Industry best practices can be a very useful tool when it comes to sending your email marketing communications, but in order to deliver content that resonates with your audience, they should be accompanied by something even more powerful: Data.

This one little word is at the heart of every successful email marketing strategy. It isn’t enough to know when the average user is viewing and interacting with emails; it is crucial that you monitor the behavior of your own customers and use that data to create and serve your audience content when they are most likely to engage, in a format optimized to their specific device.

So, how do you collect this data? There are many specialized services that enable behavioral and device monitoring, but before you begin shopping for new tools, look at what tools you already have in your marketing arsenal. For example, most website analytics platforms – like Google Analytics, Coremetrics and Omniture – provide lots of great data that can be used to increase email engagement, without any additional expense.

To eliminate the guess work, we’ve put together some suggestions for how you can use this data to create relevant and timely communications and reach a broader audience.

Optimize Your Send Time

Organic website visitors provide invaluable information that can be leveraged to identify the best days and times you should be sending your major email campaigns. These visitors represent those who are actively seeking out your brand. If you want subscribers to receive your emails when they are most likely to convert, use spikes in organic conversions as a key indicator of your best email performance times.

Many marketers send emails first thing in the morning so that they can be the first message in the subscribers’ mailboxes – only to find those messages being buried among every other brands’ communications. This is an example of why it’s so important to know your audience rather than just follow industry best practices. If your customers aren’t buying until 8 p.m., that effort would have gone to waste.

The average email message’s lifespan is relatively short. Research tells us that 23.8% of all email opens occur during the first hour after delivery – and after 24 hours, an email’s chance of being opened drops below 1%. Relevance means sending the right message, to the right customer, at the right time.

Target the Right Devices

You can also use website analytics to determine the best approach for your brand when it comes to designing your site. With mobile and tablet readership increasingly on the rise, many brands are adopting responsive design for their email program – but is this right for your brand? Review your website traffic from email to determine which devices, browsers and screen resolutions visitors are using when viewing your website’s content.

Here are a few formats to consider:

    • Responsive Design (email content and layout adjusts and adapts to the user’s screen size)Consider using if: You have an even distribution of mobile, desktop and webmail traffic. Responsive design will ensure a consistent experience across all devices.
    • Mobile-First (single column with large text, images and calls to action)Consider using if: You have 60%+ mobile traffic. Mobile-first emails put the primary focus on the mobile user.
    • Hybrid (a combination of responsive and mobile-first elements)Consider using if: You can’t decide on one specific format and want to borrow elements from both. Campaign designs may be created using mobile-first designs, and templated items may use responsive coding to hide or move elements – such as the navigation and footer – to prioritize the message call to action further above other elements when accessed on a mobile device.

When designing your email campaigns, it is important to ensure that the email to website experience is consistent, above all else. If your email is responsive but your website is not, there may be an imbalance in performance. For more email design pointers, ExactTarget has put together a crash course in email design basics.

Whether you’re new to the world of email marketing or just looking to revitalize your email strategy, you can use a combination of industry best practices and your own data to create an educated testing plan – resulting in happy, lifetime customers.