Analyse and optimise e-mail newsletters with tracking

Creating a newsletter is one of the most important disciplines in e-mail marketing enabling businesses to stay in regular contact with their customers. But without analyzing an e-mail campaign, you can only guess how successful it is. This can be done with a series of e-mail tracking programs for newsletter analysis. E-mail analytics programs will let you know whether a newsletter has been opened by subscribers. It’s also possible to see whether the newsletters prompted readers to then visit the site, and even whether they completed a transaction on it.

Why measure the success of a newsletter?

In online marketing, it makes sense to set a precise target for each campaign and then check whether it has been achieved. Analysing e-mail marketing campaigns such as newsletters or e-mails (the difference between these types of direct marketing is explained in our article on customer retention is hard to achieve without the correct tools. If you decide to promote certain products from your online store in your newsletter, but the campaign is not accompanied by e-mail tracking, you won’t be able to estimate how much influence the newsletter has had on sales figures.

Even if the number of products bought increases after the advertising campaign, you can’t say for certain whether this is due to the newsletter. Other factors could be responsible for the increase in sales figures, such as other marketing campaigns for the same product, or a change in the state of the market. Without a basic check on how the newsletter is performing, you won’t obtain any insight into how future e-mail marketing measures could be improved. Newsletter tracking, as well as being used to understand the actions of different e-mail recipients, can also be used for optimising future newsletters.

In e-mail marketing, tracking is practically one of the basic requirements for deeper newsletter analysis, and has proven to be very successful. E-mail analytics programmes collect specific key performance indicators (KPIs) through e-mail tracking. These key figures or KPIs can be used to determine the success of marketing campaigns. In the case of newsletter tracking, this is primarily achieved by measuring certain e-mail actions (such as opening them or clicking on embedded links). By using tracking technologies and other tools, KPIs can be collected.

Which KPIs should e-mail tracking determine?

To evaluate e-mail marketing campaigns, a number of very specific KPIs have proven to be reliable. The following indicators are always of interest, since they measure features that are found in every newsletter – regardless of an e-mail’s content.

  • Delivery rate: e-mails don’t always reach every address on the mailing list, especially when it comes to newsletters with lots of subscribers. If an e-mail can’t be delivered, the sender ideally receives a bounce message, which can be used to work out the 'bounce rate' (the portion of mails that can’t be delivered). This measurement helps the sender to calculate the newsletter’s delivery rate.
  • Opening rate: if an e-mail reaches a recipient’s inbox, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be opened. However, tracking technology that operates with a tracking pixel can let you know whether the recipient has opened the mail. The opening rate can then be determined by comparing it with the delivery rate.
  • Click rate: the aim of a newsletter is to encourage the recipient to click on at least one link. Clicking on the link can lead the user to a website’s online store, to an article about the website, to a company or artist’s video, etc. The click rate measures the number of times the links in the newsletter are clicked on.
  • Unsubscribe rate: a newsletter must offer the recipient the option to opt out of the distribution list. The unsubscribe rate provides information on how many subscribers opt out of receiving the newsletter. If you compare this figure with the amount of new subscribers and the delivery rate, you can work out how many potential customers are happy to receive the newsletter.

In general, it can be said that a KPI is always dependent on the marketer’s goals and the circumstances of the newsletter. Those carrying out a newsletter campaign can create strict economic expectations and hope for higher sales numbers when it comes to the product. You can find out whether the newsletter campaign has paid off by looking at sales and Return on Investment (ROI), which are used to determine the balance between expenditure and revenue. In addition to monetary reactions from subscribers, newsletters can also target key figures, such as subscriptions on an online platform or downloads.

How does newsletter tracking work?

It’s also possible to obtain data on the unsubscribe rate or the bounce rate by using specific tracking tools. This is because information on whether a subscriber has opted out of the newsletter, or an e-mail hasn’t been delivered, can be found directly in the sender’s inbox. If you want to keep track of how recipients actually interact with a newsletter, you need to employ additional techniques.

  • Tracking pixel: an imagine element used to track the opening rate of a newsletter. The tracking pixel is tiny (often just 1 x 1 pixel), is transparent, and is integrated into a newsletter. As soon as an e-mail with a tracking pixel is opened, a message is sent back to the newsletter creator’s mail server. This can only happen if the recipient’s e-mail program doesn’t block the automatic downloading of images. If this is not the case, the tracking pixel can determine a lot more than just whether the e-mail has been opened or not; the approximate time and location of the recipient (via geo targeting) can also be ascertained.
  • Tracking link: the click rate is registered by tracking links. Similar to the tracking pixel, this link sends information to the exit server through which the newsletter was sent. Each newsletter link can be recorded individually.

E-mail marketing applications for newsletter analysis

There are various programmes available to check the success of your e-mail marketing activities. Many of them offer packages with numerous functions. E-mail marketing software is included in applications such as MailChimp, Newsletter2Go, CleverReach (all are free when sending a low volume of newsletters), as well as programmes such as GetResponse and CampaignMonitor. These tools include the following features:

  • An editor for producing newsletters
  • The possibility of sending the newsletter directly through the programme
  • An analysis of the campaigns being carried out
  • Recipient list administration

In addition, the abovementioned programmes have an A/B testing function. With this, two different test versions of a newsletter (at least) can be sent to a pre-determined percentage of subscribers. Different criteria (KPIs such as the highest possible opening rate or the click-through rate of an embedded link) are set as targets, after which different versions are sent out. After analysing the tracking results, the version that faired the best (regarding the pre-defined performance indicators) is chosen and then sent to the rest of the newsletter subscribers. A/B testing is a useful feature if the number of subscribers is significant enough to produce a good result. This method allows the newsletter to be quickly adapted to the preferences of a target group.

Every professional e-mail tracking programme measures the click rate, delivery rate, unsubscribe rate, and opening rate of a newsletter (taking the bounce rate into account). In addition to these elementary tracking features, Newsletter2Go, CleverReach, and MailChimp also offer the following features:

  • Click maps or heat maps to illustrate the data obtained
  • Geo targeting for the localisation and assignment of the recipients
  • Support from Google Analytics

In addition, most e-mail marketing tracking programmes have various other features that help with the analysis. Starting with simple functions, such as being able to automatically create print versions of an analysis, through to previewing newsletters on different sized (mobile) displays: depending on the application you are using, there are many options available for your newsletter analysis. A comparison of the best e-mail marketing software with more detailed information of the different functions can be found in this article.

Apart from specific e-mail marketing software, there are also tools and plugins for newsletter tracking. With Google Analytics you can easily see whether recipients have opened a newsletter. Some WordPress plugins, such as Tribulant Newsletters and SendPress Newsletters, are more extensive. MailChimp, Newsletter2Go, and other providers also offer specific extensions for WordPress.

The significance of e-mail analytics

In a normal case, the values collected via newsletter tracking are not absolute (as is often the case in statistics), but rather show tendencies, since only the success of part of the dispatched newsletter can be fully analysed. This is due to the fact that certain e-mail programmes prevent tracking pixels from being used. Users whose e-mail programmes prevent this kind of tracking are therefore not included in the statistics. However, other factors can also falsify results: for example, a user could open the newsletter several times, so that this information is recorded each time as a new action when passed onto the e-mail analytics database. The same applies to the click rate.

Additionally, results should not be seen as definitive values. Just because a newsletter has been opened, doesn’t mean that its content has been read. Just because a link has been clicked on, doesn’t mean that the information has been properly read or taken into account. There are many factors you should bear in mind when analysing results. When it comes to the values, the quality of the results should be assessed realistically, keeping the factors that distort the results in mind.

Successfully optimise the newsletter

After analysing and tracking your newsletter via an e-mail analytics programme, you should now have a collection of data and statistics. The final step is to draw correct conclusions from the results. However, only significant results should be used for the basis of any optimisation: if the figures are quite small compared to the total (which may be the case in A/B testing), the data obtained won’t be very representative. However, if the sample is large enough, this is a solid basis for optimisation. Some of the problems that can be tackled, include:

  • Low opening rate: the e-mail’s subject is often the reason behind a low opening rate. If it isn’t informative enough or too long, it won’t peak the recipient’s interest enough to be opened. Further reasons for a low opening rate could be the lack of sender information – it should be obvious to the subscriber who the e-mails are from. It could also be that you’re sending the newsletter out at the wrong time.
  • High unsubscribe rate: if you send out too many newsletters, it could come across as annoying. Subscribers also won’t appreciate it if the content isn’t optimally prepared or the wrong topic is focused on. Many newsletter applications offer users the option of giving a reason for unsubscribing. This can give provide insight into a high unsubscribe rate.
  • Low click rate: first you should check whether all links can be recognised as such: if a user doesn’t see it’s a link, they obviously won’t click on it. If the links are indeed visible, it could be that there are too many of them. Instead of linking everything in your newsletter, it makes more sense to add links that are best suited to your campaign goals.
  • Low conversion rate: even with an unsatisfactory number of conversions, you should make sure that you haven’t advertised too many offers in your e-mail. Keep in mind that your subscribers do not want to spend an infinite amount of time searching through a newsletter and all its links. Incentives are a good way to get readers interested, alongside being personalised and quick to read.

Take the right conclusions from the newsletter analysis

If you were able to determine the problems with your newsletter and have rectified them, you should then carry out an A/B test to determine whether the changes have worked or whether you need to make any further changes. Sometimes patience is required: getting your newsletter just right can take time – e-mail tracking, newsletter analysis, results analysis, and resulting optimisation should be built on each another.

Make sure you don’t rush into making conclusions from the given statistics and also don’t over-interpret the findings. Some indicators point to non-representative results – a low delivery rate versus a large bounce rate, or a very low sample in an A/B test. Knowing the limits of newsletter tracking is also important, for example, that not every e-mail programme allows tracking pixels to be loaded and that this can falsify results.

If you are cautious and are able to generate meaningful statistics with the analysis, e-mail marketing programmes and associated analytical methods prove helpful. The resulting improvements should have a noticeably positive effect on the success of your future e-mail marketing campaigns.