Email marketing is still the most important channel for your ROI, but the current changes don't make it easy for marketers to stay on the ball. Still, in the long run, e-commerce marketing teams need to keep up with the changes – at least if they want to continue to compete.
The evolution of email marketing
Email marketing today is hardly comparable to what we understood it to be a few years ago. Gone are the days of monthly e-newsletters sent to all subscribers that focused on open and click-through rates.
Email marketing is now responsible for more web traffic than paid and social media combined, delivers the highest ROI of all existing marketing channels, and is widely considered the most popular communication channel among consumers when it comes to pre-purchase, post-purchase and transactional messaging.
The more content is sent, the closer the rhythm and frequency of the emails sent, and the more precisely the needs and interests of each individual recipient can be addressed, the more the email channel evolves. Inbox filtering and security protocol has also changed as a result of increasingly sophisticated threats in increasingly complex ways.
While the digital marketing industry today is more complex than ever, the basic methods for tracking, reporting and segmentation have changed little. What this means in concrete terms? Marketing has changed, but metrics lag behind.
The problem with open rates
At Internet World Conference 2013, I first talked about the problems with tracking open rates – they can't by any stretch of the imagination keep up with the changes within the industry.
Working in technology and data in the larger "email" space, I generally have a good view of the overall situation. And I realized back in 2013 that there is a huge disconnect between what marketers want to achieve and how the resulting results are evaluated. One consequence of this discrepancy often presented itself in strategy failure and deliverability issues.
6 years later, I believe little has changed in this situation. We still track open rates the same way, we still report on open rates the same way, we still create industry benchmarks based on open rates, and we still use open rates for segmentation, targeting, and personalization.
The problem here? While the metrics within the industry haven't changed, resp. have evolved, open rates still work. Or at least in some ways. Open rates are usually high when things are going well, low when things are not going well, and change according to improvement or deterioration. And don't forget, they make up the biggest number in the overall conversion chain – after all, it sounds a lot better to talk about a 42% open rate, rather than a 7% click-through rate.
My specialty is deliverability. This means: I work with companies whose marketing programs don't work or. Do not provide the desired results. This also means that if you and I are on the phone, you are probably just having a bad week. And these moments, or these cases (when things don't go well) make it more than clear that you can't identify active email recipients with "Open Data", but absolutely need accurate data to evaluate situations, target contacts properly, and build a good reputation.
Email issues you should know & understand
Before we delve deeper into open rates and look at when and where they come into play, let's familiarize ourselves with some current deliverability issues.
In an email, images are often pre-loaded – meaning they are downloaded without any form of human interaction.
Let me briefly explain why this is so. There are three main reasons why images in emails are preloaded:
► User Experience. Mobile devices are sometimes in an area with a cellular signal, and sometimes not. Many consumers read their emails on different devices, resulting in endpoints being queried and rendered differently. Pre-fetching provides a better user experience.
► Anti abusive use. Images are often checked as part of the inbox filtering process, protecting inboxes from spam, viruses and malware. Some inboxes are also controlled by machines, resp. Are there to monitor email senders and activities.
► Forward emails and mailbox consolidation. When POP/IMAP is used to forward and collect email into a mailbox, this can result in images being preloaded (to ensure they are delivered correctly and intact).
But there are also some human influences associated with pre-fetching, among others:
- When an inbox is active or inactive
- If emails from a particular sender are commonly opened, or not – this somewhat imprecise metric is only available in very technically advanced inboxes
- If a recipient has marked the sender "always download" – where this is simply a "request, not a command"
- With certain user settings
Please also note that pre-fetching can vary depending on the email provider (the domain), email client (the app used to read the email), the device (desktop, tablet, mobile), and operating system (iOS, Android).
What this looks like in concrete terms can be observed excellently in the Litmus Market Share report. Among other things, the report shows that 3x more emails are opened in Gmail than in Microsoft domains, and that more than 10x more email opens occur in Apple than in Android systems.