What are you measuring, really?

Whenever I’m asked what the open rate or click-through rate was for a particular email campaign, I always shudder. Not because the numbers are bad (ok, sometimes they are. We’ve all had those campaigns), but because they’re flawed. Too much emphasis is placed on open rate and CTR. I always tell clients, if you’re looking for problem areas, start at the end and work backwards.

  • Measure downloads, page views, purchases, or whatever your end goal is, first. That’s the most important thing. There’s always room for improvement, but this is really where you need to start.
  • Look at the number of clicks you got vs. the number of end results you got. Your conversion rate will expose any problems with your sales (or download, or registration) process. Is your registration page too long? Are people bailing before they hit that Submit button?
  • Next, look at the number of people who clicked vs the number of people who opened. Yes, that’s the “wrong” way to measure CTR. But it’s a much better way to measure the strength of your call-to-action.
  • Finally, and only as a last resort, look at the open rate. This is a measure of your subject line. A weak subject line will not get people to open your email amidst the piles of other email in their inbox.

I’m not saying you should never measure open rate or CTR. Just make sure you understand why you’re measuring those things. This will help you get better end results, which is actually where your profits come from. Money is never made just by opening an email. Ever.


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