Despite the onslaught of spammers and irresponsible marketers, email marketing is here to stay. The ROI is insanely high. In fact, recent research suggests that the average return on email marketing is $44 for every $1 spent. Not to mention the flood of data regarding email marketing out there, there's no excuse to avoid email marketing.

I’ve had the chance to look at a fair number of email marketing campaigns over the years. I’ve seen some so optimized that I found myself in a quiet awe, basking in the serenity of a truly beautiful drip campaign More often however, I see email campaigns — I’m using the word campaign loosely here — that have no apparent goal other than to send emails (which sounds a lot like spam).

The distinguishing difference between good and bad email campaigns comes down to one thing: metrics. The metrics that marketers chose to focus on determine strategy, and strategy determines results. In other words, if your key metrics suck, your results will suck too.

Email marketing metrics that actually matter

The sad thing is, when most email marketers face failure on their campaigns, they will only go back to step two (strategy) to revise, where they should be going back to is step one (metrics). To put it simply, strategy is the natural offshoot of metrics, so choosing the right ones to focus on is the foundation for a well-executed campaign. Of course, the right metrics will be different for every team, but I’ve listed my favorites that will work for just about any marketer in any vertical.

Revenue or equivalent conversion:

This is easier to capture if you’re marketing an e-commerce. If you’re B2B then you’ll need to work a little harder to learn your buyer’s journey and attribute success to email.

Conversion rate:

A classic one, but becoming less popular in favor vanity metrics like open rates. You’re probably already tracking this, if you are, you get a gold star.

Email-driven sessions:

Take note of how many users are actually heading to the site post-click; that’s where the magic happens, right?

Post-click time on site:

Now that users are on the site, how long are they staying there? This is a good indicator of how well you are satisfying and delighting customers. I’d also put post-click pages per session in this same category.

Click through rate:

Yes, still track this. It’s a classic for a reason.

Number of campaigns:

While every other metric in this section is in the user’s court, this one is always your call. Dream bigger, even if you have to hyper-segment your audience, create new campaigns. Set a goal to create X more campaigns this year. Read on for some unique campaign ideas.

Email marketing metrics marketers need to settle down about

As important as it is to measure the right things, it’s also crucial to remove focus from vanity metrics. Here are a some metrics that could do with less emphasis. Track them if you have to, but treat them differently.

Open rates:

Yes, settle down about open rates. At the end of the day, you get nothing from someone if they only open your email. With rare exceptions, it’s only the clicks that matter. Good open rates should really be a byproduct of other, more important metrics (such as those mentioned above).

Subscriber list size:

This isn’t even really an email marketing metric; if anything, it’s more of a content marketing metric. A subscriber list size is built by a content marketer, not email marketer, so why bother measuring it as an email marketing metric? A better metric to measure would be list growth rate.

My favorite unconventional email marketing tips

The ideas I’m about to present have really upset some email marketers. I think it’s because some of these points tend to fly in the face of old-school best practices. These also tend to take more work to operate than a simple plug-and-play email-drip campaign. Sorry, but success takes work.

Unsubscribe campaigns:

Why hold on to subscribers who haven’t open an email in 6–12 months? They’re over you; let them go. Instead, every couple of months, identify users that haven’t opened an email in a certain amount of time (if you want to be safe start with 9 or 12 months). Send them one last email letting them know you’ve noticed they don’t open your emails, so you’ve unsubscribed them. Assure them that you’re not offended, and if they want to re-subscribe, there’s a button at the bottom to do that, then wish them a nice life (as non-passive-aggressively as possible).

Email-Facebook combo:

Want to look like a baller for a day? At the same time you send out a sweet deal over email, import your email list into Facebook Ads Manager and blast them out a similar deal from the email. The repetition will make you look extra relevant to your subscribers, and it will help you gather some valuable data from Facebook about your email subscribers.

VIP campaign:

Identify who spends the most money on your site, set a list for the top 10–20% of return buyers, and give them the VIP treatment via email. Let them know you notice that they are loyal fans of the product and that you’d like to reward them with something exclusive. If they’re spending such a significant amount of time on your site, then they’ll enjoy the special treatment, and chances are they’ll be fine with a few extra emails.

Remove CTAs:

This won’t apply to newsletters, since the goal is to give them options of what to read, but if you’re shooting for conversions or clicks, limit yourself to one or maybe two CTAs. In the case where you have to have multiple CTAs, make sure one is clearly more prominent than the others.

Create a passion campaign:

Do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. Use a small percentage of your audience as a test, but testing brings results, so do something crazy cool!

Email isn’t going anywhere, and when it comes to effectively promoting your business, neither is email marketing. But just because email marketing is valuable, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that value translates straight across to every associated metric. After all, you’ve got limited time and resources, and putting those resources to work tracking vanity metrics, well, let’s just say that you’d be better off without.

Your metrics determine your success, and when you focus on the right ones, effective strategy is the natural result.