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What is email engagement and how do you track it?

What is email engagement and how do you track it?

The word “engagement” gets thrown around in the marketing community and it’s especially nebulous when applied to email marketing. 

On the surface, measuring email engagement is as straightforward as tracking engagement on channels like socials, where likes and comments are immediately evident. But what does email engagement actually look like? And what metrics should you track to make sure your engagement is healthy? 

We covered these topics on our recent Instagram Live with Kait Creamer, Senior Marketing Manager at Overstory. Below, we’ll give a summary of the highlights. 

What does email engagement really mean? 

The boring answer: email engagement is the number of interactions in your email. Depending on who you ask, this could be open rates, click-through rates or the ratio between the two (referred to as click-through to open rate or CTOR). 

But the more important answer is that email engagement is when you’re willing to listen to your recipients. It’s when you get off the metaphorical stage and actually talk to the crowd. 

As Kait says, “Engagement is just being present and having a conversation.” 

Still not sure what we’re talking about? Let’s look at an example. 

Our email marketing specialist, Sophia Shalabi, recently started including a “question of the week” in our Email Design Blog newsletter (make sure to sign up!). 

Email survey

These one-click survey emails work by tracking how many people click on each button. Each click is worth one “vote”. Using this strategy increased our CTOR from our usual average of 3% to 9% for this campaign. 

The last button led to a Typeform, where we collected responses from our readers. This helps us know what you want to learn about rather than us just guessing behind the scenes. And yes – this blog post was inspired by the first answer in the image below! 

email survey responses

Email engagement metrics to track

If you work for an organization or need to keep clients happy, you’re probably wondering how to justify these “conversations” with hard numbers. We’ve got you covered. 

Before we tell you which metrics to track, here are a few caveats to keep in mind:

  • Understand your business model. Do you need a high open rate or does it just look good? Are clicks on some links worth more than others? If so, which are the most important? As Kait says, “Attention does not mean success.” The most important metrics are the ones that lead to an increase in revenue. This is different for a business that runs on ads or subscriptions (like newspapers and blogs) than for a company that relies on selling a product or service.
  • Know where your needs meet customer needs. Good marketing comes down to one essential question: How are you helping your customer? Consider what they need from you in order to successfully buy and use what you’re selling. This might be more information, a community to rely on or simply entertaining content. 
  • Test your own list before making conclusions. Every email list is different. A list of 50,000 students will express interest differently than 1,000 executives. Because there are people at the other end of the screen, it’s vital to get to know your own audience and the metrics that matter to your relationship with them. 

With that being said, here are some metrics that you can use to determine whether your campaign is working:

  • Click-through rate. This is the percentage of people who clicked on at least one link in your email compared to how many people received the message.
  • CTOR. Also known as the “Click To Open Rate”, this measures the percentage of clicks compared to the number of people who opened the email. Note that this is different from click-through rate because it only considers people who actually opened the email (vs all people who received it in their inbox). 
  • Response rate. Rather than using a “no-reply@…” sender, try sending emails from a “yes-reply@…” address, and invite your audience to share their thoughts or feedback on the message. This works especially well for newsletters, where recipients may want to respond to your ideas. As BEE CEO, Massimo Arrigoni, says in his LinkedIn post about using a yes-reply sender, “We spend lots of time and money acquiring and engaging customers: why on earth would we not want a conversation?

How to run a re-engagement campaign when your metrics are low

If you’re starting a brand-new list, engagement might be the easy part. But when you’re new to a company and inherit their existing list, or if you’ve neglected your own list for some time, then it’s often an uphill battle to get it back up and moving.  

What do you do when you’re sending emails only to be faced with low opens and very few clicks? Summon the re-engagement campaign

Re-engagement campaigns have two main goals:

  1. Figure out who still wants to be on your list 
  2. Understand how to make your content better 

While there are many strategies for re-engagement, the first step to take is to talk to your target audience. Go sit in on client calls. Join Facebook or Slack groups. Participate in webinars. Read YouTube comments. Do anything you have to do to understand what your ideal customer wants to see in their content. 

Then, don’t be afraid to take chances and change up what you’re doing. In our live, Kait shared a very simple tactic to understand her audience: she included a thumbs up or a thumbs down in every email. 

Thumbs up 👍: This email is helpful to me. 

Thumbs down 👎: This email could be better. 

Based on these results, she was able to create content that met audience needs (and increased engagement in the process!). 

Email mini survey

Enhance your engagement campaigns with BEE Pro

All of the Email Design Blog emails mentioned above are created using BEE Pro. Add buttons, make surveys and more with an easy drag-and-drop interface. You even make landing pages for your surveys using the page builder.

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Emily Santos
Emily Santos

Emily Santos is a Content Specialist with experience as a Brand Strategist and Designer.