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I’m often saying marketers are bombarded by too many statistics and metrics in the digital age and have a challenge to make sense of them all.  But there is a new tracking measurement on the email marketing block which I think we should all be sitting up and taking notice of.

Standard email metrics are all about delivery, opens and clicks; but the next generation of email metrics take opens a step further - measuring how long someone is reading the email to help quantify engagement. 

Opens are a great measure for email marketers, as well as number of times opened, but now we have the tools to judge whether someone opened and actually read the email or whether they glanced and then deleted.

These metrics are quite simply fascinating.  Not only that, they are useful and can help you change your tactics to increase marketing performance. I was introduced to them by our own “email guru” Guy Hanson.  They won’t be new to everyone but they were to me – and they’re certainly worth looking at.

This ‘email reading’ tracking data has powerful potential as it can indicate those who are engaged in a service or offer and can then be linked with other data, such as web analytics or transactional data, to inform marketing. 

For example, those who actually read emails rather than just glancing at them are great targets for a follow-up communication if they don’t enquire or purchase immediately.

Looking to increase their edge in the highly competitive travel marketing sector, tailor-made package holiday specialists Travelbag recently used these metrics as part of a multichannel marketing review. Among other channel combinations, they were looking at whether sending a follow-up email to a direct mail shot increased the response rate.  

We tested it for them (using a deal for Hong Kong) and it certainly did. The read percentage was substantially higher in an email which was a follow-up from a mail shot versus an isolated email: a fantastic uplift of over 25% in reader attentiveness! And when broken down by type of email client (using hand held, web browsers or desktops), the email follow-up drove engagement up by a phenomenal 79% among desktop users.

This, as well as testing other channel combinations, proved to Travelbag that reinforcing messages using multiple channels is very effective in increasing engagement and cemented their drive to increase relevancy and more fully integrate their campaigns – all underpinned, of course, by the clever use of customer data.

These metrics can also be used to test creatives.  If one creative is viewed for longer it can be considered to have more cut-through and therefore be used over and above another.  And it can be used to analyse entire databases over time to segment ‘engaged’ and ‘not engaged’. The data is there to be used, organisations just need to embrace it.

What I like about this new email metric is that it’s data, but not for the sake of it. It’s about being clever and targeted. This is the kind of marketing that excites us and precisely the reason we have all fallen in love with digital and the information it can give us.

Richard Lees

Published 8 December, 2010 by Richard Lees

Richard Lees is Chairman at dbg and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

11 more posts from this author

Comments (21)

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Colin Bruce

What is the mechanism that allows reading time to be measured?

almost 6 years ago

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Alex

I'd also like to know more about how this tech works - sounds great.

almost 6 years ago

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Tony Leatham, Managing Director at Egghead Design Ltd

http://www.didtheyreadit.com/index.php

almost 6 years ago

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Alex

That software is 6 years old, Tony. Is this article about the same thing?

almost 6 years ago

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Tony Leatham, Managing Director at Egghead Design Ltd

It is about the same thing. I was very intrigued as I couldn't figure out how read duration could be obtained in a client such as Outlook. So I Googled a bit and came across "didtheyreadit", downloaded it, and lo and behold, it seems to work, though I'm not sure it's 100% reliable. Better solutions gratefully accepted!

almost 6 years ago

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Mark Gooding, Director at Mailvivo

I think you may be referring to something like the Email Analytics service offered by Litmus?

This is how they describe it: http://litmus.com/help/analytics/how-it-works

And how the hackers do: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/3224436/how-does-litmus-track-their-email-analytics

It is clever stuff for sure but personally I question the value given:

1) It only works for emails where the graphics are downloaded.

2) I would advise clients* to be concentrating harder on key performance metrics like clickthrough & click to conversion rates which are more reliable. Hence, I would ask is micro-analysis of open rates really worth it?

* Of course my disclaimer here is that our own email marketing platform, although we partner with Litmus for rendering previews, does not use their email analytics service. I would also like to say that Paul Farnell, founder of Litmus, is a great guy and we would recommend their service for anyone wanting to experiment with micro-analysis of email opens.

We prefer, however, to quantify 'engagement' as an overall value worked out as a combination of weighted actions (e.g. opens, clicks, conversions) over time and present customer segments that way to ensure correct targeting yet maintain simplicity.

almost 6 years ago

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Andrew Bonar

I saw the LitmusApp offering yesterday, when getting up to date pricing to recommend to a client, however my recommendation was specifically for the email rendering engine. I certainly did not want to highlight the "open times" feature to my client as I agree with Mark Gooding that this kind of micro-analysis can oft lead people down the wrong path, even if the technology was more reliable (anything based primarily on opening an image is going to be unreliable). I believe conversion ratio's is where your efforts at analysing metrics should be concentrated. As Richard Lees has illustrated however, there may be some specific scenarios where this level of micro-analysis may pay off, I certainly do not think I will see the day when I will consider it a core metric though. One area where it could prove really useful is "discounting opens" whereby an open of fractions of a second would therefore be a "delete" and should not show as an "open" in your metrics at all. This would make "open" rates a liitle more usefull as a measurement tool, although still fraught with problems. There is limited use for this in any case if you follow Marks suggestion of looking at the core KPI ... "to be concentrating harder on key performance metrics like clickthrough & click to conversion rates"

almost 6 years ago

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Simon West

This works by attaching images to different parts of the email that are not accessed by the user open - so it can (in theory) track forwarding, printing, etc.

In terms of the "how long" question, this seems to be done by a slow loading image - so the email sending system can measure how long you have the email open for by how long you are waiting for the "slow" image.

However... this is all dependant upon you enabling image download in the first place, so your stats are only going to relate to those that have already opened the email, which is usually a small proportion of the whole.

what I really want to know is how many people read but don't open emails.  I suspect the rate is rising but really don't know from what to what.  Although some estmates suggest that the rate is about 2.5 times open rate.

almost 6 years ago

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Duncan Wright

As an email marketer we are particularly interested in deliverability, and for this reason, I am always wary of adding additional code to the email. Does anyone have any data on whether these codes do affect deliverability, as if this is not an issue, then it could certainly deliver some interesting metrics.

almost 6 years ago

Conrad Morris

Conrad Morris, Director at Match Me Now Limited

Fascinating on the technical side, but we shouldn't lose sight of the implications for the effectiveness of multi-channel marketing.  Digital nearly always works best as part of a multi-channel approach.

almost 6 years ago

Moksh Juneja

Moksh Juneja, Chief Executive Officer at Avignyata Inc.

Its not very far, where a bot based on certain keywords will actually respond to the mail itself.

almost 6 years ago

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Nick Nettleton

The stat is only as good as the mechanism used to track it. The folks over at Freedom to Tinker have done some tests on this system, and report on the mechanism used here: http://freedom-to-tinker.com/blog/felten/new-email-spying-tool It's based on streaming an indefinitely large tracking pixel into the email, and calculating the difference in time between when the user's email client started and then stopped loading the pixel. Nick

almost 6 years ago

Geraint Holliman

Geraint Holliman, Planning Director at DirectionGroup

Oh god please dont tell me that travelbag were 'surprised' that reinforcement by a different method increases response/engagement??  As Conrad says above it's about havign a multi-channel approach where individual media compliment and reinforce each other. I do hope that there isn't an agency out their that WOULDN'T advocate this approach.

almost 6 years ago

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Johnny

This is a good metric.  We look at this for our website.  Telling how long someone has been on our site indicates how engaged they are with the content.  It makes sense to translate that to e-mails.  Good article!

almost 6 years ago

David Carpenter

David Carpenter, President, CMO at Connection Model

This discussion has the right intent, but the wrong vehicle. It all sounds to me like when folks would obsess over the envelope in direct mail. To the direct marketer, the job of the envelope was to get opened. Similarly, the job of email is to activate the reader into visiting a website (mobile or PC-based), making a phone call, or visiting an event. We should focus our attention on better measures of engagement like time spent, etc., but out on the websites, landing pages and mobile sites, IVR channel and sociasl media where those metrics are more accurate and less susceptible to technological gimmicks (like the

almost 6 years ago

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Mark Gooding, Director at Mailvivo

That's what I call, 'hitting the nail on the head' David. Exactly right!

almost 6 years ago

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Rob

I just got a free trial of didtheysendit and test it and I can honestly say that it is tosh

almost 6 years ago

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Guy Hanson

A lot of the comments are pretty granular and technical, which kind of misses the key point of Richard's article, which is that marketers need to be challenging themselves to find new and improved ways to measure whether their online customers are engaging with them. Traditional email metrics in their own right can be quite misleading. For example : 

  • Delivery is still often reported as sent less bounced, ignoring emails that have ended up in the junk folder, or been blocked.
  • Open rates are typically under-reported because they rely on an image to be uploaded before they will increment. Conversely, emails which are viewed in the preview pane can also reported as opens.
  • Furthermore, low open rates can potentially be good. The visibility of the subject line in the inbox can be enough to prompt positive recognition.
  • Clicks are good, but what happens subsequently ? There’s no point in generating high click rates, if the subsequent website visits are short and/or bounce rates are high.
  • Response rates are also materially  influenced by the environment in which the email is received ( handheld, webmail, desktop ) and e-campaigns need to adapt accordingly.

The key thrust of Richard’s blog was not about the merits of Litmus per se. Rather, it is that e-marketers need to be understanding the limitations of traditional reporting metrics, and challenging themselves to obtain other, more meaningful, measurements of how their customers are behaving. Testing Litmus is only one of many approaches that proactive marketers should be adopting to answer these questions.

almost 6 years ago

Fran Jeanes

Fran Jeanes, Internet Business Consultant at i-contact web design

Engagement tracking - now that is valuable feedback. Thanks for the post.

almost 6 years ago

Gigi Jin

Gigi Jin, Gigi

I agree with Guy that we as email marketer should gain more thorough understanding of pros and cons of different metrics and use them with discretion. It is not to say that whenever a new metric comes out it is meant to replace the key one. It is just another perspective of looking into the customer data.

almost 6 years ago

Chris Matenaers

Chris Matenaers, Head of Digital Marketing & BI Systems at brightsolid Online Publishing

I think this metric of how long somebody takes to read it is not really valuable. Images load in the background and I often have two browser tabs open and I also keep Outlook / Evolution mails on in the background. Doesn't mean you actually read anything...

almost 6 years ago

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