Measuring email success with Engagement Rates

The days of getting gold stars and an extra juice box for our accomplishments might be over, but that doesn’t mean we care any less about knowing when we’ve done a good job. As a government agency, it can be difficult to figure out if you’re getting your message across. Many private sector companies rely on click-through rates (CTR), which are calculated by looking at the number of people who clicked on a link in an email in relation to the number of people who received it, to big gold starhelp determine if their email campaigns are successful. But as we’ve discussed in other blogs, what works for the private sector doesn’t necessarily work for the public.

So how can your government organization measure the effectiveness of its emails? By looking at an entirely different metric altogether: Engagement Rate.

Why Engagement Rate?

Because many public sector emails are solely informational and don’t require any link clicks—say, for a tornado warning or transportation emergency—CTRs aren’t an accurate way of determining whether the message reached its intended audience. Additionally, because messages like these are urgent and need to be conveyed as quickly as possible, they generally won’t be sent at the optimal time to get the most click-throughs. Engagement Rate effectively resolves these issues. GovDelivery calculates Engagement Rate by taking the number of unique email recipients who opened an email or clicked on a link in an email over time and flagging them as engaged. The number of engaged users is divided by the total number of unique email recipients who received an email during the same time period. Activity is then tracked over a period of 90 days.

Why 90 days? Because one of the things that makes Engagement Rate such a successful metric to use is that it measures effectiveness by tracking engagement over time. Tracking Engagement Rates over time means that your organization is measuring against its own performance based on how engagement has increased or decreased over the course of the past quarter. By comparing how many subscribers opened your emails or clicked on a link one month versus another, you can start to gain an idea of what worked and what didn’t with your specific email strategy.

The comparison trap

It’s common for our clients to ask for an industry standard CTR to compare their efforts to. While this may seem like an easier way to get your hands on that Capri-Sun you so longingly covet, unfortunately it’s not the most accurate. Different sources will cite vastly different CTR percentages they consider to be successful, so there’s no real way of knowing what’s right.

With Engagement Rate, GovDelivery generally considers 50% engagement a success. However, this is where many organizations fall into the comparison trap. Just because a certain public sector agency consistently has above 50% Engagement Rates doesn’t necessarily mean their email campaigns are more effective than yours or should be mimicked. That organization might only send highly-targeted emails to a small list, and thus their Engagement Rate would be much higher than an organization responsible for sending out timely weather reports to a large number of people.

As humans, we tend to have an innate desire to compare ourselves to our peers. But if Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte decided to start comparing his lap time to his teammates instead of to his own previous times in order to measure whether his training regimen was successful, he wouldn’t be an Olympian much longer. When it comes to government communications, comparing your organization to others is a surefire way to shortchange yourself and base your strategy on misleading information. This is exactly why measuring Engagement Rate over time is so important. Every organization is unique, and in order to fully understand what worked and what didn’t, you can’t look anywhere else but in your own backyard.

Increasing your engagement

Once the 90 day period is up and you’ve calculated your Engagement Rate, what’s next? If your Engagement Rate is below 50% and you can’t quite figure out why, here are a few general tips for increasing engagement:

1) Good subject lines. The best subject lines in emails are short (usually under 50 characters), sweet and to-the-point. You want to hook your readers in while conveying exactly what’s included in the message. Trial and error is the best way to figure out what makes a subject line effective.

2) Use links. Utilize linking to avoid sending excessively long emails and to drive traffic back to your website. But make sure that the links are positioned properly and spaced out throughout the email. Don’t hold them all until the end, or you risk subscribers never getting past the “email fold” and missing out on valuable information.

3) Quality subscriber list. By making sure your list of subscribers only includes those people who are interested in the information, you increase the chance that they’ll actually engage with it. This is where utilizing a Digital Communication Management system can be especially beneficial.

To learn more about calculating your Engagement Rate, measuring engagement over time, and strategies for increasing your rate, download our new white paper, Industry Perspective on Engagement Rates for email messages.

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