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Beyond the Benchmarks: 9 Steps to Improving Email Performance

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
12 July 2012

The best digital marketers consistently evaluate their marketing initiatives to see if they’re improving versus past performance, outpacing the competition and contributing to the company’s overall goals. Now, with the release of our 2012 “Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study,” the task of evaluating yourself against your peers just got a little easier.

But once you’ve pored over the data on opens, click-throughs, clicks-to-opens, unsubscribes, spam complaints and more, what do you do next? Here’s a nine-step guide to optimizing your digital marketing programs based on your benchmarking learnings:

1) Understand these are process metrics: The metrics examined in Silverpop’s benchmark study are what we call "process" metrics, which measure activity on email messages. These are important measurements that help drive improvements in areas such as creative, deliverability and list hygiene.

But if you want to fully optimize your program, you’ll also have to look at "output" metrics, such as revenue, leads generated, cost savings, order size and the number of downloads. These metrics measure how well your email campaign delivered against your individual company's business goals.

2) Compare your metrics to the study: Remember, the goal isn’t to merely meet the average. Aim higher and look to meet or exceed the key metrics for the top quartile in your industry. That’s the first step toward becoming a world-class marketing organization.

3) Find the gaps: Where are you lagging behind? What could you do differently to improve? What do you need to get there?

4) Lobby for bigger budgets and resources: Based on #3, approach upper management to secure the arsenal you’ll need to take your email marketing program up a notch. Have a firm handle on how process metrics tie to output metrics so you can build a clear case for how improving clicks and unsubscribe rates, for example, will help marketing contribute to company goals.

5) Focus on the really big issues: Don’t spend excessive resources on, say, bumping up your open rate 1 percentage point at the expense of tackling your largest opportunities for improved ROI. Instead, figure out the single most critical aspect of your email program to drive significantly more revenue or conversions, and focus on that.

6) Use the tools at your disposal: If you’re like many marketers, you’re only taking advantage of a small percentage of the tools offered by your digital marketing platform. Here are just a few of the tools you can use to move the needle:

  • Automated A/B testing: Pit subject lines with different offers, content and/or length versus one another and see which performs best. (More testing tips.)
  • Web tracking: Monitor customer and prospect activities on your website and capture valuable information regarding a person’s interests and location in the buying cycle, which you can then use to inform your communications. (More on Web tracking.)
  • Send Time Optimization: Use email technology that optimizes send times by analyzing recipient behavior on a rolling basis and then predicting the ideal delivery time for each address on a mailing list. (More on STO.)
  • Scoring: Rank contacts based on key criteria and use this info to nurture them more effectively, provide alerts to your sales team and improve organizational alignment. (More scoring tips.)
  • Dynamic content: Automatically customize entire sections of your messages based on each recipient's unique interests, preferences and behaviors. (More on dynamic content.)
  • Relational tables: Create multidimensional queries that access customer data and enable you to send more relevant messages. (More on relational tables.)

Other options include personalization, API/partner integrations, programs, social-sharing links, progressive Web forms and countless others.

7) Tweak and optimize: Take a close look at the changes you’ve made. What changes have yielded big dividends, and which have fallen short of expectations? Once you’ve launched that cart abandonment email program, for example, test timing and offers, add more emails in the series, tweak copy and subject lines, add recommended products and continue to fine-tune.

8) Compare again: Revisit your metrics and see if you’ve moved into the top quartile, if you’ve exceeded your campaigns from one, six and 12 months ago, and if you’ve impacted conversions and revenue.

9) Celebrate and get promoted: We’ll leave this to your discretion, but if you need some California vacation suggestions or top-notch red wine recommendations, I’m happy to help.

Ready to get started? Download the “Silverpop Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study.”

For more tips and observations from Loren, connect with him on Google+.

Related Resources:
1) Blog: “Email Marketing Best Practices: A Modern Framework
2) White Paper: “Secrets of Successful ‘From’ Names and Subject Lines
3) Webinar: “Inactive Email Subscribers: Tips for Taming the Beast

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