So who’s reading the stuff we all write?

Thank you all so much for continuing to read these daily articles. I hope you’re getting something from them. Over the past year, the circulation has grown tremendously, but putting a number on it illustrates exactly the problem which all of us in tech marketing have.

For instance, the headline number for this blog is probably the 876 marketing managers who elect to get the blog by email. But how many actually read a given email? “Email open rate” reports bear very little resemblance to reality. Someone whose email application has a “preview pane” but who just scrolls through without looking probably counts as an “open”. On the other hand, someone who studies the email intently – but in a text-only email reader – probably won’t register as having opened the email.

Even if “open rate” could be measured accurately, it would largely just be a number which indicated how compelling the subject line was. It doesn’t mean the person who opened the email actually read it.

If your emails are centred around a call to action, you can of course measure the number of people who take that action. But there are still complications. Emails get passed on, and acted on by someone else. There are even websites which “subscribe” to newsletter-style emails and publish them online, complete with your coded links which – wrongly – tell you the responder clicked through from an email.

Then there’s the increasing importance of other channels. The emails I send out from this blog mainly get opened or clicked-through-from inside a week. The Twitter followers (of which there are 142 as of this morning) click through to the web version within a few hours. Google sends people to the web version in slowly increasing numbers over a period of months. The web version of this blog had 11,000 page views from 6,000 visitors last year, although that’s a meaningless figure in isolation.

The lesson from all this is not to get too obsessed with the numbers (with the significant exception of when you’re carrying out controlled tests of one thing against another). Whether writing and distributing information to your prospects is a worthwhile exercise can be reduced to much more simple metrics, which should then be allied to your own experience and judgement. What is the cost of writing something compared to the likely return, in terms of new customers or new orders?

Tomorrow I’ll try to list the “most read” articles from this blog in 2009. But there’ll be as much intuition in the choice as there will be hard metrics.

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