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How to Interpret E-Mail Marketing Tracking Data

You have to be an advanced HTML and database programmer to track web marketing e-mails on your own; using an e-mail marketing provider (EMP) makes the task much easier. EMPs automatically add special tracking code to the links you include in your e-mails. The tracking code is unique to each individual on your e-mail list and is also tied to each e-mail campaign.

EMPs also have programs that automatically read the code from other e-mail servers when they return undeliverable e-mail so that you don’t have to do the hard work to determine why a particular e-mail wasn’t delivered.

E-mail tracking reports are analytical summaries of the results of a given e-mail campaign that can tell you

  • Which e-mails bounced

  • Why they bounced

  • Who opened your e-mails

  • What links the person clicked

  • Who unsubscribed from your e-mails

  • Who forwarded your e-mails or shared them on social media

Here we have a summary e-mail tracking report, generated by an EMP, that allows access to the report details when the user clicks the summary statistics. Making sense of the data in an e-mail tracking report takes a little getting used to because the technology involved in the e-mail tracking process causes the data to take on a slightly different meaning than you might expect.

[Credit: Courtesy of Constant Contact]
Credit: Courtesy of Constant Contact

How to calculate your bounce rate

Bounce rate is the number of e-mails that were returned as undeliverable, expressed as a percentage of total e-mails sent. EMPs calculate bounce rate by taking the total number of bounced e-mails and dividing by the number of e-mails sent. You can calculate your own bounce rate as follows:

  1. Divide the total number of e-mails that bounced by the total number of e-mails sent to get the total number of bounces per e-mail.

    For example, if you send 100 e-mails and 20 of them bounce, you bounced 0.2 e-mails for every e-mail sent.

  2. Multiply your bounce per e-mail rate by 100 to get your bounce rate as a percentage.

    For example, the bounce rate for 0.2 bounces per e-mail is 20 percent.

According to Epsilon’s Email Trends and Benchmark guide (2010), the average bounce rate for commercial e-mails is anywhere between 2 and 15 percent, depending on the industry. If your bounce rate is higher than that, it should be a topic of concern.

How to calculate your nonbounce total

Nonbounce total is the number of e-mails that were not bounced and therefore assumed delivered. EMPs calculate the nonbounce total by subtracting your total number of bounced e-mails from the total number of e-mails sent. You can calculate your own nonbounce total as follows:

Total e-mails sent–Total bounced e-mails = Nonbounce total

For example, if you send 100 e-mails and 20 of them bounce, your nonbounce total is 80.

Nonbounce total is sometimes expressed as a percentage, but the nonbounce total is more useful as a real number because e-mail open rates are actually based on your nonbounce total instead of the total number of e-mails sent.

Your nonbounce total isn’t the same as the total number of e-mails delivered. Some e-mails aren’t reported as bounced because software on the user’s computer or a portable device — not an e-mail server — bounced it, and some e-mail servers falsely deliver your e-mail to a junk folder that users can’t access.

Even though you can’t be sure whether your nonbounced e-mails are being delivered, you can assume that your nonbounced e-mails are reaching your audience until you have good reasons to believe otherwise. Because nonbounce total is basically the converse of the bounce rate, the average nonbounce rate is between 85 and 98 percent, according to Return Path.

How to calculate your open rate

Open rate is one of the e-mail marketing industry’s most misleading terms. It actually measures the number of specific interactions with an e-mail server after the e-mail is sent, expressed as a percentage of nonbounce total. Your e-mail isn’t counted as an open until one of the following interactions occurs:

  • The recipient enables the images in your e-mail to display either in the preview pane or in a full view of the e-mail.

  • The recipient clicks a link in the e-mail.

    [Credit: Courtesy of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce]
    Credit: Courtesy of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce
    [Credit: Courtesy of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce]
    Credit: Courtesy of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce

EMPs calculate open rate by taking the number of tracked opens and dividing it by your nonbounce total. Here are the steps involved in calculating open rate:

  1. Divide the total number of tracked opens by the nonbounce total to get opens per e-mail assumed delivered.

    For example, if 80 of 100 e-mails you send don’t bounce and 20 of them are tracked as opened, you received 0.25 opens per e-mail.

  2. Multiply the number of opens per e-mail by 100 to get the open rate as a percentage.

    For example, the open rate for 0.25 opens per e-mail is 25 percent.

You calculate your open rate by using your nonbounce rate instead of the total e-mails sent because your open rate indicates the strength of your e-mail’s identity and content apart from the strength of your deliverability. Because e-mails that aren’t delivered can’t possibly be opened, they’re excluded from your open-rate calculation.

According to Epsilon’s Email Trends and Benchmark guide, the average open rate is roughly between 14 and 41 percent, depending on the industry.

Plain, text-only e-mails without any links or images are not trackable unless your audience replies to them directly. Make sure that your EMP inserts a blank image in every e-mail to ensure that open tracking is possible.

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