<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=520757221678604&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Nicole Crilley

By: Nicole Crilley on May 16th, 2022

Print/Save as PDF

Opens, shmopens: Are your emails converting?

member engagement | Member Communications | Email Automation | consent based marketing

mailto:demo@example.com?Subject=HighRoad Solutions - interesting article
Email is arguably the most popular and effective marketing tool for organizations to run campaigns and produce funnel conversions.
It's used to generate interest, surface leads, and nurture those leads, all in pursuit of a particular sales or marketing objective such as joining or subscribing.
From an execution perspective, it's important to strategize where your email—or set of emails—fit into the larger marketing schema. In other words, what is your email really doing for you? The minute that email sends, what are you and your org getting out of it?
The answer? Everything if you focus on what's important. 
Know your goals
To set the stage, from an association perspective, there are typically four reasons that association marketers send emails:
  • To recruit: Bring new members, donors, and/or customers into their org.
  • To retain: Demonstrate the value of their existing membership.
  • To upsell: Sell programs to existing members, donors, and customers.
  • To advocate: Inform members, donors, and customers about their world
All of these reasons lock neatly into the strategic goals of most associations, societies, member-based orgs, and non-profits/foundations.

So, when it comes to measurement, just sending the email and clocking opens and clicks may not meet the intended goal of the email.

And frankly, while emails are great for targeting 1:1 and 1:many audiences, automating customer journeys, and even collecting data, it's only worthwhile if there's thoughtful execution and the collection of meaningful results.

So what does it take to make sure your emails are converting and you’re getting optimal campaign results? 

Set measurements based on goals
Keeping the four reasons to send an email in mind, it's relatively safe to say that, for reasons #1 through #3 (To Recruit, To Retain, and To Upsell), you more than likely need a beefier metric to demonstrate marketing attribution. 

If your campaign objective falls into one of these three categories, you want to take your planning a step further and identify—at the most granular level—what a “conversion” looks like for your association.

In this context, conversions are simply desired actions taken by your users. This will vary from organization to organization but includes actions such as registering for an event, purchasing a publication, donating, or signing up for membership.

In all cases, when you're measuring email efficacy, the conversion needs to tie back specifically to that email or set of emails. So how do you do it?

Automate conversion tracking
Sure there's the manual and somewhat inference-based method where you drop trackable links into your emails and, in an Excel spreadsheet, compare those numbers to what's converted during your campaign window. 

But, with the functionality of most robust marketing automation and even email automation tools, you shouldn't have to do this. The tools are there for efficiency and efficacy in conversion tracking. As such, they're going to naturally track every interaction leading up to your intended goal, even if that goal isn't met. 

If you're using email as part of a much larger omni-channel approach, you'll want to track through a growth and engagement platform like HubSpot. HubSpot tracks all interactions within a campaign. You can isolate attribution by a single channel—like email—or as part of a broader multi-touch campaign.

If you're solely tracking based on a singular channel like email, depending on the power of the system's automation functionality, conversion functionality may be baked into the tool. For instance, Adestra is an email automation system that offers conversion tracking as part of its core functionality.  

You can leverage the automated tracking in both of these tools to track patterns and trends from aggregate data, trigger future campaigns and, most importantly, to identify email conversions, conversion rates, and ROI.

Use conversion rates for insights  
Once again, a conversion is simply your user taking an action in line with your goal. You use this to directly attribute your success to your email campaign.
For instance, if your email campaign directly attributed to 10 conference registrations at a value of $500 per registration, your email campaign converted $5,000. Extract any marketing expenses related to the campaign from the $5,000 (let's say $500) and now you have a $4,500 return on your email campaign investment (ROI).
But taking that a step further, your email conversion rate (%)—expressed by total conversion events divided by total views or emails sent—is an equally valuable metric to include in your reporting dashboard.
For example, over the course of a year, if you sent 200 emails to current members for a membership renewal campaign and 40 members confirmed their renewal, your conversion rate would be 20%.
So how would you use this rate? Three ways:
  • 1—To provide a baseline for metrics, especially when you're deploying campaigns for the first time. That baseline is meant to be used for comparative purposes to help improve your metrics later on.
  • 2—To identify the patterns and trends in your constituents' behaviors over periods of time. For example, comparing certification conversion rates in 2020, 2021, and 2022 to see engagement levels over time. 
  • 3—To help you compare performance across different assets, channels, and audiences. Rather than comparing the same campaign with the same content and the same audience, you now have a metric to help you determine what aspects are under- and over-performing.
Focus on relative and substantive intel
Regardless of what metrics you're collecting, you should be taking into account all potential external factors that may be influencing your metrics.

For instance, Apple devices tend to drive inflated opens due to email images preloading prior to users opening messages. So in that next quarterly review meeting, this metric influencer on 'opens' should be noted.

Consent-based marketing, where user’s personal security preferences can affect the data collected, also impacts metrics. Once again, Apple presents a great example of thisApple's policy prompts users of iOS 14.5, iPhone and iPad to provide consent on activity tracking. 

In most cases, the best solution is to take your opens with a grain of salt. The metric itself is already surface, as in lowest tier of commitment. Marketers looking for metrics with substance should focus on lower funnel email metrics such as clicks rather than opens. Because, in the end, content sits behind every click. 

Learn from the entire journey 
To better understand your conversion metrics, you'll want to map all of the interactions in your journey leading up to the conversion. Think of the journey as a road trip with various destinations.
Journey Stage Action Taken
First stop: awareness of the email and its message content.
Receiving and opening the message if outside factors aren't influencing this.
Next stops: demonstrated interest and consideration in acting on the conversion goal.  
Downloading the file or clicking a web link that takes them to the final call-to-action step.
Final stop: decision-making phase and determining whether or not to take action.
Conversion that fulfills your campaign objective such as registration form completion. 
This is where the partial journey comes into play. It's important to track what's happening with each of these stages so that you can collect on learnings with or without a conversion.
For example, if you're launching a webinar email campaign and your conversion goal is for prospects to sign up, journey stages would look something like this: 
Journey Stages
First Stop: Promotional registration email is received by member→
Second Stop: Member clicks on link to the webinar calendar page→
Third Stop: Members clicks through to webinar summary page→
Final Stop: Member finalizes checkout to complete the conversion
Collecting and analyzing the metrics for each of these stages gives you intel on why the journey stopped and why the journey continued to completion. This can do wonders for future marketing planning. 

For instance, if after running your webinar email campaign for a quarter, you know that 75% of your members got to the Third Stop but bowed out after looking at the webinar summary, it may be time to either:
  • Recraft the webinar description on the summary page
  • Make your registration CTA on that page more prominent
  • Share insights with your program manager on the appeal of that webinar
Make conversion-based decisions
Before making any new campaign or campaign-adjustment decisions, you need to take your email data and turn the findings into actionable observations.
For instance, you might run multiple email campaigns, all designed to get new member sign-ups. While all campaigns may have the same CTA at the end of the message, each may have different attributes such as:
  • Unique audiences such as one for younger professionals and one for seasoned executives
  • Different messaging such as one focused on logical reasons to join (ROI, business/professional growth metrics, etc.) and another that goes into more emotionally-driven arguments (like a member's success story)
  • Delivery variations such as day of delivery, time of delivery, or frequency of delivery

The return from each campaign will give you the story where you can extrapolate observations. You may identify findings such as:

“Campaign click rates were highest with content focused on emotional selling (using a real-member story) but conversion rates were higher for campaigns that used ROI metrics to explain membership value.” 

Those insights will help you make the next decisions for your email campaigns. For instance, a key take-away from the above example findings is to continue using emotionally-driven content at the top of the funnel but incorporate more logical content (i.e. justification documents) at the bottom of the funnel. 

Test findings and assumptions
Once you've made some educated guesses or just gleaned enough intel on your strategy, you’ll want to test your approaches. Use A/B testing to hone in on particular components within your campaign, including but not limited to:
  • Subject lines
  • CTAs
  • Images
  • Copy
  • Content
  • Layout
  • Offers
  • Audiences
  • Delivery time
Note that in most cases, you'll want to isolate these components unless you're cross tabbing for a particular reason. For instance, if you're testing the efficacy of a piece of content across your core persona segments, you may identify four audiences but provide them the exact same content. In this case, audiences vary but the content is isolated so that you can see which audience is most receptive to the content you're offering.
Once again, it all goes back to a goal. The best test strategies aren't layered and murky. They're thoughtfully executed and focused on a single, intended goal.
Since isolation with intent is key—and you have a number of different elements you want to test throughout the year—building a testing cadence into your annual communications portfolio can be helpful.  It could look something like this:
  • Quarter 1: Audiences
  • Quarter 2: Content
  • Quarter 3: Subject Lines
  • Quarter 4: Offers

Of course all testing should be in the context of what you're collecting behaviorally. For instance, using the previous Journey example, if you see that about 70% of your recipients (and openers) are ducking out after the First Stop and not clicking through to get to the Second Stop, you mostly likely want to test either the messaging or the positioning of the CTA within the message. 

In the end, you follow the behavioral learnings first and then use your testing methodologies to either dispel or validate your initial findings.

Continue optimizing for conversions
Combining strategy, behavioral insights, testing, and results-driven decision-making are all key indicators that you're at the peak of digital marketing maturity. And of course, where there's maturation, there are benchmarks.
Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the principle that clocks the efficacy of your marketing efforts in relation to your ultimate goal. Your marketing ingredients are the drivers of CRO. Getting the right ingredients in place is what gets you closer to results, baring the program or product is appealing and of value to your audience.
The calculation is simple. Just going back to the original conversion rate formula—if you sent 500 emails to prospects and 20 of them converted to membership, the conversion rate is:  20/500*100%=4%
That's great for a single email. But consider applying that to a string of campaigns over a 2-3 year period to see how you trend and what's moving the needle? Or even better, parcel your averages into separate audiences—or even separate programs—so that you can see where you're rate is highest. 
CRO is a very accessible metric—applicable to both omni-channel and single channel efforts—that keeps you honest on what's working and what needs to change. So it's never a static metric. Every incremental change you make to your campaigning can influence efficacy and, ultimately, conversion capture.
So what does all of this point to? In the end, it's not enough to spend hours on the creative elements of your email template without strategic intent. It isn't enough to simply draft and send. And it certainly isn't enough to report on surface and somewhat stale metrics like opens.
If your emails are intended to provoke action, you need to report on metrics that reflect that.

Ready to optimize your email conversions? We can help. 
Book a consultation with us today to find out more about how we can help you increase email conversion rates and optimize your campaigns.  

About Nicole Crilley

Nicole is a digital strategist and content designer with 10 years of experience in email marketing automation, web design, marketing technology, user experience, and content production. With a versatile background in freelance, consulting, and corporate settings, Nicole specializes in identifying and implementing effective digital strategies.