Many email marketers are mostly concerned with the open and click thru rates of their campaigns. However, that’s just scratching the surface of what savvy email marketers are looking at today.

Email Marketing Beyond The Click - SparkPost BlogYou may have heard a lot about email deliverability, but to the novice marketer, if it’s opened then it must have been delivered, right? Not quite (more on that below), but even so, there’s so much more to understanding email analytics than just open, click-through and bounces rates when you’re seeking to deliver the best customer experience and to give you the best return on your investment.

It’s easy to assume that once an ISP accepts an email transmission, it’s been delivered. Sure, that’s a crucial step. But genuine email deliverability is all about whether your message got into the inbox, not the spam or junk folder. To make matters more complex, there are cases where it can be accepted by the ISP but not necessarily delivered to the inbox because say, the ISP is throttling a connection when the amount of email being received is at too high a rate currently. Thus, even if the ISP shows a high “accepted” rate, your open rate could still be low. As a result you could waste hours A/B testing your email subject lines when the likely reality is that your message is going to the spam folder and you don’t even know it!

(By the way, an additional wrinkle for Gmail is that the Promotional and Social tabs are considered the Inbox unless the end-user does something with that message by explicitly marking it as spam or moving it to the junk folder. That’s an important qualification to consider when you assess inbox performance for Gmail users.)

But why, as a marketer, should you care about deliverability? Because deliverability is a cornerstone of your ability to generate revenue from your email.

Deliverability. Open Rates. Timing.

Even after a message has been delivered, it may not (yet) have been opened. It could be that the subject line didn’t peak the recipients curiosity enough  or the email was sent at an inopportune time of day.

Source: 2015 Email-Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study 2015 by Silverpop
Source: 2015 Email-Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study 2015 by Silverpop

And, of course, the percent opened is directly related to your click rate. (A user can’t click what he or she hasn’t opened!) If the email was opened, but not clicked, a number of factors could be at fault: it could be because you have the wrong product, the wrong promotion, or even poor timing: the offer you’re giving may not be relevant to the user today, even if it might be at a future point in time.

But before you toss your subject lines, remember that a low open rate percent might not be a direct indication that your subject line isn’t contextually meaningful enough, but it could be that subtle deliverability factors are in play. You might have authentication or throttling issues, or the ISP may never have delayed accepting your messages in the first place (soft bounce). For example, in the chart below, you can see that only 1/3 of messages are being accepted by this particular ISP on the first attempt, and although over 80% are being accepted by the fifth attempt. Of course, if your email is time-sensitive, this sort of delay is not the outcome you want to see!

Note: These charts are an example of what you’d see in SparkPost. The 1st/2nd/3rd attempt is a level of reporting not all ESPs offer.

Accepted Rates Low_final

On the contrary, you’d rather see an acceptance rate something like this:

Accepted Rates High Final

ISPs may start to throttle or even suspend your email delivery when they think you’re sending too much email too quickly or otherwise present characteristics that suggest spam. For example, if you send out an email to your list, and it’s been two hours and no one has opened it, it might not be because of timing, but rather because of throttling. Each ISP has different rules when it comes to throttling. If you find you are being throttled (and, by the way, SparkPost can actually tell you which ISP is blocking you), you can contact the ISP or work with your email delivery service. But without those expert deliverability services, as a marketer you won’t know which ISPs are blocking you, leaving it a guessing game and that’s leaving money on the table.

ISPs judge you based on your sender reputation.

Your message deliverability also is tied directly to your “sender reputation.” Your email reputation is a lot like a credit score – including a lot of factors you build up over time. ISPs attempt to predict if the recipient wants the message being considered for delivery through a series of tests. The first being an empirical test of does your message looks like spam? ISPs aggregate data based on what they generally know about spammers and then compare that to your message. For example, if you are a new sender (i.e., have no sending history from a domain or IP address), have a lot of spam clicks, or have bad address bounces from the same IP or sending domain—well, then your message might get throttled or worse, not sent at all.

ISPs also look at how people interact with your message. Do they usually open and click on emails sent by you? How long do they spend on the message? Do they put your email in a folder or forward it onward? These and many more factors are what ISPs look for to identify and block spammers.

By the way, although your own marketing is the main factor in determining engagement and content violations with ISPs, one reason you might consider going with an email delivery service is because of the in-house expertise they provide to handle the technical aspects such as whether or not your mail server is set up correctly. If your mail server isn’t secure, for example, other people can send email through it unbeknownst to you. Moreover, email delivery services (like SparkPost) have expert deliverability teams with proven credibility and existing relationships with anti-spam systems and ISPs. Their expertise makes it much easier to determine and solve the root cause of deliverability issues.

Context and Personalization.

“Contextual, predictive and personalization” are buzzwords you probably have been hearing about email marketing recently. The reason is simple: these concepts really do have a profound effect on your bottom line. For example, we’ve already heard this year from Experian Marketing Services that emails with personalized subject lines boost open average rates by 29.3%! Interestingly, this factor seems to vary widely across industries, as shown in the chart below.

Personalized Subject Lines
Source: Experian Marketing Services for Marketing Sherpa

Personalization doesn’t just help with email open rates however, it also impacts revenue. According to Experian, transaction rates with personalized messages were 49% higher and revenue per email was 73% higher ($0.15 compared to $0.08). Yet only about 35% of the brands surveyed are using personalization. 

Good housekeeping.

As a smart email marketer, you already know that list management housekeeping is a must. You’re savvy in the practice of scrubbing your list on a regular basis to remove hard bounces, unsubscribes and complaints. But good list hygiene goes beyond that to also removing emails that aren’t responding—in other words, pruning inactive segments. Inactive segments are detrimental to your bottom line because their relatively low engagement rate affects your sender reputation, which in turn impacts your deliverability, and which then further impacts your overall engagement (open, click, conversion). It’s a vicious cycle that has one solution: remember that list quality is much more important than list quantity. Don’t keep sending to users with poor engagement rates. It’s just not worth it!

Basic analytics tell you how many people unsubscribed from an email. What you don’t know is if they unsubscribed because you were bombarding them with email or if because you sent something that was contextually not relevant. Industry average benchmarks help you make predictive and smart decisions based on this data. (See the industry average unsubscribe chart below for some ideas.) But that’s when you should look more closely at your sign-up form to see if you’re delivering on your promise. For example, if you choose to have a sign-up form that promises 10% off their first order, but which isn’t up-front that they’ll also get weekly emails from you, then it shouldn’t be surprising if you have a large amount of people who unsubscribe because all they wanted was the discount to begin with, right?

The bottom line.

Lastly, the number one reason you should care more about deliverability is that it is directly tied to revenue. Email has an average ROI of $38 for each $1 spent. If the email doesn’t get delivered to the inbox, then you’re not making any money from it. Email metrics don’t get any simpler than that. 🙂

Industry Avg Unsubscribe Rate MailChimp_FINAL

If you liked this blog, you may also like: 10 Ways to Build Brand Trust & Loyalty Trough Your Transactional Email

10 Ways To Build Brand Trusty and Loyalty Through Transactional Email

Blog-Aside_AnalytisSparkPost offers a real-time analytics metrics dashboard with over 35 different metrics that we actively track for our customers. You can customize your SparkPost reporting interface to reflect any metrics that are important to you at a particular time. This is a powerful set of tools for evaluating how your email performs.

Other providers give you the basics of how many messages you sent, and then how many bounced, opened and clicked. But no other provider gives you as much data to troubleshoot issues. For example, if you sent 100 messages and 10 bounced, you might assume that 90 got delivered. But that’s rarely the case because of how the message traverses the providers’ systems. Some messages get rejected because of malformed email addresses. Others get backed up in long queues because another sender has a large mailing ahead of yours. But how would you know – until it’s too late to do anything about it – if your ESP doesn’t provide you with the data.

If I put on my operations hat on, the metrics I might care about are:

  • Targeted – how many did I intend to send? This is the basis for the rest of my comparison.
  • How many policy rejections did I have? In other words, how many messages did SparkPost not send out because of account limits, or because they hit the suppression list?
  • How many generation failures? If you are using the API to inject lists and templates, how many messages failed to generate because of missing or malformed template data?

I won’t go through every metric, but you can go through this exercise for your messages to get an accurate picture of which messages are actually getting out to the Internet and troubleshoot those that aren’t. Hint: you can scroll over each metric to see what it means or go here for a full list:



Now, if I put on my deliverability hat on, I can start to diagnose which messages are making it to the recipient vs. which aren’t and why. Some metrics to look at are:

  • How many were accepted? This means how many were accepted by the receiving ISP.
  • How many were hard bounces? These are permanent failures – bad or nonexistent email addresses. If this is high, you might need to investigate how you collected those addresses.
  • How many were spam complaints? This happens when recipients click on “this is spam” in their inboxes. A large number here means you’re not getting permission or sending content that’s significantly different from what the recipient expected. A high number of bounces or spam complaints will likely land you in the spam folder next time.

You can get additional detail by going to the Bounces and Rejections reports.


Finally, if I put my Marketing hat on, I’m likely looking for engagement. In the Summary Report, I’m looking at Accepted, Rendered, Clicks, and Unique Clicks. Further detail is available in the Engagement Report, which provides you with a funnel chart that clearly indicates how many unique emails were attempted in the campaign, how many were accepted by the email providers, the number of unique emails that were opened, and the number of unique emails that were clicked.


In addition to looking at all this data in aggregate, SparkPost provides you with a number of ways of looking at this information. For example, you can filter by recipient domain to see where you had a high render rate or where, perhaps, you might need to make adjustments because of a high bounce rate with a particular provider. You can also filter by Campaign and Templates to hone in on what content is working and what isn’t.

SparkPost also gives you access to the raw data, letting you peer deeper into the numbers to see in precise detail how your recipients are engaging (you can download it as a CSV file or access it via webhooks).

I encourage you to dig into the numbers and see the wealth of information available to you in SparkPost, then think about tags that are specific to your business to learn even more about your email engagement.

To learn more:

SparkPost Deliverability Metrics

Consuming SparkPost Webhook Events with Loggly – Part 1 of 3



ClickThruRateHow do you know if you’re being successful with your outbound email? Generally, senders look at bounce rates, open or render rates, and clickthrough rates as metrics to determine the success of their messaging efforts. However, when comparing competing email service providers, the efficacy of one versus another is sometimes difficult to determine because different ESPs calculate bounce rates, clickthrough rates and open rates differently. Understanding how numbers are derived is essential to clarity.

In determining how we would calculate these metrics, SparkPost takes a conservative stand, always using the number that you sent (targeted) as the foundation for any calculation. So the bounce rate is calculated as bounces divided by targeted. Other ESPs such as SendGrid use the “accepted” or “delivered” number as the denominator, which means making a direct comparison isn’t possible without the raw numbers for a given campaign or time period. “Accepted” or “Delivered” factors out bounces – which results in a lower denominator – and therefore a higher overall rate.

We chose “Targeted” as the denominator in rate calculations for a number of reasons. The primary is that in looking at the industry, we discovered that the only written and agreed-upon set of standards for how these metrics are defined and calculated has been established by the Email Experience Council (EEC).

The Email Experience Council has been working to standardize the terminology and calculations for these metrics and SparkPost uses that industry benchmark in reporting data to its customers. The metrics definitions can be downloaded from the EEC website here:

Now that we’ve launched, we will work to get the EEC certification. Unfortunately, not all ESPs have made the change. This fact is important to keep in mind as you begin to use SparkPost, especially if you find yourself wondering why your clickthrough rates are different from what you saw with a previous provider.

To learn more:

Bounce classification codes

Consuming SparkPost Webhook Events with Loggly – Part 1 of 3 

EmailAnalyticsOne of the things that is most exciting and challenging about my position here at Message Systems is that I got in on the ground floor of SparkPost. We started with a fantastic mail server and a bunch of smart people, and are building something great. When you’re part of the startup team, there are a lot of things you get the chance to define, and while this is gratifying, it can also be an extremely challenging task: we want our new service offering to feel familiar, but we don’t want to do what everyone else is doing just because everyone else is doing it.

Our core email platform offers a lot of configuration options. Our on-prem software customers are able to get a ton of information about how their servers and messages are performing. But only a part of this information will be very useful for our cloud services customers. Systems administrators who are concerned with server performance get a ton of data to help them evaluate how they’re doing. But most of our cloud services customers are really looking for us to help them determine which metrics are most important to figure out if their recipients are getting their messages.

Don’t get me wrong – we’re happy when email experts use our services and we’ll give them all the message performance data you can imagine so that they can use their skills as they like. We just don’t want you to have to be an email expert just to make sense and get value out of our reporting. For instance, there is a lot of granularity available in our bounce reporting, but that granularity can also be overwhelming, so we’re defining a smaller set of metrics which will be used to generate more streamlined reports to support our customers who don’t live in email all day, every day.

Similarly, every email provider defines metrics a little differently, so we’ll make sure to be very clear about what we mean by a given term so that those of you who have used other providers don’t find yourselves confused. Here are a few basic email analytics terms you’ll see:

Targeted: the total number of messages you tried to send.

Sent: the total number of messages we attempted to deliver.

Admin Bounced: the difference between Targeted and Sent – messages you tried to send but we didn’t attempt to deliver. This is either because of a technical error, or more likely, because the addresses are suppressed due to bounce processing or unsubscribe or something similar.

Hard Bounce: bad addresses.

Block Bounce: spam block bounces – the address may still be good, but undeliverable due to an antispam system. These are often temporary blocks and will likely deliver again later. We do not automatically retry these sends.

Soft Bounce: a variety of temporary and technical issues that can cause a message to be undeliverable; these may become deliverable again later, or they may not.

Delayed: we will retry messages that fail for temporary reasons; this indicates all messages that were delayed. Delayed messages may eventually deliver, bounce, or timeout.

These are some of the terms you’ll be seeing as you become familiar with SparkPost’s reporting. We’ll be sure to keep you updated and provide a reference for all analytics terminology that you can refer to going forward.

As I said at the top of the page, I’m really excited to be working on such a great product and with such awesome customers, and I’d love to hear your feedback or answer any questions you may have. Please contact me anytime at [email protected].

The release of Momentum 4 back in June was something of a watershed for Message Systems. The Momentum platform had existed for 10 years as pure email delivery platform. Those of us responsible for telling the Message Systems story usually avoid the term message transfer agent (MTA) to describe Momentum, because it had long offered capabilities – including automated delivery optimization and data management features – not found in open source and commercial MTA productions. Still MTA functionality is a key part of what Momentum provides. Those deliverability features are still key to the platform, but Momentum 4 now provides capabilities for stages in the messaging process both pre-sending, and post-sending.

For Message Systems customers and email industry professionals eager to learn more about Momentum 4 and what it offers, product manager Amie Durr has helpfully put together a detailed white paper. Amie was the executive in charge of the Momentum 4 development effort, and is one of our most knowledgeable executive on the new product. The white paper walks through how Momentum 4 helps senders improve engagement by moving message generation capabilities from separate business intelligence, CRM or CMS platforms into the sending platform itself. Momentum 4’s native message generation capabilities provide for better performance and on-time delivery of email and mobile campaigns.

Additionally, a completely redesigned user interface in Momentum 4 provides real-time access to rich messaging and customer engagement data for deep analytics. These capabilities provide marketers and email delivery professionals with real-time access to critical messaging and engagement data. This reduces the expense and costly delays associated with delivery problems and performance issues that can result in blacklisting, hours poring through log files, and the need for direct outreach to ISPs for resolution. Users can easily discern the success of their campaigns, export data for analysis, and take immediate action instead of waiting for reports from providers that may not arrive until days later.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 2.43.05 PM

Remarking on the launch, longtime Message Systems customer Jack Hogan, co-founder and CTO at Lifescript, said:

With the release of Momentum 4.0, Message Systems is keeping its edge as the top-tier platform for enterprise-class senders. The analytical and data integration capabilities in the new platform will help email senders become more effective than ever before in creating compelling campaigns, reaching the inbox and engaging customers.

Learn more about Momentum 4 in our detailed white paper: A New Architecture For Today’s Complex Messaging Needs.

Automated deliverability optimization? Momentum’s Adaptive Delivery® can help you with that. Learn more in this white paper!

Adaptive Delivery Whitepaper

We are excited to announce the availability of Momentum 4, the latest breakthrough in digital messaging technology.  With this latest release of our flagship messaging platform, Message Systems further cements its lead as the industry-leader in digital messaging.  These new capabilities in Momentum 4.0 will further enhance our customers’ email programs and drive even better customer engagement.

“With the release of Momentum 4, Message Systems is keeping its edge as the top-tier platform for enterprise-class senders,” said Jack Hogan, chief technology officer at Lifescript. “The analytical and data integration capabilities in the new platform will help email senders become more effective than ever before in creating compelling campaigns, reaching the inbox and engaging customers.”

The new features in Momentum 4 now provide real-time access to messaging and engagement data, new message generation and templating capabilities and new cloud-enabled APIs. Here’s what you can expect when you upgrade to Momentum 4.

1. Critical messaging and engagement data

  • Email analytics Momentum’s revamped architecture now allows for real-time capture and reporting of messaging events as they happen – from message transmission to customer conversion.
  • New user interface (UI) – With the new user interface, customers will be able to easily discern the success of transmissions and campaigns and quickly identify potential delivery problems or performance issues for resolution.


2. New message generation and templating capabilities

  • Message Generation: Lists, content and templates can be brought together to generate messages within the Momentum 4 platform to enable high-volume campaign-driven messages, as well as transactional messages, all in one unified messaging solution.
  • Template Management: Powerful, but easy-to-use template management allows data to be incorporated from external business intelligence solutions and other sources, as well as supports both in-line and stored templates.

3. New cloud-enabled APIs

  • Enhanced APIs: As the industry’s most extensible email software, Momentum 4 supports many new application programming interfaces, including new Injection APIs, Stored Template APIs and Aggregate Reporting APIs.
  • Industry Leading Performance: All new enhancements fully embrace Supercharger, allowing for unparalleled server density and messaging logic complexity.

The release of Momentum 4 further cements Message System’s position as the industry leader of digital messaging by turbocharging performance and helping customers to identify and quickly resolve issues in real-time. If you are interested in learning more about Momentum, we’ve got you covered. Read the full press release for more details or register for an online group training session by Message Systems University – Introduction to Momentum 4 for Senders.


Message Systems solutions power a global network of the largest, most complex messaging operations, such as Internet businesses Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and top email marketing companies like Yesmail and Marketo, which collectively send over 2.5 trillion messages a year — 20% of the world’s legitimate email. Find out why these top senders choose Momentum in the What Sets Momentum Apart white paper.

What Sets Momentum Apart