How to Troubleshoot Every Email Marketing Metric

If you've ever almost spiralled into an email-induced existential crisis, fear not, I’m here to help navigate the email marketing wilderness and troubleshoot plummeting the many different KPIs.

November 24, 2023
How to Troubleshoot Every Email Marketing Metric

Picture this: 

You've just sent the Beyoncé of email campaigns. It’s flawless, stunning, and practically radiates success. With the excitement of a little child, you check your open rate, expecting a standing ovation. 

But, wait for it... the open rate is barely limping into the single digits. 

Cue the disappointment. 

Before you spiral into an email-induced existential crisis, I’m here to help navigate the email marketing wilderness and troubleshoot plummeting the many different KPIs.

What are the different email marketing metrics?

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are essential metrics that help measure the effectiveness and success of your email campaigns. Things like opens, clicks, and conversions, when measured over a period of time, indicate the effectiveness of your email program.

If you’d like to understand the different metrics, here’s a meme-filled guide to it. I’ll wait.

Now that you have a clear understanding of what each metric means, let’s find out how to troubleshoot them when they’re ah-not-so-good.


Email deliverability is your campaign's backstage manager, quietly ensuring it gets to the main stage – the inbox. It’s how you know your emails are not landing on the spam.

Possible reasons for low deliverability

Poor sending infrastructure: If your emails lack the digital passport needed to navigate inboxes smoothly, you need proper authentication methods and robust sending infrastructure. (Hey, shameless plug for Forward - we’ve got best-in-class deliverability). 

Being on a block list: It’s the email equivalent of ending up on the no-fly list. No matter how good your emails are, they’ll never see the inbox. There are several blocklists you need to make  sure you’re not on them.

Poor list hygiene: When you continuously send to bad email addresses (including spam traps and invalid ones), it’s a signal to the mailbox provider that you have bad email collection practices. And, who wants that? No one!

Low engagement signals: When no one opens or clicks your emails or they mark it as spam, your inbox provider takes note of that and stifles your deliverability.

How to troubleshoot

  • Upgrade to a dedicated sending domain
  • Implement and maintain email authentication protocols such as SPF, DKIM, DMARC, and BIMI
  • Monitor blocklists and your sender reputation
  • Send to engaged audience - people who engage with your emails
  • Ask for replies and positive engagement like mark as important, whitelisting your sender address, etc.
  • Reduce your sending frequency

Note: Deliverability can get a bit technical. Here’s a no-nonsense guide to acing your deliverability. We’ve simplified the topic as much as we can without being superficial. Give it a read when you can.

Open Rate

Open rates used to be the holy grail of email performance measurement. With the recent updates to iOS, its importance has largely reduced. But, it’s a key metric nonetheless. It indicates how engaging and compelling your subject lines are and whether you’ve targeted the right audience at the right time.

Possible reasons for low email opens

Boring subject lines:  Inject some pizzazz! Think of your subject lines as the opening act of a blockbuster movie - they need to grab attention and leave your audience eager for more.

Bad timing: Sending emails at 3 AM might make you feel like a nocturnal marketing ninja, but your subscribers are likely more interested in counting sheep than reading your masterpiece. Timing is everything!

Poor audience targeting: It's like trying to sell ice to penguins – your message just isn't resonating. What are their interests, preferences, and pet peeves? Tailor your content like a bespoke suit.

Spam landing: Your emails are doing a secret agent routine! Except instead of a slick entrance, they're slipping into the spam folder unnoticed. Using spam-trigger words in your subject lines and email is a common reason why they go straight to spam.

High email frequency: Sending too many emails? Your audience might have gotten the email fatigue. I think it’s Plato who said: wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something. This man is usually right.

How to troubleshoot

  • Optimize your subject lines
  • A/B test your subject lines, send times, sending frequency, etc.
  • Create a 30/60-day engaged segment and send emails to them
  • Keep tabs on your deliverability
  • Analyze when your target audience spend their time on their inboxes and send accordingly

Click-Through Rate

The ultimate purpose of any email, to me at least, is getting the click. If your emails are not getting clicked, then you might as well not send them any. 

Possible reasons for low CTR

Expectation Mismatch: 

It's the classic bait-and-switch – your subject line promised a tropical vacation, but your content delivered a staycation. Your Subject Line needs to match the content of the email.

Too Many CTAs:

Your email needs to have ONE goal, ONE purpose, and ONE CTA. If you’re asking people to read your blog, check out your products, and sign up to your VIP program-all in one email, it’s gonna leave them confused. A confused reader does not buy!

Large Images: Large images can often slow loading times and turn your email into a buffering nightmare. Resize and compress; your audience's bandwidth will thank you. And, so will your click rates.

Bland copy: Spice it up! Your copy shouldn’t be like unseasoned tofu! It should entertain them and educate them. 

Direct Sales: Your email should be the equivalent of a carnival barker – loud but lacking substance. Dial down the sales pitch and focus on value. Your audience wants a conversation, not a megaphone shouting discounts.

How to troubleshoot

  • Send relevant content and make it more personalized
  • A/B test your email structure and format
  • Have a prominent CTA and have only one CTA (you can have multiple CTAs but they should all lead to the same action)
  • Provide an incentive to click by writing more engaging content
  • Minify your images - use a tool like tinypng to reduce your image loading times.
  • Optimize your emails for mobile devices
  • Check for broken links

Bounce Rate

A high bounce rate is concerning not just that your emails are not getting delivered but also that it can affect your sender reputation.

Possible reasons for high bounce rate

Invalid email addresses: Sending emails to invalid addresses is akin to tossing messages into a black hole—no replies, no engagement. 

Outdated audiences: Gmail and other mailbox providers are pushing new laws that automatically remove unused accounts. If you’re sending emails to such addresses, it’s gonna hurt your sender reputation.

ISP blocking: Being on an ISP's blocklist is like being the gatecrasher at the party. Your emails don't get through, and no one wants an uninvited guest. Maintain a good sender reputation, steer clear of suspicious activities, and ensure you're always on the VIP list.

Email Server Issues: Technical glitches can sometimes derail your messages' journey, resulting in high bounce rates. 

Full Mailboxes: If a contact's inbox is overflowing to the point where it cannot accommodate more emails, your messages will bounce back until there is available space. In some cases, this might indicate that the contact has ceased using that email address.

How to troubleshoot

  • Clean your lists regularly
  • Send most of your campaigns to only engaged segments
  • Never use purchased lists (if you do this, we can’t be friends)
  • Use double opt-in
  • Analyze bounce by inbox providers

Unsubscribe Rate

A small percentage of your audience is gonna churn with every email you send. This is not necessarily a bad indicator but people merely telling you that they’re no longer interested in your emails (or your brand). If your emails have consistently high opens and clicks, a solid email list will always have people who actually want to receive your content.

Anything higher than 0.5% is a cause for concern, though.

Possible reasons for high unsubscribe rate

Discount hunters: Remember the WELCOME10 discount popup you have on your website. A lot of folks opt in for the initial benefit, but don’t plan to engage or buy again. People love a good discount and there’s no getting around it. 

Unengaging Content: If you’re not consistently delivering value and forging a community of rabid fans with your emails, people are gonna unsubscribe at some point. Spice it up, make it captivating, and give your audience a reason to stay.

Overwhelming Frequency: Sending one too many emails can also annoy people (couple it with the previous point) and eventually lead to unsubscribes.

Irrelevant Targeting: People–their beliefs, values, and goals change over time. A lot of unsubscribes happen when you continuously send to people who no longer find your emails relevant.

How to troubleshoot

  • Clean your lists at least once a quarter - ask people if they still want to remove emails from you
  • Use double opt-in
  • Reduce your sending frequency
  • Send to only 30/60-day engaged audience
  • Send more engaging content
  • Encourage leaving subscribers to provide feedback through surveys and forms - And take action.
  • Clearly communicate the type and frequency of content your subscribers can expect in your welcome email

Spam Complaint Rate

A high spam complaint rate is a huge red flag in your email program. People are explicitly telling you that you’re sending poor emails and it should be taken seriously. Spam complaints are viewed as worse than unsubscribes, and a rise in spam complaints is the number 1 reason why your deliverability and sending reputation take a hit. 

Anything over 0.05% should alert you to take troubleshooting steps.

Possible reasons for spam rate

Sending to those who did not consent: If you’re sending to people who did not explicitly provide their consent to receiving emails from you, they’re gonna mark you as spam.

Misleading Subject Lines: Your subject lines are the email equivalent of clickbait. Be honest, be transparent, and avoid trickery to build trust with your audience.

High Frequency: Remember when we spoke about how an overwhelming frequency can lead to high unsubscribes. If you’re being relentless (sending 2x or 3x emails daily), it’s a surefire way to be marked as spam. 

Difficult Unsubscribe Process: If unsubscribing feels like navigating a labyrinth, your audience might resort to the spam button. Simplify the unsubscribe process, making it easy.

How to troubleshoot

  • Send only to those who gave explicit consent to getting emails from you
  • Use double opt-in
  • Send only to your engaged audience
  • Avoid purchasing email lists
  • Make it easy to unsubscribe
  • Process unsubscribes as quickly as possible

And there you have it, our whirlwind tour of troubleshooting every email marketing metric!

Tweak those subject lines, trim that email list, and keep your content groove alive. And, you’ll be golden!

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