MarketBeat recently crossed the 300,000 subscriber mark. We now send 24 newsletters per month and five-to-ten marketing emails per month to more than 300,000 people at a time. We also have a secondary list of 180,000 subscribers that receive a weekly newsletter. In total, we send out more than 13 million emails each and every month to our subscriber base. While sharing big round numbers at an entrepreneurship conference might impress a few strangers, the total number of subscribers an email marketer has on their list isn’t all that important.
Subscriber Count is a Vanity Metric
Vanity metrics are business numbers that will almost always get larger as time goes on, but have little to say about how your business is actually doing. These are things like the total number of people that have gone to your website or lifetime sales of your product. They might make you feel good and keep some investors happy, but they don’t provide any useful information about how your business is doing right now. Vanity metrics are dangerous to the success of most companies because they can create a false appearance that the business is doing well when it’s not.
The number of total subscribers on your mailing list is a classic vanity metric. The number will almost always go up over time, but doesn’t provide any meaningful information about how engaged your email subscribers are or what kind of revenue they are creating. You could have two different email lists with the same number of subscribers that perform very differently. One list might consistently get 25% open rates and have very few bounces. The other might get 8% open rates and have a 10% bounce rate. Both email lists are exactly the same size, but the first list will generate substantially more revenue and interest from your subscribers.
Useful Metrics for Email Marketers
Email marketers should stop focusing on their total list size and instead focus on metrics that demonstrate list growth, subscriber engagement and revenue generation. By focusing on these three areas, you’ll have much more useful and actionable information that will demonstrate how your email list is actually performing and whether or not it’s helping you achieve your business goals.
Here are the metrics all email marketers should track:
- 60-Day Active Subscribers – This is the number of subscribers that have opened at least one email in the last sixty days and is probably a better measurement of how many people are actually on your list than your total list size. MarketBeat has a 60-day active subscriber count of about 240,000 subscribers, meaning about 80% of the list regularly engages with our content.
- Monthly Opt-Ins – This is the total number of new email sign-ups you received in the last 30 days. Ideally, this number will grow every month. MarketBeat gets about 34,000 new sign-ups each month.
- Opt-In Rate – This is the percentage of people that land on your website that opt in to your email list. If you had 5,000 page views on your website in a month and had 50 email sign-ups, you had a 1% opt-in rate. Ideally, this number will grow each month.
- Open Rate – This is the percentage of subscribers that receive an email from you that actually open your messages. Pay more attention to aggregate numbers than the open rate of any single message. MarketBeat’s open rate hovers around 20%.
- Conversion Rate – This is the percentage of people that opened your email that actually took the action that you wanted them to take, such as buying a product or reading an article that you sent them.
- Revenue Per Subscriber – This is the total amount of revenue that you made from your email list divided by your total number of active subscribers. This metric will show you how well you are monetizing your list independently of your list size.
- Churn Rate – This is the percentage of people on your list that unsubscribe every month. If your unsubscribe rate is much higher than 5%, that means that you probably didn’t properly set expectations for the kind of email your subscribers would receive or you’re not delivering on what they want. MarketBeat’s monthly churn rate hovers at around 4.5%.
Better Data, Better Decisions
When you start to focus on actionable metrics with your email marketing campaigns, you start to make different decisions. A few months ago, I had gotten up to about 290,000 subscribers. However, there were about 20,000 people on my mailing list that hadn’t opened a single email in over a year. I decided to remove all 20,000 of these subscribers from my list without a second thought, because they weren’t engaged with my content and weren’t creating any business value. They were actually costing about $4,000 per year to keep on my mailing list and were probably hurting our overall deliverability. Even though removing these subscribers meant my list would drop from 290,000 subscribers to 270,000 subscribers in one day, it was actually the best decision for the business.
Focus on the seven metrics listed above on a monthly basis. Watch how they change over time. Keep trying to improve those seven metrics each month by working on your opt-in forms, creating compelling content for your subscribers, writing good sales copy and offering relevant and useful products and services. Forget about your total subscriber count and start focusing on metrics that matter.