Almost always when I talk about email metrics, I recommend analyzing them as part of a trend. Looking at a message’s open and click and unsubscribe rate by itself does not provide enough context about the health of your program. Sure you’ll know that a 4% click through rate on those 10,000 addresses means about 400 people took action, but how does it compare to the last message, or last month, or your average over the past year? Looking at email analytics as a snapshot in time teaches you something about the message, but does not shed much light on your overall email program.

Sometimes though, you can learn a lot from individual messages, particularly your best messages. Real Magnet’s Reports module is particularly useful in this regard, as it allows you to quickly view your Highest Open Rate Messages or Subject Lines, Highest Click Through Rate Messages and your Lowest Unsubscribe Rate Messages. The reports are customizable by date, allowing you to go back over the past year or two (or more) to find your greatest hits. They are also able to be filtered by a minimum number of recipients. This is important as messages with fewer recipients are more targeted and often bust the curve. A message sent to 40 people who attended a dinner event that earns an 80% open rate is not as impressive as one sent to 5,000 people and pulls 60%. Make sure you choose an audience size that teaches you something about the type of messages you’re concerned with.

These messages are your greatest hits, your highlight reel. In order to drive the powerful results you see in your top performers, something – very likely many different things – had to be working exceptionally well. When you pull these reports to see what your most productive messages were, try to dissect them to determine why they worked so well so that you can duplicate and even build on their success. To do this, you’ll need to look not just at the top, but at the whole top of the range (which Real Magnet makes easy by allowing you to select how many results you’d like to see in the reports). It’s easier to discover why one message worked well when you can find 6 others in the top 10 with the same characteristics.

Here’s what to look for when analyzing your personal best email metrics:

Commonalities in Execution: Run a report of your Highest Open Rate Subject Lines over the past year, filtered by a minimum number of recipients that’s appropriate for your list size. Then sort so that the highest open rate is on the top and read through the subject lines. Do you see anything in common – maybe the use of a question, inclusion of a company name, the threat of danger or promise of success? What do the subject lines have in common, that you can pick up on, learn from, and weave into your next message?

Dead Ends and Red Herrings: Not finding answers in the report does not mean the answers don’t exist; you may just have to look someplace else for them. Maybe in the example above you can’t find any trends or commonalities that explain the success of your messages. That’s OK – it may be that your subject line is not the reason for your high open rates. Try running the report on Highest Open Rate by From Fields. Is there a Sender in your organization whose name is pulling better than the others?

Analyze External Context: One of the reasons I like to pull these reports over a year or two years is because not only does it give me a broader range of examples to find success, but it allows me to factor in seasonality. Look at the dates of all your top performers in any of your reports over the course of a year or two year. Is there a season or month that seems to be showing up more than others? Let’s say over half of your best messages are sent in July. I don’t recommend that you concentrate all your emailing into the heart of the summer. Rather, look at what else is going on in July that might be responsible. Is it because you’re sending a lot of messages in July and you have your audience’s attention? Or are you sending far fewer then so there is not as much clutter? The answers may not be in the report at all, though the report will tell you where else in your organization to look.