO has two investment choices, one with the case of 5% more revenue and one with 25% higher open rate its clear where the money will go.

Metrics that don’t measure direct business success have their place and use. It’s about the right metric for the right job. For the person looking after deliverability they will want bounce and spam complaints rates, whilst these metrics are of little interest to anyone else.

The standard email campaign metrics found in many broadcast solutions are unlikely to provide metrics tightly aligned to marketing objectives. For instance what if the marketing objective is to increase the number of one time customers who make a repeat purchase? Or the number of customers who renew a service contract? Create specific metrics that measure the marketing objective.

To consider Einstein’s point that not everything that counts can be counted, I’d like to round off with some thoughts about what we can’t easily measure in email:

  • How much affect an un-opened email has on subsequent emails. When someone sees the brand name and subject line, how much of an impression is left? We know that unopened emails have value too but have trouble measuring this.
  • The influence of email on offline activity. That email can and does nudge activity offline is known.
  • The attribution of email when it didn’t result in an immediate click. A DMA survey showed that customers are interested in the contents of an email will often not directly click on it but follow up on a website indirectly.
  • The number of emails that reach the inbox and that were seen.
Tink Taylor

Published 11 September, 2012 by Tink Taylor

Tink Taylor is founder of dotmailer and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (4)


John Green

I think this article touches on some important ideas. Metrics from an email campaign that may matter to one company may not be as important to another. Its what the data can tell you and hoe closer it gets you to achieving your objectives.

almost 6 years ago



I love this pdf guide,"Email marketing: A Beginner's Guide". All i will like to add is that whatever you do with you email marketing be prepared to handle spam complaints. Spamming is the biggest challenge in email marketing.Only email to your optins sbscribers and never destroy your optin history.Keep it safe where you can reach .It will save you from unnecessary issues,including legal if a reported decide to make a case against you for spamming.http://emailsender.org

almost 6 years ago


Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

There are definitely some important issues raised here however I'm not sure it tackles all of them such as:-

* Open's are potentially misleading due to preview panes firing 1x1s and users blocking images (intentionally or not)

* A build up of unread emails from a company can actually have a negative effect on engagement as much as a positive one both in terms of ISPs seeing the emails as spam and in the customer's mind where they no longer regard the content as something worth reading

As a result, while it's true we need to be careful about what we choose to measure, it's also important to be aware that some things we may choose to report on, are only accurate to within a degree...

almost 6 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Hello Matt, I'm the author of the DMA Metrics whitepaper. You raise good points and these are indeed covered and more in the DMA whitepaper.

A blog post can only cover so much of a 16 page whitepaper, so if you would like to know more follow the link in the post and grab a free copy of the whitepaper.

almost 6 years ago

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