Want Better Visibility Into Campaign Performance? Look at Read Rate
For email marketers in the retail industry, developing a strong relationship with your subscribers is critical to your company’s bottom line. Therefore, many marketers are making data-driven decisions to fuel their campaigns. One metric that can help you more accurately analyze your email program is read rate — i.e., the percentage of subscribers who have marked your email as read out of all the emails that you sent.
How is read rate different from open rate? Your open rate is a metric tracked by mailbox providers. A message is marked as opened when an image in the message is downloaded, but this measure isn't always entirely accurate because some mailbox providers don’t automatically enable image rendering. Since some users could be reading your messages without images downloading, relying solely on open rate can limit your visibility around performance. Read rate accounts for all emails viewed, regardless of image rendering. And with mailbox providers increasingly relying on subscriber engagement, they’re looking for more than whether a pixel fires to determine if your subscribers are reading your messages.
Read rate can help you determine which subject lines are working, what topics resonate most with your subscribers, and how interested they are in receiving your messages. Read rate and deliverability rate are also closely related. If you have low deliverability, then your messages won’t have the opportunity to be read. Conversely, mailbox providers are looking at engagement metrics like read rate to determine whether to let your emails pass through their filters.
Paying attention to read rate will give you a good indication of how subscribers feel about your email program, and it’s clear that retailers know the value of a high read rate. According to Return Path’s Hidden Metrics of Email Deliverability report, major retail categories such as apparel, gifts and merchandise maintained a read rate well above the national average of 14 percent, showing that email marketers in the retail sector were working hard to create effective campaigns.
Among the retail categories, flowers and gifts had the highest read rate throughout the year, averaging around 17 percent in the first three quarters of 2015, with a slight drop to 15 percent in the fourth quarter. According to the report, this dip in Q4 read rate happened across almost all categories, possibly due to the increase in email volume around the holidays. Mailers in the apparel industry also started the year strong, hovering around a 16 percent read rate, but also saw a 2 percent drop in Q4, while general merchandise messages stayed consistent throughout the year with a read rate between 16 percent and 17 percent.
With such a successful year in 2015, retailers will have to work even harder to ensure that their 2016 campaigns continue to resonate with customers and drive revenue. So what can you do to make this possible?
Continually monitor your read rate to get a better idea of how subscribers feel about your campaigns, and conduct A/B testing to optimize your strategy. Here are a few key things to test that can affect read rate:
- Subject lines: try different lengths, words, or personalization tactics
- Pre-header text: change the length and content
- Send time: send on different days or vary the time of day you send
- Send frequency: increase or decrease the amount of email you send
After testing, analyzing changes in read rate will help you develop a better understanding of subscribers’ preferences. Tailoring to these preferences not only increases read rate, but will also help grow your engagement and increase your chances of creating loyal subscribers.
Tom Sather is the senior director of research at Return Path, an email marketing solution that helps to improve deliverability and ROI.
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