Email Experience Council survey finds lack of industry standards around metrics

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Semantics aside, not all bounces stack up the same, according to a recent study by the Email Experience Council.

The report, which surveyed 321 marketers and 29 e-mail service providers online, discovered there is a lack of standards when it comes to e-mail metrics and bounce data, definitions and management practices. This, in turn, makes it almost impossible to define or act on key metrics, said Deirdre Baird, president-CEO of Pivotal Veracity.

“With incomplete and inadequate information, businesses don’t understand what’s truly going on,” she explained. “There’s no point of talking about metrics if there’s no consensus [about them] and everyone is calculating what they are in different ways.”

Dave Lewis, VP-market development at StrongMail, said this problem hits b-to-b marketers especially hard.

“B-to-b marketers may be even more susceptible to the industry’s problems with the delivery metric as well as varying bounce definitions and inadequate bounce management,” he explained. “Since their lists are likely spread across numerous corporate domains, they have a greater need for good visibility, since the challenge of processing inconsistent bounce data is more acute. And mistakes can be costly. Without a proper bounce management solution, they run the risk of not diagnosing delivery issues and accidentally removing ‘good’ customer addresses. Both can have bottom-line consequences.”

The real problem is that people aren’t comparing apples to apples. For example, one person may only count hard bounces in their bounce metrics, while someone else may consider every nondelivered message a bounce even if it eventually gets through. ESPs aren’t helping matters as 25% of ESPs don’t break out hard and soft bounces into separate statistics, and almost 40% can’t isolate why messages are bouncing to begin with. But the real problem, said Baird, is that marketers are often letting bounces go without doing anything about them, which can get them blacklisted.

“If you send out 100,000 e-mails and 10,000 bounce, 5,000 are bad addresses and you don’t remove them, then you look like either a spammer or a lazy e-mailer to ISPs, so you run the risk of being blocked,” she said. “We’ve seen very large Fortune 500 brands get on black lists because they weren’t removing [bouncing] names from their lists.”

Other metrics such as open and click rates are just as fuzzy since 50% of e-mailers calculate open rates by dividing unique opens by the number actually delivered, 17% calculate it by dividing unique opens by total mailed and 4% divide total opens by total mailed. About 42% of ESPs calculate click rates by dividing unique clickers by total delivered, but others divide total clicks by total delivered.

Bottom line: marketers and ESPs need at the very least to communicate with each other and decide on which metric calculation they’re using, Baird said.

“We aren’t even close to saying who should come up with the labels for each instance,” she said, “so people should know the limits of their own calculations.”

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