Every marketer should be familiar with the value of a well executed email campaign. A carefully targeted, well thought-out and timely email can be the critical touchpoint in encouraging your prospects to convert, so as a digital marketer email marketing should be at the forefront of your conversion strategy. But how can we measure which of our email tactics are working the most effectively?
If you use an email marketing platform, you may already be getting data on the number of emails delivered and, if you’re lucky, the likelihood that your targets are actually opening them. While useful, this kind of reporting can fall short in some ways.
Are deliveries and open rates really counted reliably in our software?
In some scenarios, these kind of stats are perfectly valid. While it’s true that email open tracking will not work for all of your targets, this doesn’t hugely matter as your open rates will be undercounted across all the campaigns that you’re comparing. It can become a problem, however, when you’re emailing a small group of people, as any inaccuracy in your data will be much more statistically significant.
Do these stats really demonstrate the value of a particular tactic?
Open rates are a poor stat when the purpose of your email is to drive traffic to your website. With a tactic like this, it’s not sufficient to only report whether or not your emails are being opened; what you really need is to understand what’s driving the most traffic via the links in your email.
What if my email marketing platform doesn’t perform this type of tracking at all?
This scenario is even worse. If you don’t have access to any kind of data on email performance, your decisions can only be made based on guesswork.
Ideally, you’ll want to report not only on emails delivered and opened, but also on the levels of interaction they are producing on your site. If you’re not sure how to do this, you might be surprised to hear there’s a free piece of software that can do this rather well, and it’s probably already installed on your website. I speak, of course, of the famous Google Analytics.
Google Analytics (we’ll call it GA) allows you to reliably track each visit that begins with a user clicking on one of your email links, get accurate info on the number of people clicking, and even build up a picture of their general level of engagement with the website.
The aim is to produce a report that looks something like this:
The most immediately valuable thing GA can do for you as an email marketer is show you, clearly and accurately, how many individuals have reached your site via each piece of your email marketing. Once you have this data in there, you can delve into more complicated stats like bounce rates and goal conversions, but that’s a topic for another blog post.
I have no idea how to send email data into GA! How am I supposed to set this up?
In principle, it’s not too difficult. You just need to make sure that whenever you put a link (or multiple links) in an email, the link tells GA some pieces of information about the email in which it was placed. Anyone building marketing emails (and putting links in them) can do this by taking the link and including within it a query string that contains some very specific parameters that GA will be able to read.
This method will give GA three pieces of information from each link. Each of these pieces of information is usually referred to as a UTM tag.
Medium: this will tell GA that the link was placed within an email.
Source: this will specify which people were emailed (make sure you don’t include personal info in here).
Campaign: this specifies the email’s purpose and any other details you need to report on.
In the query string, these respectively are called the utm_medium, utm_source, and utm_campaign.
For example, if I’m sending an email to my hot prospects to encourage them to request a callback, the info I would attach to the link is the following:
It is vital that the Medium parameter has the exact value “email”. This is the only way GA knows which visits came from emails and which ones didn’t.
To complete the example, if our landing URL is abccollege.eu/callback/, the amended link that I would need to include in our email would look like this:
I don’t quite get it. How can I set these up in my own marketing campaigns?
If you’re using an email marketing platform, check first with your vendor whether your software has the functionality to automatically add these parameters to every link — many of them do. A word of warning, though: you may not have any control over exactly what information gets sent.
If your platform doesn’t have any support for automatically adding UTM tags (or if you prefer setting these up yourself in order to enforce proper categorisation of your data) then you need to add the parameters manually onto the end of your URL before pasting it into your email.
If you’re comfortable with the syntax behind URL parameters, I’d recommend simply typing these parameters onto the end of your link, following the structure from the example above. If you’re not familiar with URL parameters and query strings, the “Structure” section of Wikipedia’s excellent article on URL queries will tell you everything you need to know.
If you don’t like learning, Google provide a step-by-step tool called the Campaign URL Builder which will do all of the work for you.
If you’re linking to multiple landing pages a single email, it’s good practice to only vary the landing URL and keep the three UTM parameters the same; this way it will be much easier for you to identify which links prove to be more popular in a particular email. Similarly if your strategy involves sending out a sequence of emails with the same end goal in mind, it’s a good idea to keep either the Campaign or the Source parameter the same across each email in the sequence.
Finally, make sure you test your link thoroughly before adding it to your email. If your website has badly configured DNS, there’s a small chance that adding these tags will result in a redirect that strips away the information, or worse, delivers the user to a 404 page.
That’s the boring bit sorted; now how do I get at the data?
Once you’ve sent your emails with your tagged-up destination URLs, you’ll start to see their results in GA immediately. Check out the REAL-TIME -> Traffic Sources report immediately after sending your email to see the response in real-time, and confirm that your data is coming through.
To make reporting this data easy for you, I’ve built a quick template report. Follow this template link to add the template into your own preferred GA view; this will allow you to easily report your email visits broken down by source, campaign and landing page, as well as allowing you to measure performance by country and by device type.
Armed with this data, you’ll be able to visualise which of your emails are doing the best job at bringing engaged users to your website. You could use this data to test different variants of an email, to understand what devices people are most likely to engage with your emails on, demonstrate the return on investment in an email list you’ve purchased, and understand which landing pages are the most effective for email visits.