Marketers are still overlooking email marketing best practice, even though they are sending significantly more emails and spending more budget on this channel than they were five years ago, according to research published by Econsultancy and Adestra. This article is copyright 2011 The Best Customer Guide.

The fifth annual Email Marketing Industry Census found that many companies are failing to carry out even basic testing, and also neglecting to take steps to improve deliverability and to make email more relevant and engaging.

Testing and deliverability have emerged as the most problematic areas in this year's survey. Only a third of responding companies (32%) carry out regular testing for email marketing, while a quarter of organisations say they infrequently carry out testing. Thirteen percent say they don't test at all..

While there seems to be some awareness about its importance and basic best practices, few organisations are adopting a focused, strategic approach to deliverability.

Almost a quarter of companies (23%) are still not practising even basic segmentation, while nearly half (48%) don't carry out regular list cleansing.

Only 65% of companies are using opt-in (46%) or confirmed opt-in (19%) data for their acquisition emails, while 63% use such data for retention. According to the research, the proportion of companies that know what percentage of their email marketing budget is lost through non-delivery has been gradually decreasing since 2009, down to 12% this year.

The research, based on a survey of nearly 900 in-house and agency email marketers carried out in January and February this year, also found that most companies need to work harder to integrate social media and email marketing.

"In some ways, email marketing has become more complicated because of the increased realisation that this channel needs to be integrated properly with other parts of the business, such as customer and sales data, web analytics, mobile and social media," said Linus Gregoriadis, UK research director for Econsultancy. "While this is difficult, it is not so easy to understand why many companies are still struggling to master some basic best practice to ensure better relevance, engagement and deliverability."

Other key findings included:

  • Email and social media activity are managed as two separate channels by almost half of companies (45%).
  • More than half of responding companies (52%) say that social media is not a significant source of new email subscribers.
  • Only 37% of companies say that email marketing is very successful (7%) or quite successful (30%) in generating social media activity relevant to their brand, products or services.
  • The majority of companies (72%) do not measure the impact of email marketing on social media activity and only 1% say measurement is sophisticated.
  • The proportion of responding companies sending more than 50,000 emails each month has gradually increased in the last four years, from 40% in 2007 to almost two thirds of respondents (60%) in 2011.
  • The proportion of companies spending more than £50,000 per year on email marketing has increased from 17% in 2007 to 25% in 2011 Clean and up-to-date lists (64%), relevance of email to recipients (52%) and reputation of sender (44%) are seen as having the biggest impact on improving deliverability.
  • The quality of email database is considered to be a significant barrier to effective use of email by 55% of companies surveyed. Half of respondents feel lack of strategy (50%) is a significant problem and lack of segmentation is holding back 49% of companies.
  • Email continues to be an essential component of the marketing mix and the vast majority of companies (72%) rate email as 'good' or 'excellent' in terms of return on investment.
  • Compared to 2007, when Econsultancy carried out the first Email Census, significantly more companies are taking advantage of a range of services offered by email providers including automated campaigns (+30%), personalisation (+26%), measurement & analytics (+22%) and segmentation (+16%).
  • In 2011, the key areas of focus for email marketers are segmentation (32%), delivering relevant communications (29%), list/data quality (26%) and measurement & analytics (25%).

"It's time for marketers to get 'back to basics' - some crucial areas are dropping off marketers' radars such as email triggers, deliverability and re-marketing. They need to be consistently covering all the basics - this is where their ESP can help," concluded Steve Denner, director for Adestra. "Get the fundamentals right, use the available technology and best practice advice and there's no reason why email can't evolve again over the next five years into an even better communication and customer engagement channel, delivering improved response rates."

The full report has been made available for purchase directly from Econsultancy's web site - click here.