The Path to Holiday Email Optimization Part II: Optimizing Performance

The winter holidays are fast approaching and leading marketers are already done with their holiday planning. After establishing a solid structure, marketers can begin to focus on strengthening their email campaign performance in the weeks leading up to Black Friday. The following indicators can show you the best opportunities to improve program performance in time to realize gains in Holiday 2015.

Metrics to Watch
To optimize your email programs, focus on the the following four metrics. Each metric provides visibility into the current performance of your email program and serves as a touchstone to judge the performance of future campaigns.

• Read Rate: Your read rate indicates the percentage of delivered emails that subscribers viewed. Unlike your open rate, your read rate does not depend on image rendering, and therefore can give you a more accurate view of how subscribers are interacting with your content. This metric offers insight into how your subscribers are engaging with your messages. By tracking the read rate of different campaigns you can see what content resonates more with subscribers.

• Complaint Rate: This rate — total complaints out of all delivered email — indicates active dissatisfaction with your program. Having a high complaint rate can impact your deliverability by lowered your sending reputation — not an ideal thing to have for the upcoming holiday. Smart marketers will turn complaints into an advantage by tracking where they occur and identifying the source of the complaint — either content types or subscriber segments, and possibly uncovering structural problems in your program.

• Deleted Without Reading: This metric shows active disinterest in your content, but not necessarily dissatisfaction with your brand. Your deleted without reading rate tracks the percentage of your emails subscribers send to the trash unopened, indicating that they saw your email come through but were uninterested in reading your content.

• Unsubscribe Rate: This rate indicates a strong dissatisfaction with your entire program. Your unsubscribe rate is the number of unsubscribes out of your delivered emails. Like complaints, unsubscribes can be analyzed to identify types of content, sources of subscribers, or segments with engagement issues — enabling you to modify your program before more people terminate their email marketing relationship with you.

Steps to Take
Here are three steps to take to optimize performance for the holidays:

1. Re-engagement/Win-Back Campaign: While you should remove unknown addresses and spam traps immediately from your program, don’t be too quick to cull your inactive addresses. Before you call it quits, make one more attempt to win them back. In a Return Path study, we found that marketers where removing inactive subscribers too quickly after sending a win-back campaign. Your inactive subscribers were once actively interested in your content, so don’t miss out on potentially valuable customers by cutting them off or continuing the same ineffective campaigns.

2. Update and Expand Your Preference Center: Offer your customers a say in your relationship by giving them a chance to control what they receive from you. There are a couple different preference options you can offer to your subscribers. Asking for a preferred frequency will help you manage customer expectations and decrease the amount of complaints due to over or under mailing. You can even offer seasonal options, letting them temporarily see daily specials while they’re searching for gifts, and then returning to a slower cadence after the holidays.

If your program has a variety of subscriptions, allow customers to choose which ones they want to receive. This will help protect you from complaints and unsubscribes from customers who are only interested in one aspect of all your content. Another great preference option is interests. By collecting which topics or products that interest your customers, you can tailor your content to be relevant and engaging. Have options in place to to catch subscribers who may be unhappy with your current program, but would be open to an altered relationship.


Tom Sather is Return Path’s senior director of email research. Tom uses his knowledge of ISPs, spam filters and deliverability rules to advise marketers on how to get their email delivered to the inbox. He began his Return Path career as an email deliverability consultant working with top-brand clients like eBay, MySpace, IBM and Twitter. Tom’s previous experience includes roles with email service provider Experian and on the abuse desks for AOL, Bellsouth, AT&T and GTE.
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