Advanced email analytics with Litmus

Using Litmus and Emma to preview your email in various email clients and study engagement

Benjamin Franklin once said that the only certainties in life are death, taxes and the fact that various email programs display HTML differently. Well, he may not have been familiar with that last one. But as email marketers know, it's a truth that adds a level of difficulty to designing for email.

Thankfully, we've got tools for that kind of thing. Litmus is a program that gives marketers a firsthand look at how newsletters render across the major email programs, and it also shows which ones your recipients are using. Last month, Emma took a Litmus for different kind of test drive. We've been using the system for quite a while now, but trying some of their more advanced features this time around gave us some fascinating insights.

Let me introduce two of the Litmus features that we found useful, as well as the results from our own newsletters.

Email previews

Because of the plethora of email clients out there, making campaigns look good everywhere is an uphill battle. Emma's designers are stars at making your stationery display consistently, but once you add images and text to your campaign, you can bet that it won't look exactly the same. And don't even get me started on Outlook. (Here's an example of Emma's old newsletter in Outlook 2007.) To make matters more complicated, email clients span across three environments: desktop software (like Outlook and MacMail), web software (like Hotmail and Gmail) and mobile. For the purposes of this post, that's all you need to know. But if you're curious about rendering engines, which actually perform the task of displaying HTML, you can learn more here.

With a basic Litmus account, you send your email to a test Litmus address to see how your email looks on all major email clients in an instant. From there, you can browse through the clients, scroll on the mobile phones and even turn preview panes on and off to see all preference configurations. It really takes the guesswork out of it.

If you decide to go with a plus or premium account, you'll actually see what emails clients are represented in your audience, and by what percentages. With this data, you can get a sense of just how mobile your subscribers are and how much your campaigns are affected by Outlook's quirks.

Litmus allows you to preview campaigns in all major email clients.

Engagement

If you're using Emma, you're already getting a good idea of your reader engagement through the response section. Litmus gives you even deeper analytics, at their plus and premium levels. The report tells you exactly how many seconds your audience spends with your emails and categorizes the whole group into "read," "skimmed" and "glanced or deleted." It's even organized by email client.

The results: Litmus in action

We used Litmus for two of Emma's newsletters, our August Roundup (a newsletter sent to our entire community) and our Agency Insider (sent to our agency partners). (To subscribe to either or both of these, go right ahead here.)

Litmus' email previews allowed us to test our campaigns before their send-offs. Then after sending, we dove into the engagement and email client details. We learned a few things along the way, including…

  • The audiences for our community-wide newsletter and agency-specific newsletter are not that different. At over 80% for each test, desktop email clients are still king. Our general community has a higher percentage of Outlook users, while our agencies prefer Mac Mail; those were the #1 and #2 email clients for both.
  • Our mobile readers, despite being a significant minority, were extremely engaged. Over half of mobile recipients fell into the "read" category, spending the most time with our emails. Maybe it simply takes longer to read and digest an email on mobile. Or, maybe folks who make time to check email on-the-go really want to receive the message.
  • Our readers are environmentally friendly. Fewer than 10 readers chose to print out the newsletter.

Pretty interesting, right? You may find that you know your audience better than you expect — perhaps your assumptions are right on the money. Or, you may find that more readers than you realize are using mobile devices and that your mobile strategy needs a tune-up.

Even if the results don't lead to major changes right away — we're pretty pleased with how Emma's data stacked up, for example — it's useful to document the data as a benchmark. Gradual changes to your reports over time will indicate an evolving audience, and it'll allow you to keep your content and formatting fresh. Got anything interesting to share about your own email testing? Please share any insights in the comments. We'd love to hear about it.

And for the record, we don't have any special relationship with Litmus — we just think it's a handy tool, so we wanted to share it with you.