This week I attended a demo of Harris Connect’s email marketing tool. Harris is a popular tool for maintaining alumni communities and the email tool they offer is fairly sophisticated in regards to segmentation your audience to target a message to the audience. But where it lacks is reporting, leading to what could be statistics that could be characterized as deceiving at best. Other tools that I’ve demoes in the past are not dissimilar to Harris in this respect.
Let’s jump back a notch: It’s not enough to send out mass emails to an a audience - marketing requires that you measure and analyze results. I look at some pretty standard statistics to assess the results of an email campaign, including (but not limited to) the follow:
- Open Rate: Your open rate is the unique number of times an email has been opened, divided by the total messages that were delivered. More on why this is trickier than you might think in a second.
- Click Through Rate: Just like open rates - unique click throughs divided by the total number of messages delivered.
- Click-To-Open Rate: Divide your unique click throughs by the number of unique messages that were opened. This rate is probably a much better assessment of the success of your message, since you’re only including people who actually opened it in your pool.
All of this seems fairly easy right? Wrong. The problem with many email service providers is that they don’t give you UNIQUE opens and click throughs - they give you TOTAL opens and click throughs. And the difference is significant: Unique rates tell you how many unique users took a particular action. Total rates tell you how many times they did it. Say you delivered 100 messages. 20 unique users opened the message, but several of them opened it more than once, resulting in total opens of 50. If you calculated your open rate the correct way, using the unique number, it would be 20%. If you calculated it using the total number, it would be 50%. Quite a difference.
The same applies to click through rate and click-to-open rates. If you don’t have the unique statistics, your stats are going to be completely skewed. This is an extremely important question to ask when you are looking for an email service provider - in your reports you should be able to quickly and easily differentiate between your total numbers and your unique ones.
This is just one of many ways in which your email stats can provide deceiving results. Rob S. left a great comment on SquaredPeg detailing some other problems with tracking. Evaluating the success of your campaigns is important and it might be tempting to use the skewed stats since they can oftentimes be a bit more impressive. But they aren’t real and they aren’t going to help you do what analysis is there for - improve your future marketing efforts based on what you learned from the previous ones.