Last week, MediaShift hosted an online panel on how to get better newsletter metrics. The topic was one of our most popular — for good reason. Newsletters are proving to be a reliable and measurable way for publishers to connect directly with readers. We can’t forget that email is still a platform, but at least it’s one with open standards and a higher degree of control for both sender and recipient.
The New York Times’ Lindsey Goddard, Greentech Media’s Brady Pierce and Parse.ly’s Clare Carr generously shared their expertise. Watch the video here or scroll down for seven of their best tips for how to get better newsletter metrics.
1. Segment your audience.
Newsletters feel personal, like a one-to-one communication. Or at least they should. By segmenting your audience and developing email products that deliver on a unique, targeted value proposition, you are likely to have the greatest success.
2. Track what happens after the click.
You might not get your audience segments exactly right the first time. After all, that’s what metrics are for. By tracking your newsletter audience after they click through to your site, you’ll be able to see what stories and topics keep their attention. You’ll know if they are on mobile devices or at their desk when they are reading. Use that information to refine your email and improve your results. Bonus tip: Follow Google Analytics guidelines and use email as your UTM medium.
3. Measure promotional activities alongside growth rates.
Growth rate isn’t an independent variable. If you publish multiple newsletters, there are going to be times when some, and not others, are more timely and will see increased demand. You’re marketing and promotion calendar should reflect those changes in demand. An Olympics newsletter, for example, will grow more quickly this month than last month. Set target growth rates and compare across email lists, but make sure you know which ones got an extra boost.
4. Run re-activation campaigns.
Is a newsletter getting a little tired? Engagement and open rates dropping? It might be a good time to do a re-activation campaign. In fact, good list hygiene is always important. A re-activation campaign will ask readers if they want to stay on your list or not. If they don’t open it — and they haven’t opened any of your emails in the last six months — go ahead and unsubscribe them. Then explain to your boss that even though the list is smaller, it’s higher quality, more valuable to advertisers, and all your performance metrics will improve.
5. Do regular A/B testing.
A/B testing isn’t a one-time effort. First of all, you can’t — and shouldn’t — test everything at once. You’ll get the best results by regularly testing.
6. Heat maps.
Both Goddard and Pierce shared heat maps of their email newsletters. Heat maps provide a quick, visual snapshot of where your readers click on your site. Whether you are making the business care for email, reporting on results to your team or considering a product redesign, heat maps are an essential better-metrics tool in the email producer’s toolkit.
7. Evaluate on a regular basis.
Newsletters have been around for a long time, but they don’t stand still. Your reader’s inbox is a competitive place and you need to earn their attention. Our panelists all said that regular evaluation, whether that’s once a week or once a month, is important to making sure that your newsletters are performing up to standard and that your metrics align with your team’s KPIs, or key performance indicators.
Jason Alcorn (@jasonalcorn) is the Metrics Editor for MediaShift. In addition to his work with MediaShift, he works as a consultant with non-profits and newsrooms.