Email Analytics: The Definitive Guide to Email Marketing Metrics

Email Marketing Analytics: The Definitive Guide to Email Marketing Metrics

Meta description: Open rate, CTR, click-to-open rate...knowing how to analyze your email marketing campaigns can be tricky. Here are details on each metric and how to improve. 


Target keywords: email marketing analytics, email marketing open rates, open rate benchmarks, bounce in email marketing, click-to-open rate, email clickthrough rate formula 


It’s not always easy to understand how your email marketing campaigns perform. Which is more important: open rate or clickthrough rate? Is it always a bad thing when someone unsubscribes? Many people have major misconceptions about their email marketing analytics, leading them to make poor decisions in their campaigns.

The truth is, your metrics are only half the story. To get better results from your email marketing, you need to know how to analyze those numbers. If you don’t know how to put a metric in the context of your goals, you can’t make improvements! Let’s take a deep dive into those mysterious numbers your email marketing provider shows you. Here’s your ultimate guide to email marketing metrics and how to unlock your best campaigns. 

Open Rates

At first glance, your open rate seems pretty straightforward. It’s how many people opened your email, right? Not necessarily. Your email marketing provider (EMP) knows if your subscribers opened your email by placing a tracking image in it. Here’s the catch: many email clients are set to disable tracking images. That means your campaign is only registered as “opened” if images are loaded.

So potentially, you could have subscribers who read every word of your email yet don’t register as having opened your email. On the flip side, you could have people who “open” the email only to delete it immediately. That’s why EMPs often factor clickthroughs into their open rate; clicks are a good indication that the recipient actually opened the email. 

Obviously, your open rate is hardly the best indicator of your campaign’s success. You need to analyze it in conjunction with your clickthrough rates. But before we get to that, let’s talk about some other problems with open rates — and how to boost yours. 

Email marketing open rates vary widely by industry and day of the week, but average out at 17.8 percent, according to Campaign Monitor. Those averages, though, are just that: averages. You can cross-reference your industry with the day of the week to get your open rate benchmarks, but ultimately, you decide what the minimum open rate is for your brand. If you have a relatively low open rate but a dramatically high clickthrough rate, your campaigns can still succeed. 

Of course, increasing your open rate is always the goal. The more people who open your emails, the higher the chances are that they will click through to your content or offer. With that in mind, let’s talk about some reasons for low open rates.

Your subject line needs improvement.

First, a poor open rate is usually a sign of a weak subject line. Your audience receives an average of 121 emails per day, which means your message is one among dozens. Without an engaging subject line that clearly nabs their attention, you won’t stand out from the crowd. And even if you have the most compelling subject line in the world, it won’t work if it gets cut off in email apps. Aim to keep your subject lines under 33-35 characters in length. (Get more tips and tricks for subject lines.) 


Second, your messages aren’t targeted well. Of course, the perfect subject line doesn’t matter if the recipient isn’t interested in the subject. The key to boosting your open rate is to segment, segment, segment. Then, send targeted messages to each segment. It’s highly doubtful that every single person on your list wants the exact same thing from you. If they receive something that’s not relevant to their needs, they’ll ignore your message or simply unsubscribe — it’s as simple as that. 

Your list has gone stale.

Poor open rates can also be a sign that your audience is full of unengaged contacts. Perhaps they no longer check that email address. Perhaps they’ve moved, changed jobs, lost interest, or otherwise become irrelevant to your marketing. Don’t wait for them to come back around: remove them from your list. They’ll never open your emails, which drags down your rate and can even trigger a red flag with your EMP. (Learn more about the importance of proper list management.) 

You’re sending too many (or too few) emails.

Email marketing requires a careful balance between overwhelming your audience and letting them forget you exist. For most brands, it’s a good idea to start with one email per week and work your way up to 2-3 times per week. If your content is a “daily tip” or something similar, you can send a campaign every day, but make sure your audience knows they’re opting into this.

As I said, open rates don’t tell you much on their own. We need to see what happens after people open your emails. Which brings us to…

Clickthrough Rates

Many people take this metric as an unwavering sign of their campaign success, but the truth is, there are many factors at play. The email clickthrough rate formula is simply the number of people who clicked on a link in your email, divided by the total number of emails that were delivered — NOT the number of people who opened the campaign. Remember, the open rate is often calculated with the clickthrough rate in mind. 

Unfortunately, this makes it harder to identify the “click gap,” or the number of people who opened your email but took no action. The metric you really need to watch to assess your campaign’s effectiveness is the click-to-open rate (CTOR). This is a good indicator of how well your content encourages people to take action.

That said, CTOR is highly sensitive to timing. Think about your own email behavior: do you open your inbox and process every email as soon as you read it, clicking on its CTA if you desire? Or do you check your email, see something interesting, make a mental note to take action later, and then completely forget about it? Most people are the latter, which is why it’s important to send emails at the right time as well as the right day. The research is clear: you’ll get the best results if you send your emails at 6 am, between 11 am and 2 pm, and at 6 pm

Of course, none of that matters if your campaign is clumsily constructed. Is your CTA easy to find? Is it compelling, with a clear benefit that warrants the recipient’s precious little time? Does it follow from the subject line? Convincing people to click is a big deal: you’re effectively asking them to take a step away from the relatively easy task of browsing their email. Make sure they know it’s worth their while.

I recommend including your call-to-action twice — once fairly high up in the message and once in the postscript. If you’re sending a newsletter-style email with multiple links, don’t get too crazy. Make it clear where each link leads and don’t hide it amongst tons of text.

Bounce Rates

The bounce rate can seem like a fluke, something easily ignored as you obsessively analyze your metrics. However, it’s an important number to watch, because the more bounces your campaigns have, the more you could be penalized by your EMP.

A bounce in email marketing is a sign that your email wasn’t successfully delivered. That happens when you send to an email address or domain that doesn’t exist (a hard bounce) or if the recipient’s inbox is full or if your email is caught in security filters. No matter the cause, you’ll want to reduce your bounce rate as much as possible.

There are many reasons for bounces, but if your list is full of stale contacts, you’ll definitely have a higher bounce rate. For one thing, those abandoned inboxes eventually get full. Once they’re retired by the email provider, they may be converted into spam traps. If you’re caught emailing them, it could damage your sender reputation. That’s because many spammers will scrape massive lists of email addresses. ISPs assume that if you’re emailing addresses that technically don’t exist, you might be a spammer, too. So, keep your list clean!

A high bounce rate could also mean you haven’t properly configured your server for email marketing. Many users, especially those using work emails, don’t receive emails if they don’t meet strict authentication protocols. To resolve this, be secure that you configure the DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) for your sending domain.

Finally, bounces happen when someone blocks your domain by marking it as spam. Obviously, this is never something you want to happen with a contact you obtained legitimately. But people do forget that they signed up for a list, or they don’t know that “unsubscribe” is an option. The best way to prevent this is twofold: (a) use double opt-in and ask recipients to whitelist your domain and (b) make it easy for people to unsubscribe. I’ve heard of people hiding their unsubscribe link or even putting it in another language. Don’t do it.

Wrapping Up

Now that you understand all these metrics, you should be able to conduct a useful analysis of them. You can set your own goals, using industry averages as a benchmark. If your numbers aren’t where you want them, take some time to segment and prune your list. Then, tweak your content and test different variations to see what works best. Remember, if you have a campaign perform poorly, don’t despair. No campaign is perfect, so take every metric as an opportunity for improvement.


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