Millions of business owners rely on email marketing as a staple of their marketing and advertising strategy, largely because it’s so efficient. Despite breakthroughs and new technology in other areas of online marketing, email marketing continues to have one of the highest returns on investment (ROIs) in the field. But simply sending multiple mass-market messages to your target demographics is no guarantee of success in this area. If you want to succeed in email marketing, you need to study, analyze, and ultimately improve your email engagement.
In this guide, we’ll teach you how to do it.
What is Email Engagement?
What is email engagement, and why is it so important for your campaign?
“Engagement” is one of those vague, nebulous terms in the world of marketing, but for our purposes, an instance of email engagement is any meaningful action that shows that an email recipient is responding positively to your content. It could be an email open, which shows that they found the subject line compelling enough to warrant a few moments of their time. It could also be a click-through, indicating interest in a product or piece of content you advertised in the body of your email.
In some contexts, engagement doesn’t refer to a specific instance. Instead, it refers to a relative level of interest; for example, a user who spends 10 minutes reading your email is subjectively more engaged than a user who only spends 30 seconds on it.
Either way, engagements are a critical source of information about your email marketing campaign. Engaged recipients are much more likely to take a revenue-generating action than unengaged recipients; they’re interested in what you’re saying, and are therefore more likely to make a purchase or take some other conversion action. You can also use engagements as a way to optimize your email marketing campaign; if you find one type of content is successful in generating engagement, you can prioritize that type of content in the future and abandon types of content that don’t generate engagement.
Email Engagement Metrics
Using any number of different email marketing tools, you can measure the following email engagement metrics of your email marketing campaign:
1. Open rate
Your open rate refers to the number of people who have opened a particular email out of its total number of recipients. It’s a good initial sign, and the first opportunity your recipients have for email engagement. Generally, they’ll see a subject line and a sender only, and use these two pieces of information to decide whether to open the email. If they open it, you’ve succeeded in piquing their interest. If you want to dig into more detail, you can also study your “unique” open rate, which is the number of unique individuals who have opened your email.
2. Click-through rate (CTR)
A common goal with email marketing is to get more people to your website by providing links in the body of the email. If recipients click these links, you can consider it an email engagement. The number of people clicking one of your links, often compared to the total number of recipients or total number of people who opened the email, is your click-through rate (CTR). It’s a sign that you’ve made your link seem attractive or compelling, or that your content offers value or intrigue. Again, you can study your “unique” CTR, which is the number of separate individuals who have clicked one of your links.
3. Click to open ratio
Your click to open ratio is pretty straightforward; it’s the number of people who click your links, compared to the number of people who open your email. A particularly low click to open ratio means you have a compelling subject line, but not enough follow-through in the body content. A high click to open ratio means your email content is great, but if your open rate is low, then you might need to spend more effort making your subject line engaging.
4. Time spent on email/page
You’ll also want to measure the time your prospects are spending on your email and, if they click through to your site, the time they spend on a page. It’s true that you’ll sometimes measure idle time, where people aren’t paying attention to anything, but more commonly, extended periods of time spent on your content mean that people are reading your material. If your visitors aren’t spending much time on your content, you might need to find ways to spice it up.
5. Bounce rate (after visiting)
Bounce rate (and the similar but distinct exit rate) is a common metric in many online marketing strategies. It’s a measure of how many people who visit a page of your site end up leaving that page before visiting another page of your site. The lower it is, the more engaging your content is (generally), as it indicates that the user visited multiple pages of your site. However, in the context of email marketing engagement, this metric will only kick in if people are clicking through to your site. Still, it’s a good way to gauge how interested your email recipients are once they reach your website.
6. Conversion rate
Similarly, you can measure the conversion rate of the people who click through to your site. By using Google Analytics or some similar analytics platform, you can analyze how many visitors from email are purchasing your products or filling out your forms. Again, your conversion rate is likely a byproduct of multiple factors, including the engagement level of your email subscribers, the strength of your offer, and your onsite content. But in context, it can help you evaluate how your email marketing campaign is performing.
7. Spam flags
Now let’s talk about the less flattering side of email engagement measurement. Occasionally, your email subscribers may flag your marketing emails as spam. Obviously, this isn’t a good thing for your campaign; it means you’ve sent too many low-quality emails to subscribers, or have otherwise bothered them. Ultimately, it means your emails aren’t providing enough value to your recipients.
8. Unsubscribe rate
A similar metric is your unsubscribe rates. Less severe than a spam flag, people will unsubscribe from your email list if they feel your messages are repetitive, not valuable, or flat-out unengaging. If you’re getting lots of unsubscribes, it means you need to step up the quality and value of your email content.
Forwards are a very good sign for your campaign. A forward means your email has reached a new person, with no effort or cost on your part. Even more importantly, it’s a sign that someone found your email content so engaging they couldn’t help but share it with someone in their contact list. The more forwards your email gets, the better.
10. Social media shares
Social media shares function very similarly. They’re an indication that someone found your email engaging enough to share with their friends and family members. It also assists your campaign by making your content more visible to more people. If you aren’t getting shares or forwards, you might need to revisit your content approach.
11. Subjective surveys
Most of the items on this list are focused on gathering quantitative data related to your campaign’s performance. However, it’s also valuable to get subjective feedback about your emails. Occasionally, send out a survey to your email subscribers, requesting their perspective on your messages. Ask what they like and don’t like about your content, and whether they’ve engaged with your emails in the past. You can also ask them what they’d like to see from your emails in the future, which you can use to directly improve your email engagement in subsequent blasts.
Variables to Consider With Email Engagement
You may also consider evaluating these metrics in the context of the following variables:
Your email engagement rates may vary based on the device used by the recipient. For example, you may find that desktop users are more engaged than mobile users. If this is the case, it’s usually a symptom of a design problem. Optimize your emails to be mobile-responsive, so they automatically adjust to display properly across any device.
13. Days and times
Email engagement rates may also vary based on the day of the week and time of day. For example, you may find that your email engagements spike on Fridays, or peak early in the morning. You can easily alter your approach to maximize email engagements during these times.
14. Domain-based engagement
You can also measure email engagements as they originate from different domains. This is most valuable if you’re trying to appeal to certain big-name clients, or if you’re looking for leads. Still, it may provide clues as to which demographics are most engaged by your email content.
How to Improve Email Engagement
If you’re interested in improving your email engagement, you need to study the hard data. You need to understand your key demographics, and evaluate what has and hasn’t worked in the past. Your goal should be to learn from both successful and unsuccessful elements in your previous emails, and either replicate those elements or omit them in the future.
If you’re not satisfied with your current level of email engagement, and you aren’t sure where to start, these strategies can help you earn more engagements:
15. Write a better subject line
When it comes to email marketing engagement, your subject line should be your top priority. If your subject line isn’t engaging, your recipient will never get a chance to read the rest of your content. Your subject line needs to be short, compelling, intriguing, and relevant to your content. It also needs to be original—something your email recipients haven’t seen a million times already. It’s a tricky business, and something of an art, so feel free to experiment with different variations until you find a good sense for what works. For help getting started, see our post on the best subject lines for networking emails.
16. Make it easier to share and forward
People aren’t going to share your content unless it’s easy. Make sure all your emails have convenient links and buttons that let people share your material with others as quickly as possible. If they’re even slightly engaged by your work, they’ll be more likely to share it.
17. Cater to a niche demographic
It’s usually better to focus on specific, niche demographics than to try and create email content that’s engaging to a wide audience. Get to know your audience well, including what type of content they’re most engaged with. Then, create niche, segmented lists for each sub-type of customer relevant to your business, and send different types of emails to each one.
18. Eliminate the fluff
If email engagement is your priority, you should structure your entire email around that engagement. For example, if you want people to click your links and buy your products, your email shouldn’t be bogged down with a dozen other calls-to-action (CTAs). Every email you send out should have one key idea, or one key objective. If it does, it will be much more engaging than an email diluted with multiple offers or actions.
19. Prioritize your best content
Track the performance of your content, including email-related content, blog posts, and anything else in your content marketing wheelhouse. Inevitably, you’ll see certain subjects or archetypes of content that perform better than others. When you do, prioritize this type of content in your emails moving forward, whether you’re advertising the best blogs on your site, or incorporating elements of your content into more persuasive email CTAs.
20. Master the art of timing
After a few months of emailing your prospects, you should have plenty of data to analyze the best times and days to send emails. There may be multiple right answers here, but if you selectively send emails when they’re likely to be better received, you’ll get far better email engagement rates.
21. Use multiple archetypes of email
Finally, make sure you’re using multiple archetypes of email. You’ll want to send welcome emails, special offer and follow-up emails, and drip-based emails that get sent based on different customer triggers. That way, you’ll have multiple angles for email engagement with different audiences, and you can experiment with different tactics in each category.
If you’re interested in better understanding your email engagement metrics, either in a marketing context or in the context of your organization, you need the help of a platform like EmailAnalytics. With EmailAnalytics, you can quickly and integrate any Gmail account within your organization and dig into details like top senders and recipients, average email response time, and busiest times of day and days of week. Sign up for a free trial of EmailAnalytics today!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before exiting it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics, and co-host of the podcast The Entrepreneur Cast.