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Now that summer has retreated into autumn, the focus of many email marketing departments turns to Christmas and the early part of next year.

There have been some interesting changes in the market over the last twelve months and during this key planning period it is important to take stock.

Here are five key pointers to allow you to run a quick health check on your current email campaigns and help you define your KPI’s ensuring your Christmas and New Year campaigns are a success!

1. Make sure you know where your emails are going

Delivery rate is a bit of confusing metric. It’s more like how many cars left the starting grid in a race, rather than how many made it to the finishing line.

Delivery rate is the amount of emails the receiving ISP indicated it accepted. It has nothing to do with whether it goes into the inbox, or junk box and in some cases whether it will be delivered to the recipient at all!

If anything, it is the most fundamental measure of list quality and validity. If your ESP is happy with the delivery rates, focusing on other metrics will give you better returns.

Make sure you are thoroughly checking your inbox delivery across as many domains as possible, both Return Path and Litmus have great tools for the job. Also sign up with SNDS from Hotmail, this will give you a good indication as to whether your emails are landing in the inbox or not.

2. Set your sights on Priority Inbox

Just when we thought it was safe to define where we wanted emails to land (Inbox of course!) Gmail and other main ISPs trundled out a bunch of new definitions.

I’m not talking about semantics here; all of a sudden we had some new targets to aim at. And, as for the difference this type of ordering and prioritisation make, the recent Email Benchmark report from Return Path gives us a clue.

The report found that out of the sample they analysed, 81% of the email accounts had Priority Inbox enabled. Of these accounts, only 17% of the inbox was deemed as “priority”.  

Both Hotmail and Yahoo have similar inbox management processes, all developed to help subscribers manage “Bacn” (emails you signed up for, but don’t necessarily want now).  

Hotmail has recently released some more features to help recipients manage their inbox, so you want to make sure your emails don’t end up in a folder that never gets read, or worse, get automatically deleted.

And with the latest DMA email benchmark report indicating that 82% of companies expect to send more email in 2011, the inbox is going to get pretty busy towards Christmas.

3. Check your campaign metrics

Look at this carefully, in the lead up to Christmas, the volume of emails that will be sent this year will undoubtedly see a large increase.

This will inevitably lead to inboxes straining under the load of marketing emails, and priority processes working overtime to ensure “wanted” emails are presented first. It’ll be the emails that were previously ignored that will struggle for any sort of priority.

Sending emails to recipients who ignore them, in the belief that they will open them when they are interested, won’t work.

By the time the recipient might be ready to listen to what you have to say, you’ll be so far down the priority list, you won’t really exist. Send emails to people who will open them and send them content that you know will interest them.

If one of your key goals is to ensure the recipient considers your email is a priority every time they receive it, you’ll get your message to them when they are ready to buy.

4. Look beyond today’s revenue to ensure success this Christmas

Look carefully at your metrics; inbox delivery, opens, clicks etc are all important to gauge the success of your email marketing. What you are trying to avoid, is ISP inbox filtering processes having an impact on your future revenue potential. 

5. Measure recipient engagement

Recipient engagement can mean many things, principally measuring someone’s level of interaction with an organisation. In an email context, this could be opening an email, or clicking, or the amount of time spent on the website (from an email).

One of the most important parts of the interaction will be how recently it has taken place. On the most positive side of the engagement scale is a recipient who has opened an email, clicked on the link, visited the website and made a purchase.

If this purchase was one of many they had made in the past, this deepens their engagement with your organisation. The other side of the engagement scale is that email address, which has no open or click activity for the two years it has been on your list. It has also never been associated with any website visits or any type of sale.

As to how much it matters, let’s take a recipient who just falls short of our most highly engaged recent purchaser; they got as far as the basket, then unfortunately left the process. The response metrics for this recipient, is a measure of a truly targeted email.

The figures published in the latest RedEye Behavioural Email Benchmark report show that emails sent to highly engaged people achieve click through rates approaching 30% and a staggering 18% conversion rate.

It’s not surprising that this type of email has doubled in popularity in some sectors (e-commerce).

These basket abandoners are the most engaged people you can send an email to that gets results. Although engagement segmentation can be as simple as the people who have recently opened or clicked your emails, correlating these people with sales can be a bit of an eye opener for some organisations.

Taking a cold hard look at the amount of your list who are reading your emails now, will give you a good idea as to how much work you need to do to make this Christmas a great one.    

Christmas is a big time for many businesses, and email marketing is playing an increasingly important role in the success of a marketing strategy. Because of this, it is becoming vitally important to consider the longer term value of your email subscribers.

For many organisations, the success of the coming Christmas season will rely as much on how you treat your recipients now, than what you do in the final weeks.

Tim Roe

Published 24 October, 2011 by Tim Roe

Tim Roe is Director of Data and Deliverability at Redeye International and a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via LinkedIn

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