November 7, 2020

Email open rates are important…I will not argue that…but there are other metrics that may be far more important than looking at whether your online family is simply opening your emails. 

In fact, I maintain that if you built that family in all the right ways–by delivering value, useful information and relevant sales messages consistently and congruently—open rates take care of themselves.

Here’s an analogy to direct mail in the 1980’s…regarding “nixies.”

Nixies are, in direct mail nomenclature:

“…a misaddressed or illegibly addressed piece of mail, therefore undeliverable.”

Sounds like a “bounce” in email nomenclature.

In direct mail, nixies are especially costly because you pay for postage and printing for every mailing piece; in email, you are just losing a name and hopefully not your online reputation.

However, I will posit that a bounced email could be just as costly to your overall business as a direct mail nixie.

Maybe not in the day-to-day of your business but in the long term growth of your business.

That is, nixies, and bounces, may not be make or break short term if the list responds as expected.

But long term they will both have an effect.

I’ll explain further below.

In direct mail, especially with names on your internal database (i.e. your house list of buyers and maybe even solid prospects), you can do an “ACR mailing” annually.

ACR stands for “Address Correction Requested” (which is marked on the outer envelopes of the outgoing mail)–and it tells the post office that any undeliverable mail (nixies) should have the address corrected, if possible, and sent back to the sender for an additional postage fee.

That is, if the previous addressee has a forwarding address on file with the United States Postal Service, you are sent the new address on file for those nixies rather than having them trashed.

People in witness protection and folks who sell their home to head off the grid intentionally (and sometimes permanently) are not part of this process. ☺

And while the number of potential nixies per year has come down since World War II…

…from 20%+ to a low of just under 10% in 2019, an “ACR mailing” (especially to previous customers) always paid for itself whether it was 20% or 10% undeliverable…in spades.

Your best buyers who had the nerve to move probably did not have the nerve to hate you (i.e. or your products and services) just because they moved.

In our subscription business at Boardroom, we had a built-in “ACR mailing” because subscribers to our newsletters wanted their newsletter to follow them; but with our millions of book buyers, that was not the case.

We had to proactively find out where they were if they moved to keep promoting to them…that was part of the reason we were a marketing juggernaut.

Good names are good names—and we were not lazy–and we spent a lot of money getting them and keeping them, especially when they moved.

What about email?

When your email provider gives you a report each week on delivery, do you pay attention to just the standard items (e.g. open rates and sales)?

And while sales are important, of course, what about open rates?

Do you dissect other key markers in that report that will give you clues into what you are really doing with your email program…both right and wrong?

In addition, do you come up with ways to attack those markers and metrics for fun and profit?

Ben Settle, my buddy, and the big-hearted curmudgeon of email marketing (his bark is way worse than his bite and he’ll be mad I said that about him!), wrote an email recently that talked about everything BUT open rates.

His premise is that there at least 12 things that are far more important than open rates.

I will share those with you now (with Ben’s permission of course)…and add my spin on each…and a 13th of my own which will get back to “bounces” in particular.

1. Sales

Ben says, “…if money is the game, sales is the scoreboard…” –which I can’t argue with.

Even me…Mr. Integrity, Purity, Honesty readily admits that I am also not a non-profit.

And feel free to question my integrity, purity, honesty anytime you like…which pertains to #5 below. Don’t skip there yet though.

But for me, sales are a longer term goal as I plan out these emails each week.

If you never buy anything from me ever…or never join one of my mastermind groups in the future…you are still part of my online family for as long as you can stand it.

And I mean that.

By not doing commission deals on the things I “promote” (i.e. affiliates), I also stay true to my mission of only providing direct marketing education to a new generation of multichannel, direct response marketers.

And that is not saying that affiliate deals are wrong or not a profitable way to do business…it’s just not part of my model.

Having said that, making money is part of my model…at my own pace and at a pace that works for my audience.

For example, you’ll see me launching Titans Xcelerator at the end of this year…and if you join, that would be awesome.

And if you don’t join, but, for example, you give me advice on how I could have done better videos, done a better email series or anything you want to share about the process, that will be awesome as well.

Both are worthwhile for me (and hopefully for you too).

And that’s a perfect segue to #2…

2. Replies/engagement 

Per Ben: “Email service providers (ESP’s) like Gmail & Yahoo tend to give more inbox delivery love (instead of shunting you to the spam or promotions folders)…”

Your family can’t open your email if they don’t receive it.

And once they receive it, they need to read it.

And…once they read it, if they respond, you need to respond back to them (especially if you are smart enough to ask them questions or engage with them in a way that sparks dialogue which I recommend as a best practice as does Ben).

Lists are people too…wouldn’t you like to learn more about them?

Aren’t you the least bit curious what makes them tick and what you can supply for them that will help them in their careers?

All you need to do is ask them (which I often do in this blog).

Saying you don’t have time to respond to your online family–even if your list is large and you get hundreds of emails a week–is a poor excuse.

You are leaving money on the table not to mention fulfillment and satisfaction.

Even if it takes you a month to respond, that’s OK. 

See the P.S. for more about getting “paid” for all of this, with cash being the fifth reason of five.

One more thing about replies and engagement:

When someone takes the time to write to you, be a detective with the language they use when they email you back to determine if there are clues that they will be a candidate for one of your products or services.

As Gene Schwartz famously said:

There is your audience.

There is the language.

There are the words that they use.

Let me list Ben’s #3 through #12 quickly (Ben’s comment(s) on each is in italics)…and then I will add a #13 to sum all of this up:

3. Clicks

“[Clicks]…means engagement and are far more practically useful than opens.”

4. Opt-outs (“unsubscribes”)

“Probably don’t count as ‘engagement’, but if you aren’t getting lots of opt-outs you probably ain’t doing it right.”

Corollary to Ben’s insightful comment here:

If you curated your list in the right way—the right way being congruent with your values and mission…if you aren’t getting lots of opt-outs, you have curated beautifully and you may be doing it just right.

Ah…wouldn’t that be email nirvana?

5. Complaints/trolls

If you are a follower of Ben’s, you know how he feels about these:

“[Trolls]…help your overall delivery since they are engaging with you (i.e., why trolls are your unpaid interns if you let them be).

I would add: Customer complaints are a marketing function…so definitely read them…since there are some trolls who might have a point.

Read Haters gonna hate…so love them for some additional insight.

6. Testimonials

“Not just for the engagement factor, but for the practical factor too.”

And just like I suggest you read your “one star reviews” (see under #5 above about “Haters…”), reading your “five star reviews” will soothe your ego…and yes, those are your true disciples (unless they are relatives). ☺

7. Questions 

“Even more engagement. Plus they make great fodder for future emails.”

See my comments under #2 above…ask questions that will inspire answers that tell you much more about your online family. I’ve written about how to survey your list many times before.

8. Customer service requests

“Yet more engagement [and] probably the greatest opportunity for selling there is.”

Couldn’t agree more with Ben on this one…and even if they are mad about something, if you can turn a complaint into a raving fan, they end up being your best family members in the future.

Read this if you want to go deeper on this concept…I think you’ll like it.

9. Interview request reply to an email

“Not only means engagement, but interviews are great for list-building.”

Couldn’t agree more here with Ben…that’s how you curate the list without trolls too. I never turn down a podcast for instance.

10. Forwards 

“If people are forwarding your emails to their friends, on social media, etc, that can lead to referrals & a bigger list”

This is something I don’t do often enough…thanks for the reminder Ben.

Hey…anyone reading this post today want to forward it to your 5,000 Facebook friends or your 10,000 LinkedIn audience?

Just askin’…

11. JV proposal reply to an email

“Not only does this mean engagement, but it could also mean new business.”

Not as much for me…but definitely for Ben…

12. Spam complaints 

“Not a good thing, but these tell you your lead gen & curation is weak, an important thing to know in the grand scheme of things.”

This is a great point Ben makes…and whether it speaks to your curation of the list or not, you need to take these seriously.

At Boardroom, we called these “troublemakers”—some were obvious (“I’m contacting my Attorney General!”) and some not so obvious (“Are you legitimate?”).

No matter what, it’s important to take down the volume on these complaints, and respond to them when you are in a good mood.

This is way more important in email than it was in direct mail too…word spreads much faster online and the email providers (not to mention Facebook and Google) are not as kind and gentle as the United States Postal Service.

We had fraud cases in the mail back in the 80’s…but getting “shut down” was not as commonplace as it is today with the online gatekeepers.

And one more marker that is more important than open rates…

13. Bounces

Or… “Online Nixies.”

This is alluded to in #2, when Ben says how emails are often shunted to “… spam or promotions folders.

But bounces deserve additional attention.

Here’s a quick story to show how critical this “13th metric” is in email…and yes, more important than open rates.

I check “bounces” every week after I send this email/blog to you every Sunday.

The numbers vary from 10 to 50 each week…and the higher the number, the more anxious I get…but I never did anything about it until now.

On two consecutive weeks in August I received over 200 bounces each week.

That got me to take notice and move into action mode.

I checked with our email provider and they let us know that the bounces were a result of many email addresses that were with an ESP they don’t support…which is a legitimate business decision on their part.

But I wasn’t satisfied when I looked deeper and saw that not all of my bounces over the past couple of years were not with those dastardly  ESP’s…and they were actually with ESP’s that were similar to ones many of my active subscribers were with…so this needed further checking.

Remember, “bounces” are not “opt-outs” or “unsubscribes” (i.e. “voluntary bounces”)…they are more akin to “nixies” or bad/undeliverable addresses.

I decided to do a small test and mailed some of the bounces through another reputable company…I told them (my former subscribers) in my email that I was “embarrassed” that I had lost them for some reason and I wanted to see if they wanted to come back into the fold.

The flood of email response I got back was incredible. Yes, almost all were deliverable.

I simply asked these folks to respond “yes” to my email if they wanted to continue to receive my Sunday blog…and I put an unsubscribe link in that email too.

Almost all recipients said “yes.”

Only a small handful unsubscribed.

But others, in the spirit of Ben Settle’s “#7” (ask Questions), responded with a lot more than just a “yes.”

Some responded with “#6” (Testimonials) about my posts, how much they enjoyed them and missed them…and wondered where I had wandered off to (imagine that)?

Some engaged me regarding the delivery problem, if I needed help resolving it further, clearly knowledgeable about email delivery and extremely helpful. This was a major example of “#2” (Replies/engagement).

And there were dozens more opportunities from their responses to re engage with people I knew and didn’t know…but they all remembered me enough to at least say “yes”…and a whole lot more.

This was far from “cold traffic.” 

I know I am not the first person whoever did this…nor will I be the last.

Consider it (and everything else in this post) as tips to read data beyond open rates on your email communications.

But the most satisfying thing about the story I told is that given my list curation methodology…one new family member at a time…through podcasts, speaking from stage, email swaps with likeminded online family owners and building slowly…it felt like I found a long lost family.

One that I even liked too.

And I didn’t have to sign up to to do it. ☺



P.S. Despite this post being about “open rates being among the least important metrics of email and content marketing,” I went through my email numbers for grins over the last year and found the email that had the highest open rate.

It was close to 50%…but that didn’t thrill me…because it also only had 40 clicks. 

Thanks for the wakeup call Ben.

But I also had only 14 opt-outs (a solid number for me, low for Ben).

I also had 29 bounces (who are now part of my newfound family!)…and 29 of them are as important as 229 in my book.

The post was titled, The five ways we get paidand the fifth is cash.

Click here if you haven’t read it previously

But over 50% of you have at least opened it!

It is particularly relevant to today’s post since it’s about engaging the people in your life all the time…even romancing them…whether you sell them anything or not.

If you click here to read it, I won’t get “credit” for an increased open rate (who cares?)…but I will get an extra “click” on this email. 

P.P.S. Over the last year, I’ve also had many posts that have had “clicks” in the hundreds (with no direct correlation to open rate)…and the one that had the most by a wide margin is titled, Everyone has gone to the movies.

Of course I wondered why…and there are at least three reasons:

1. It’s a good read with a video about one of the most famous film directors of all time…and me and my partner in this video related his work to direct response marketing…despite this director being insanely popular and made his most famous films in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s.

2. It was sent on March 22nd, 2020…at the beginning of COVID-19 which disrupted all of our 2020 plans…and whether folks were thinking about NOT going to the movies or they were already binging on Netflix, quarantined at home, it struck a chord.

Oh wait…the open rate for this one was just “average”…so it’s not about the subject line.

That brings me to reason #3 because “clicks” are far more important.

3. I did the video with none other than Ben Settle, the master of email and content marketing.

How’s that for coming full circle?

Find out how we decided to do this specific interview and the magic of this director.

I know Ben will be proud to know we kicked butt on “clicks” for the interview since it was my #1 in that category by a lot.

A worthy metric which I know now because I studied it (thanks to Ben).

Plus I know it is a worthy interview.

Click on the screenshot below and let’s see if today’s email becomes my #1 in clicks for the year!

Throw this dog a bone… ☺


About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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