Email User Engagement Metrics

Over the past several weeks, we’ve taken a deep dive to learn how notifications and other emails travel from your application to your users’ inboxes. Along the way, we’ve examined various metrics product teams can use to assess their app’s email performance.

Today, we’re going to reach the final leg of our journey: how to measure user engagement with your notifications and other emails.

These engagement metrics—opens, clicks, spam complaints—directly measure your users’ interactions with your product emails. That direct insight is a profoundly important window into the overall health and growth trajectory of your application, so it’s essential that any product team sending emails understands what these metrics mean and how they work.


Once a message is delivered to the user’s inbox, the first thing they see is the sender, the subject line of the message, and often the first one or two lines of the message content. If the combination of those elements is appealing enough, your users will open the message to read it.

Like inbox placement, ISPs don’t directly share data about opens with us. Instead, we have to gather that data ourselves. The most common approach to gathering open data is to embed invisible tracking pixels in the message that the email client application will load while rendering the email for the user.

Email user engagement metrics can be viewed as a funnel.

While a single tracking pixel is common, some services (including SparkPost) incorporate additional tracking pixels in the message body. This is done because some email clients will render images as a user scrolls to save bandwidth, allowing the system to determine whether the entire message was read based on how many tracking pixels loaded.

The important thing to keep in mind with open tracking is that not all clients load images by default, and not all users force the loading of images while looking at your messages. This means that open tracking, like inbox rate, should be used as a trending tool only, and not as an incontrovertible fact. If your open rate trend down, look first at the preceding metrics to determine if fewer messages are reaching your users. If delivery is unchanged and opens go down, you need to look at whether anything changed in the From address, subject line, or initial message content that made your messages less appealing to your users.


The final stage in the life of your message is the click. Your message was submitted, delivered, opened, and your user found something in the message interesting enough to bother clicking on a link you provided. Not all messages necessarily end in clicks (for example, one popular messaging service for alerting parents to school closures has a relatively low click rate, because all the information needed is in the message itself), but clicks are a key step for many outcomes.

Clicks are typically tracked by putting a redirect/proxy web server in front of the destination web site or deep link to an app. By using a specially formatted URL that embeds useful data regarding what message was sent to which user, so that you can later determine useful metrics regarding both your messages and your users. If you link to the same URL multiple times in a single message (common for your main site URL, which may appear in the header, body, and footer of a message), it’s a good practice to track each link individually, as this helps you identify where in the message people most often click.

Because click tracking involves proxies between the message and the actual destination URL, many senders do not implement it on their own out of concern for failed click tracking servers blocking the users’ ability to reach the destination URL. Not all messages need click tracking, and clicks are rarely the ultimate action you’re looking for from your users, so think twice before building out a click tracking system, and choose carefully if using a third party.

Spam Complaints

Not every recipient wants every message sent to them, even when they initially signed up to receive the messages. Users will change their minds, growing tired of repetitive messages, simply losing interest, or receiving messages they don’t remember signing up for. When they do, some will look for an unsubscribe link, but others will reach for the spam button in their email client of choice.

The spam button is a key tool for ISPs because it’s the best indicator they have of how users feel about the messages they are receiving. The more users click the spam button, the more likely an ISP will deliver all the sender’s future messages to the spam folder. This is why it is key that messages have clear and prominent unsubscribe links: you want it to be easier to unsubscribe than to click the spam button.

While the ISPs are relatively opaque regarding inbox placement, clicks, and opens, many of the major ISPs are much more transparent regarding when users report messages as spam, delivering this data to senders in the form of Feedback Loops (FBLs). An FBL message is sent to the sender every time a user clicks the spam button and provides useful information that helps senders do better in the future.

Tracking spam complaints is important to understanding user (dis)engagement.

The first thing all senders need to do when dealing with FBL messages is unsubscribe the recipient who triggered the FBL message in the first place. ISPs do not respond positively to repeat clicks of the spam button across multiple sends, and the user had made it clear they are not interested in your messages. It can pay to be granular when unsubscribing: a user who clicks the spam button when receiving your newsletter will likely still want a purchase receipt.

The next thing you will want to do is look at the trends with regards to FBL complaints. If you see a sudden spike in FBL complaints, you need to quickly look at your sending: what changed that has caused your user base to suddenly consider what you’re sending to be spam? Did you use a new template? A new subject line? A new type of mailing they didn’t receive before? Whatever it needs to be identified and removed until it can be re-evaluated.

Our Journey’s End—And Beginning

By now, you’ve seen that the journey of a notification or other email involves a lot more than simply pressing the send button. But you’re also armed with the knowledge you need to ensure your message actually arrives (and how to measure its performance).

As a product team, email is an essential part of your user engagement toolkit, helping achieve your goals of fast growth and low churn. And now you have the data to show it.

Want to learn more? SparkPost’s email experts have created some great downloadable guides to help you make the most of email in your app. I recommend:

I hope this walk through the lifecycle of a product email has been helpful. Any questions or comments? Let us know on Twitter. Our team would love to hear from you!


SparkPost is proud to announce a powerful new integration with Power BI. The recently formed partnership with Microsoft’s cloud-based business analytics service is designed to provide customers with a single view of critical business data.

By connecting Power BI to your existing SparkPost account, you’ll be able to use the Power BI SparkPost content pack to monitor, explore, and visualize email metrics. The content pack allows you to easily connect your SparkPost data and begin to discover insights with an out-of-the box dashboard, reports, and curated data sets on Power BI.

The Power BI content pack can help you analyze your SparkPost data next to multiple sources. For additional details on how to get started, please see the SparkPost content pack for Power BI help page.

Power BI and SparkPost

After connecting with your SparkPost credentials, your data will begin loading into Power BI and you will be notified when the dashboard is ready. In addition to the dashboard, there are three reports that you can drill into by selecting one of the tiles on the dashboard. The reports provide additional insight into bounces and other key metrics.

To begin drilling into the reports, select one of the tiles on the dashboard. For example, if you select the Accepted Rate line chart it will drill into the Metrics report.

PowerBI and SparkPost analytics

Each report includes a set of visuals with different insights. For additional information you can hover over any of the items, or select a particular value to cross filter other visuals on the page.

Power BI

You also have the ability to customize a report by selecting Edit Report in the top left corner of the page. The edit mode gives you access to the field list, allowing you access to any of the values included in the data set. It also gives you the ability you to edit or add visuals to reports. Any of the visualizations from the reports can be pinned to the dashboard by hovering over it and selecting the pin icon.

After the initial import, the dashboard and the reports will continue to update daily.

With the SparkPost content pack for Power BI, you’ll have a great initial set of metrics and insights, enabling you to explore your data even further! Product updates will roll out as new versions are released, and SparkPost will continue to support new data sets.

What you’ll need to get started:

Additional information:



One of the great perks of attending Insight, SparkPost’s annual user conference, is sharing best practices and learning from the expertise of the pros who build, manage, and use next-generation email infrastructure on a large scale. No small part of that is the hands-on sessions led by members of our product team and longtime expert customers who know how to make the SparkPost platform sing.

Three of these technical boot camp sessions dug into powerful SparkPost features: finely-grained tracking of user engagement, the rich capabilities of advanced templates, and the intelligent business logic of multi-channel email, SMS messaging, and app push notifications. Though nothing beats being there for the technical deep dives, here’s a chance for the next-best thing: notes from the sessions and the boot camp leaders’ presentations. Dig in, and enjoy!

First off the blocks was “Using the Engagement Tracking and Metrics APIs to Bring Insights to Your Business.” This informative session examined the ways SparkPost allows senders to get the most from the fine-grained information about customer behavior and interactions with messages. Engineer Steve Tuck demonstrated using SparkPost’s web user interface for interactive queries, APIs for pulling data into external systems, and Webhooks for streaming events data in real-time.

Insight User Conference Bootcamp – Use the Engagement Tracking and Metrics APIs to Bring Insights to Your Business from SparkPost

Next up, SparkPost’s Fiona Snoddy and Isaac Kim used “Advanced Templatization” to demonstrate how to use the powerful templating features of our service. SparkPost templates can incorporate substitution data, conditional statements, looping flow controls, and dynamic content pulled from other systems. Together, these features enable a sender to personalize text, optimize offers, or deploy other business logic.

Insight User Conference Bootcamp – Advanced Templatization from SparkPost

One final bootcamp discussed how to incorporate “Multi-Channel Messaging with SparkPost Elite.” Using one platform and set of APIs to generate email, SMS, and push notifications means it’s possible to send a customer the right message at the right place at the right time, whatever the medium. SparkPost’s Ewan Dennis and Bruce Nowjack teamed up to give a really compelling demonstration of building a multi-channel app in real-time.

Insight User Conference Bootcamp – Multi-Channel with SparkPost Elite from SparkPost

If these power features make you want to learn more, it’s easy to get started with SparkPost. And if you’re a developer looking to get your hands in some code, the SparkPost Developer Hub is a great place to begin.



Originally posted on

Chalkboard CountsThe last of the holiday emails have meandered their way into my inbox; deep discounts are starting to flow back out to sea and the volumes of marketing mails are starting to subside. The world is getting back to normal. Right? To be honest, I hope not! (more…)

Email guru David Daniel’s recently published white paper on the differing impact of marketing efforts based on email technology used is exciting to all marketers for a number of reasons.

One of these reasons is that it provides a really in-depth look on the types of challenges marketers face when using an email service provider versus an enterprise email solution (or on-premise email solution).


Across the board, marketers experience fewer challenges with an enterprise email solution. Only on the question of creative content development did respondents report better results with outsourced solutions, and then by only a single percentage point margin.

What’s really eye popping is the huge gap in terms of the extent of the challenges facing marketers. While not much difference exists between knowledge for optimizing marketing and creative content development, the percentages demonstrate how much more value marketers are getting from an enterprise email solution versus an email service provider.

Percentage Gap In Challenges Experienced by Marketers Using An Email Service Provider

  • Lack of data security: +11%
  • Adequate staff to manage email: +10%
  • Adequate IT support: +10%
  • Analyzing campaign results: +9%
  • List turnover subscriber churn: +9%
  • Email deliverability: +7%
  • Automate campaigns: +5%
  • Lack of budget: +4%

So, we can see that the area where enterprise email solutions are really having the most impact is in terms of security, manpower deployment, analytics and the dread customer churn. That’s a lot of cumulative areas that could add up to improving your ROI and getting that lead to convert.

Another interesting point to note is the difference in the top three challenges experienced by marketers using different solutions.

Top 3 Challenges for marketers using email service providers:

  • Analyzing campaign results: 25%
  • Ability to automate campaigns: 24%
  • Adequate staff to manage email: 24%

Top 3 Challenges for marketers using enterprise email solutions:

  • Knowledge to optimize marketing: 21%
  • Ability to automate campaigns: 19%
  • Creative content development / analyze campaign results: 16%

While both parties identified analytics and automation, these were much bigger problems for marketers using email service providers. In contrast, it is possible to surmise from the results that marketers using enterprise email solutions were focusing more on challenges to deal with optimizing content and marketing as their technology was working more effectively for them in all other areas.

Do you agree with the results? How are enterprise email solutions working better for you? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

(This is the third part of a series on the Unlock the Potential of Email Marketing webinar, which presents findings from a survey of 400 email marketing professionals.

Part 1: Three Email Marketing Metrics You Need To Measure
Part 2: Three Reasons Why Email Marketers Turn To In-House Email Solutions)