“Email is the only place where people, not algorithms, are in control,” says author and marketing expert Ann Handley. That may be the truest thing I’ve heard uttered in a long time. 

When your library is at the mercy of social media platforms that constantly change the rules, and when your patrons may still be nervous about coming back to the building for in-person interactions, email is the most effective promotional tactic in your arsenal. But once you hit the send button, how do you know if your emails are really helping your library reach its goals? 

Tracking metrics is a crucial part of your work. Metrics can tell you what is working so you can replicate that success. They can also tell you what isn’t working so you can stop doing those things and have the data to back up your decision. They can prove the value of your promotions. They can justify more budget to reach your audience. And most important, metrics reveal information about your community, including what people want and need from your library. 

There are three email metrics you should track. Here is what these metrics tell you and what to do if your numbers start to dip. 

Open rate: The open rate is the percentage of subscribers who open a specific email out of your total number of subscribers who received it. The average email open rate for nonprofits is about 20 percent. Anything higher than that means your audience is eager to receive your library’s emails. If your open rate dips, try adjusting the time of day or day of the week when you send your emails. The best day and time to send emails will vary based on the email habits of your subscriber group. You can also try experimenting with a catchier subject line to increase your email open rate. 

Click rate: The click rate is a more accurate way of determining that your email is effective. If you can get someone to open your email and then click on a link inside your email, it means that your content is really engaging for your audience. Tracking this metric is easy for LibraryAware subscribers. Click on the “Reports” tab to see which subscribers clicked on the links inside your email using the new “unique clicks” measurement. This can give you insights into what content was most interesting to your audience. If you notice your click rate is dipping, try adjusting your email’s call to action.

Bounces and unsubscribes: Email bounces occur when an email cannot be delivered to a recipient's inbox. LibraryAware subscribers can rest assured that we do everything we can to deliver. 

The unsubscribe rate is the percentage of recipients who opt out of an email list. If your unsubscribe rate is less than 0.5 percent, you know that your audience is engaged and eager to receive emails from your library. If your unsubscribe rate starts to climb, you may want to look at segmenting your audience. The easiest way to do this is to ask your subscribers to tell you which information they would be interested in receiving from your library by email.  

LibraryAware subscribers can download these metrics as a CSV file to track over time. Every couple of months, you should take a deep dive into your metrics and adjust your emails based on the way your audience is responding. 

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Angela Hursh is Senior Engagement Consultant for NoveList. She is reading The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune and listening to On Animals by Susan Orlean.