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Make sure to measure all viral click-throughs for accurate ROI

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Question: How can you properly incorporate analytics into e-mail marketing and why?

Answer: There is a much-talked-about trend in the industry to tie Web analytics into your e-mail system. According to JupiterResearch, as many as one-third of e-mail marketers today say they use Web analytics—but fewer than 1 in 7 of those marketers is using no more than a campaign ID from the Web analytics tools.

Just using campaign IDs is not really analytics but rather extended tracking. The limitation of e-mail platforms' internal databases is holding marketers back. E-mail platforms are designed to be transactional in nature and do not lend themselves to crunching and understanding large amounts of data.

To maximize e-mail's full potential, organizations should incorporate database analytics capabilities in addition to Web analytics or a raw online feed into a traditional e-mail tool. Employing database analytics can help a company derive an understanding of its customer and subsequently use that information to drive personalized direct marketing messages.

Bob Hale is VP-business development at Alterian Inc. (www.alterian.com), a provider of integrated marketing software.

Question: How can I measure the true success of my e-mail marketing efforts?

Answer: Without the proper measurement techniques, you'll never be able to differentiate between cause and effect and coincidence.

First, realize that with e-mail lists, bigger is not necessarily better. Growth in total e-mail addresses as a goal is dangerous and counterproductive. A large, dirty list not only unnecessarily increases your costs, it produces huge numbers of hard bounces, which raises the likelihood of ISPs marking your e-mail as spam. Instead of delivering your e-mail to someone who really wants to be on your list, it will go to a spam filter, never to be read. Because ISPs exchange their blocked spam lists, you'll soon be blocked by others as well, and your open rates will irreversibly plummet.

Instead, make your goal a growing number of "good" e-mail addresses. Remove all your hard bounces after every e-mail campaign. Make it easy for subscribers to unsubscribe or change their e-mail addresses. The cleaner your list is, the greater your success.

Second, it's important for marketers to note that open rates and click-throughs tell only half the story. The real measure needs to be your conversion rates, or the number and percentage of e-mails sent that result in a quantifiable transaction.

Track your conversions by embedding links in your e-mail that point to a URL set up to track that visitor's path through a site. A conversion occurs when a trackable e-mail recipient completes your site's transactional goal—a sale, submitted inquiry form, call to a unique phone number or e-mail to a unique address displayed on a contact page only accessible to e-mail recipients. Your conversion ratio is the total number of transactions, divided by the number of e-mails sent. That ratio should improve over time.

Because you only can manage what you can measure, start measuring, and you'll soon be able to manage your way to greater e-mail campaign success.

Tom Snyder is president and founder of Trivera Interactive (www.trivera.com), a Web site development and online marketing company.

Question: What can we do about declining e-mail marketing response rates?

Answer: Many factors affect response rates; however, there are a few techniques for improving them that are often overlooked:

1. Success begins with the subject line. Keep your subject line succinct, around five or six words. Stay away from personalization—such as using the prospect's first name—in the subject line. The golden rule is to make sure that your subject line is something you would feel comfortable sending to an existing prospect.

2. They're in ... now what? Your prospect must be able to quickly determine the benefits of the e-mail. Integration with Web marketing tools such as forms and landing pages can impel a prospect to explore these benefits. Include many clear links to click on high up in the e-mail, "above the scroll." Make sure that hyperlink words conjure up a benefit in the reader's mind—such as "Learn more"—and avoid using passive words.

3. Lead them to a landing page. Drive prospects to a campaign-specific landing page, not your company's home page. Your e-mail and landing page should be designed with the same look to smooth the transition. Within the e-mail, include a link that offers an immediate call to action. On landing pages, be sure to minimize required information on initial registration forms; prefilling registration forms with known contact information can increase response rates. Creative imagery at the top of the landing page can show the prospect what he or she will get for moving forward. Last, an auto-response e-mail should always be sent when a form is submitted.

4. Hone in with dynamic, personalized microsites. Include links to microsites that have personalized URLs and messaging. Dynamic content can be triggered by the prospect's region, language and industry. Both the personal URL and targeted experience can dramatically increase response and conversion on the site (a 200% to 300% increase from initial rates).

Ultimately, the best response rates will come by integrating e-mail marketing with the Web and other marketing channels, including direct mail, telemarketing, advertising and chat.

Mark Organ is CEO of Eloqua Corp. (www.eloqua.com), a provider of automated demand generation software for b-to-b marketers.

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