If you weren’t at the very last session at EEC last week, apparently you (and I) missed a knock-out session on deliverability. At the crux of it, participants seem to have taken two entirely different lessons from the session. Option 1: Deliverability is heavily reliant on engagement. Option 2: Deliverability has nothing to do with engagement.
They’re both right, and they’re both wrong.
The argument is an old one. Some email industry experts and (all) deliverability experts believe that engagement is key to deliverability, so it behooves marketers to make their emails engaging in order to make sure they aren’t tossed out of the inbox by vigilant ISPs. At the extreme, they believe that too much focus on revenue is bad. Other industry experts believe that the focus should be on conversion goals and the brand rather than on getting people to read an email – since in most cases, reading the email is not the end goal.*
The issue with this argument is that neither the ISPs nor the marketers are defining engagement the same way.
Marketers measure engagement through opens, clicks, the click-to-open rate, and sometimes through read-rates and similar advanced metrics. Conversions are further down the line, and are harder to measure but often more directly linked to goals.
According to the panel at the EEC conference, ISPs measure conversion with seven metrics: Open, Reply, Move to junk, Not junk, Delete without open, Move to folder, Add to addressbook. None of these are measurable by the marketer. Even “open” is not measured the same way, and a comparison of the open rate for the same 100 people would yield completely different answers. (Thanks Andrew at The Email Skinny for posting this.)
So with two such completely different views on engagement, how do marketers resolve this argument?
It is possible to have an email that drives high engagement and low conversions, so a focus on marketing measures of engagement can have a negative impact on conversions and eventually on that year-end bonus. So the argument that email marketers should focus on engagment instead of conversions is difficult.
At the same time, it’s likely that a focus on the end-goal of conversion will satisfy the ISP requirements for engagement. Assuming your email drives incremental revenue, people had to see it in their inbox, and some of them likely opened it, even if you can’t quite measure those actions the same way ISPs can. So a focus on conversion, with an eye on the engagement metrics along the way that give clues to brand impact and overall performance, seems like a smart way to focus.
Deliverability is an important concern for any email marketer, and must be managed well. That said, it isn’t the goal of your business and it needs to be prioritized accordingly.
*If “reading the email” is your end-goal, then this whole argument is moot from your perspective. Forward this article to a friend in retail, ecommerce, financial services, travel, or another industry that sells something other than content.