The beauty of digital marketing is that it affords immediacy, a form of instant gratification. Gone are the days of sending a magazine ad to print or waiting for the scaffolding to slowly climb up to the empty billboard you purchased for the next month. Now it’s digital display ads, segmented email marketing, geotargeted messaging, streaming video, and all the other fancy tools as marketers we use all the time.

Instead of waiting around for something to happen and then wondering if it did anything at all, digital marketing is instant execution and instant results. But in a point and click world it’s important to remember there is action needed after the click. We recently talked about the necessity of data analysis, even at its most basic level. We discussed the three questions you need to be asking before you execute as a way to inform your analytics review:

Who is the audience I’m trying to reach?

What are my most important marketing channels?

What are my objectives?

Once you’ve accomplished this step it’s time to dive in. If you’ve made it this far into the marketing process, you probably know the key metrics to look at: clicks, engagement, bounce rate, opens, time on your platform, etc. But in almost every medium there is that one key metric that is so often ignored, often to the detriment of the marketing campaign. Over the next few weeks we’ll be identifying what the metric most missed is on each platform. Today we’ll tackle email.

The Ones That Got Away

Spam: An Email Marketing Red Flag

It’s hard to not obsess over the size of your list and how many people open it. And once you start following the breadcrumbs, especially if your conversion metric is sales based, you could be spending a lot of time looking at a lot of data. And while that’s a necessity (and the point of this series of articles!) the metric most often missed is disengagement rate.

To calculate your email marketing disengagement rate, add up the total unsubscribes and spam complaints from a single campaign and divide by the number of unique opens. It’s one thing to not interact with an email, or even just not open it. Those are still newsletter subscribers that can be activated. But someone taking the effort to unsubscribe clearly is not connecting with your messaging and you’ve lost them as a lead. Even worse, offending or annoying someone to such a degree that they complain to the world wide web is a sign something just isn’t right.

Obviously you’re going to lose email subscribes, that’s just the name of the game. For example, say you gathered a chunk of addresses from a sweepstakes. That’s going to drive up your unsubscribe rate over the next newsletter or two. And that’s ok, because the net is going to be positive. In other cases, someone might just be getting too much email. That’s ok too. It’s why so many smart marketers segment out or even manually unsubscribe people who aren’t opening their emails. A good cleanse of an email marketing list never did anyone any harm. And your open rate will thank you.

But if you disengagement rate is consistently hovering at 0.2% or above it’s incredibly likely you’re just not connecting with your audience. And if a high percentage of your disengagement rate is spam complaints, you might be on the road to losing them altogether.

Don’t Leave Yet, Just Give My Email Marketing One More Chance

So, you’re losing subscribers at a pace you’re not comfortable with and it’s in your head. Maybe you’re even questioning your skills. Rather than sulk, let’s get this turned around. (Remember, there is NO crying in marketing). As you can imagine, a surefire way to get to the bottom of the problem is through testing. It’s forgotten sometimes that studying your email marketing analytics isn’t just about finding what works; it’s about finding out what doesn’t.

Here are three areas to consider:

Frequency

 

Think like an email receiver, and not an email sender. At what point do you say enough is enough? This could very well be the issue. Take a look at your emails over the course of a set period of time, say a month. Is your disengagement rate higher at the end of the month than the beginning? If so, at what point during the month is the increase in disengagement no longer linear? Identifying the point where it’s just too many emails can pinpoint the frequency your audience wants to hear from you. So if you’re sending out six emails a month and after the third the disengagement rate starts to increase exponentially, try testing only three emails a month. Sometimes people’s inboxes just get too full.

Unsubscribe

Content

Sure, it seems simplistic to just say, maybe your content is the problem. But it’s about more than just what’s in the email, it’s about how it’s presented and what other content it’s paired with. Every good email marketer knows that sales email after sales email after sales email is just not going to get the job done. Even if your company isn’t in the business of creating original content, there have to be times when your soft side comes out.

Test an email, even on a segment of your list, that starts with content or imagery related to your brand but with no call to action to buy. Make the call to action something completely different. Be conversational. Add the sales stuff in below the fold. A consumer is less likely to unsubscribe or complain if they’ve gotten something useful from the email before getting to the stuff that might turn them off. If you have the guts (and content) try sending an email every now and then doesn’t have the words “buy” or “order” in it.

Subject Line

A good A/B test can help you pinpoint the type of subject line that increases your open rate. But what kind of subject line increases your disengagement rate? The most likely is one that overpromises an email that under delivers. Or doesn’t deliver on the promise at all. This is going to be a huger driver of spam complaints. Crafting a good subject line is absolutely necessary, but don’t take it too far or get too cute with it. Sometimes simple is best, just done right.

Looking at these three areas and applying the findings to your email marketing initiatives will not only increase the positives and decrease the negatives, it might just help you sleep better. Remember, as long as you engage with your disengagers, you’re going to be ok.