Email marketing attribution: How to measure the impact of your email efforts

Email marketing attribution is a perfect way to assign credit to channels or touch points within your sales and marketing funnel.

Tracking the return-on-investment (ROI) of these touchpoints allows marketers to see which channels are the most valuable. This then allows them to maximize their budget while still optimizing revenue.

In this article, we’ll outline various ways to determine email marketing attribution as it relates to your trackable metrics. We’ll also show you how to find the data you need, so you can see the true value of your email marketing campaign.

What is email marketing attribution?

Email used to be a highly trackable marketing channel. The normal progress of email marketing attribution sees your prospect receiving your email, opening it, clicking through to your website, and converting to customer status by making a purchase.

Simple and easy, right?

It was—until the advent of multiple channels. Now there are several possible conversion points along the sales funnel journey. With these additional touchpoints, attribution has become more difficult to track using standard methods.

For example, if your email subject line reads “In-Store Clearance!” a subscriber might go to the store without ever having opened the email since the instruction is clear from the subject line.

This type of customer behavior would result in you undervaluing your email’s ROI, especially if you were exclusively using an “open” metric for attribution calculations.

Undervaluation can also occur when you have a hashtag subject line that prompts social media action. You may also use native inbox links like Gmail’s Quick Action buttons, or your messages may include hamburger menus that allow customers to engage and purchase within their inboxes.

While allowing customers to track and place orders without leaving the inbox is an enticement to action, it makes tracking the power of email more difficult. This is especially true since you’re by bypassing traditional conversion channels.

So, how can you use email marketing attribution to calculate the impact on metrics that matter? Read on!

Using email marketing attribution to prove ROI

To define the real benefits of your email campaign, you need to understand—and quantify—the impact of your email. What’s more, you need to quantify the impact of your email without a recorded open or click.

This aggregation of benefits on touchpoints (other than email by email marketing) is known as the halo effect.

Most common models of email attribution, however, can’t account for this halo phenomenon because it isn’t quantifiable through standard email attribution metrics.

Typically, email marketers choose from several calculations for measuring attribution, each of which considers a few simple criteria:

  • First click/touch: This metric gives credit to the first channel in your conversion pathway and helps you discover how people are finding you online. Problem: Your visitors could hit a few other channels before converting on this one.

  • Last click/touch: A reverse of first click, this metric gives full credit to the last channel your visitor landed on before conversion (regardless of how many others they’ve experienced). It’s one of the easiest metrics to set up and track. However, this metric doesn’t consider middle-funnel channels and is mostly discounted as an effective measurement.

  • Linear tracking: This attribution method gives equal value to all channels in your funnel. It’s better because it allows other touchpoints to figure into revenue calculations, but it can result in over- or under-valuing specific channels.

  • Positional tracking: This method gives first and last clicks 40% of the conversion credit. The middle channels receive the remaining percentage points—only a problem if you have a long sales funnel.

  • Time-decay tracking: This model features a simple algorithm that weights touchpoints closer to conversion more heavily than those further away. Because it allows all channels to be considered, it’s the preferred model.

While these are great for an overview of the impact of your email marketing, they can’t tell the whole story. And these simplified calculations are made less reliable by the increase in potential channels and touchpoints that figure into the digital marketing formula.

Content Marketing Institute’s annual report shows that today’s marketing teams are using at least 13 different marketing tactics, three advertising channels, and up to seven social media platforms in their digital marketing strategies.

To properly assign value to your email marketing campaign, use an attribution method that considers all possible touchpoints and the halo. This is critical, especially due to the increasing complexity of current marketing techniques.

Find the true impact of email by looking at revenue

To calculate the true impact of email across all revenue-producing channels, start with a revenue analysis

To do this, use all channels your business currently taps into for marketing. Then, use your current attribution model (opens/clicks/touches/position/algorithm) to calculate revenue.

Take this new number and distribute it over days when your email was sent versus days when no email was sent and determine the results.

Effective email marketing will produce a revenue "halo effect".

Chances are, you’ll begin to see consistent figures. One such figure is your average daily revenue. The days you send emails should be days with higher revenue across all channels—including social, affiliate programs, paid search, and natural search.

These results directly demonstrate that email’s “halo effect” is an important consideration when determining the impact of your email marketing strategy on total revenue.

Results like these bring our focus back to the importance of a cohesive email attribution model that allows you to consider every channel for more accurate ROI calculations.

Use this strategy to prove the value of email marketing at your organization.

If you can grow your revenue-monitoring strategy beyond attribution that is based solely on simple clicks and opens, you can demonstrate the holistic impact of email in both on- and offline sales to your marketing team.

This information will, in turn, make it much easier to gain funding and support.

Develop a custom attribution model for your business

If you still need more help in determining how to break down all your touchpoints and assign them values, you can develop a custom attribution model based on your particular business and channels. 

Google Analytics offers a customized model for attribution that allows you to use Last, First, Time Decay, Linear, and Position-based models. You can then include additional factors your team feels are critical.

You’ll want to decide which metrics and criteria to consider in your custom model. To do this, you’ll need to understand your current mix of channels and your business’ performance over time. Finally, you’ll want to track marketing spending.

To choose the touchpoints and metrics you want to consider in your formula, ask:

  • What is the subscriber behavior you most want to see?
  • Are you targeting a specific conversion window?
  • Do you have repeat purchasers? If so, how do they generally behave?
  • Do you have any engagement goals and are they associated with revenue?
  • Do you have Universal Analytics configured to send offline conversions to Google Analytics?

After you’ve decided which micro-goals and metrics to study, you can more accurately account for touchpoints, channels, and customer behaviors. Track these factors along the sales funnel to see the impact of your email marketing.

As mentioned above, diving deeper into the email halo allows clear insight into email marketing’s impact on your revenue growth. With these numbers available, you can advocate for a more robust budget and maximize the benefits of email marketing’s attractive ROI for your business.

Wrap up

You’ve now seen how different factors can contribute to confusion in the email marketing attribution process. Changing technology, the proliferation of marketing channels, and an increase in touchpoints are all aspects to remember.

While standard attribution calculations still have their place in determining ROI, there are ways to delineate email marketing’s impact on your company’s revenue.

Along with common attribution models, you can also include custom attribution models. Use revenue analysis. Create a custom model that focuses on marketing spending, channel use, and targeted metrics. Create a plan that allows you to determine email’s impact on your revenue’s bottom line.

Using these added details from the halo effect of email marketing, you’ll easily be able to convince your marketing team that email marketing is an essential—and profitable—digital marketing strategy.

About the Author

Kaitlin Westbrook

Kaitlin Westbrook is a content writer who covers business and creative content. When she's not writing, she enjoys movies, baking, and her Pomeranian.

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