While email marketers are facing a growing number of obstacles when looking to send out emails at scale, some email service providers are actively pursuing the implementation of multiple solutions which can help ensure that emails reach their intended recipients and that improved analytics allow for better campaign refinements that drive what ultimately matters to the business – sales and retention.
The latest set of challenges comes as a result of efforts by technology companies, and people, who are looking to improve security and privacy. For example, anti-virus solutions scan all links in emails to protect users against phishing or malware, and this can result in opens and clicks being overstated. Then, you have the latest iOS privacy updates, or instances of major email providers caching images on proxy servers, which can result in open rates being understated because tiny, transparent, embedded pixels are used to measure opens and don’t fire with these changes.
It’s a never-ending cycle: malicious actors come up with some new way of exploiting unsuspecting users, and this results in a response from email and antivirus vendors that usually has unintended consequences, and email service providers have to respond accordingly.
Providers, such as Everlytic, have been consistent in their ability to normalise reports as more measures have been brought in that affect the industry. The latest challenges have seen Everlytic implement a suite of tools from Cloudflare that use artificial intelligence in order to differentiate between human and bot traffic by understanding behaviour. Furthermore, these tools can be trained to get better with time using machine learning, which uses quality, context and volumes of data to provide more accurate results.
Bringing the focus back to sales and retention
So, how exactly do email marketers respond to these developments? In this ever-changing world, it is vital that marketers are fully aware of the technicalities at play, and be realistic – and forthcoming – about what is beyond the control of the medium.
The main aim should be (and should have always been) the end result, which is persuading your customers to purchase your products and/or services. All other metrics just act as guidelines to show you what is currently working, where things are going wrong, and what needs to be improved.
This requires a realigning of the baseline in order to better reflect reality and to move away from vanity metrics such as open rates specifically, to areas that are more firmly within your control: engagement with content on your own website, and most importantly, sales. They have more control over these last two environments.
It is important to consider the attribution of conversion and activity on your platforms. Email is a highly effective and affordable driver of traffic and we have repeatedly seen exciting ratios of conversion attributable to email as a channel across industries. Email should always be your foundation channel. Attribution on conversion is accurate, because there is human behaviour after the open and click that positions a real user behind the action.
Does this mean that email metrics are pointless? Absolutely not, as each step gives you more data than the previous one; it should simply be read with the necessary context and understanding that there is an acceptable technical margin of error when considering the stats. Starting with actual sales made, you can work your way backwards to clicks, opens and successful sends and still form that reliable view of what drove conversion and action.
Email metrics serve as an important benchmark for continuous improvement, because technical factors are generally constant over time, which means that you can set a baseline and measure performance.
These metrics should be used as a marker to identify where blockages/leakages are happening, and then help you understand whether your interventions are working or not. This is still critical: email marketing to a database remains a game of scale and ratios, and you need to strive for improvement so that more people continue to be exposed to your messages and calls to action. With this in mind, marketers need to consider what their acceptable error rate is; by understanding the context, they can read and react to the statistics that they get.
Ultimately, email service providers should be open and honest about the impact that these bots and privacy updates – and continuous changes from major software vendors – have on their customers’ email campaign reporting. In fact, responsible email service providers should play a critical role in bringing transparency in an environment that is increasingly becoming opaque. Has your email service provider had this tough conversation with you as yet? If not, why not?
JanDirk (JD) Engelbrecht is a commercial technologist who is passionate about finding creative solutions to problems. His experience in digital product development and commercialisation has allowed him to work with various South African market leaders in media, ecommerce, advertising, data science, and agriculture.
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