What you need to know about open rates and click-through rates
Before diving into benchmarking and tips for improving performance metrics, we should review what “open rate” and “click-through rate” actually mean. Let’s go over how they’re calculated, too.
What is an open rate? Why is it an essential email campaign metric?
To calculate your email open rate, divide the email’s number of unique opens by the total number of people that saw your email. The total is the number of people that you sent the email to minus the number of bounce instances.
Different types of email campaigns—transactional emails, autoresponders, newsletters, etc.—are bound to have different ideal metrics. You should always aim for higher open rates, however, if your email campaign’s purpose is to raise your brand’s awareness and build relationships with your subscribers.
What is a click-through rate? How do you determine a good CTR for email campaigns?
To calculate your email click-through rate, take the number of people that clicked on one or more links in your email. Divide that by the number of people you sent the email to initially—don’t subtract the bounces. Now take the resulting quotient and multiply it by 100.
As an email marketer, you should be used to the typical click-through rate of an email by now, but it can seem alarming to the uninformed. Depending on your brand’s industry, your email’s CTR can be anywhere from one to five percent.
The click-through rate is more important than the open rate when it comes to lead generation. A low CTR compared to a healthy open rate means that your email’s body needs work, as it’s not compelling enough to result in clicks.
Email marketing campaigns live and die by the strength of their calls to action. In other words, the more people click through, the more effective your emails are. The more successful your emails are in terms of engagement, the higher your ROI.
Other related email campaign performance metrics
What should you remember about delivery rate and bounce rate?
Be careful not to interchange the open rate and the delivery rate. The latter is the percentage of people that received the email in their inboxes. It’s usually higher than the open rate.
The bounce rate is the percentage of bounced emails. Note that undelivered is not necessarily the same as bounced. Unless a recipient’s mail server returns the sent email and tells you the email address no longer exists, it’s not counted as a hard bounce.
What is a click-to-open rate and why should you track it?
The click-to-open rate or CTOR is a measurement of how many click-throughs are received through opened emails. To calculate an email’s CTOR, divide the total unique clicks by total unique opens. Multiply this quotient by 100.
This performance metric shows how effective your email copy is at encouraging people to take action. This is critical information, but very specific. While the CTR is informed by the actions of all of an email’s recipients, the click-to-open rate is only concerned with the actions of people that opened the email.
The CTOR is useful if your main focus is to improve your email content. If you’re taking the holistic approach of refining email campaigns based on the most relevant metrics, it’s best to stick to open rates and click-through rates.
What does a low click rate mean?
- Your emails aren’t getting to the inbox: If your deliverability rate is low, it will affect both your open rate and click rate.
- Your subject line didn’t interest recipients: You’ll know this is the problem if open rate and click rate are low, but deliverability is high. This doesn’t just mean it was a bad subject line — it could have been targeted to the wrong audience. A subject line about coffee might yield a low open rate from tea lovers, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tested on a coffee-loving audience.
- Your email content didn’t inspire action: Finally, if your deliverability and open rates were high, but your click rate was low, it’s likely that the content in your email didn’t resonate with your recipients.
Increasing your click rate is an art. What’s most effective for your business will depend on the current status of your emails. For example, if your deliverability is airtight, it’s not worth your time to try to raise your inbox placement from 99.99% to 99.999%
1. Practice healthy email list habits––and SMS, too!
High email deliverability hinges on healthy lists. Regularly cleaning your list––removing unengaged subscribers before they mark your emails as spam––helps you actually make it into your recipients’ inboxes.
“Please, please don’t blast your list,” says Katherine Burlock, CLV Strategist, &BAM. “Even if it doesn’t affect deliverability––which it surely will––you’re possibly hurting your reputation by blasting the list over and over. Segment out customers versus non customers, and by brand/collection users have shown interest in. There are are a million ways to segment and personalize so you don’t overwhelm the inbox”
You can use customer behavior to segment all kinds of campaigns. For example, on big sale emails, exclude customers who just purchased the product, since a sale on the product they just bought will probably just cause frustration and a potential price match problem.
2. Start at the subject line
“Keep your subject lines short,” says Ashley Ismailovski, CRO Operations Manager, SmartSites. “I know you just created the most amazing email and you can’t wait to share it with your subscribers, but if the subject line isn’t compelling, they just won’t open the message. The fact of the matter is that most emails are read on phones nowadays. This means that length subject lines could get cut off before you get to any of the good stuff!”
3. Create a content test
Remember click-to-open rate? It’s the measure of who clicked a link—based only on who opened the email. It’s not the same as a click rate, but it can be helpful in understanding if a content test is the best way to increase clicks.
If your CTOR is low, it’s a sign that your email content needs some love, and your click rate will thank you for it. To make content adjustments that actually increase click rates, create a content test.
If you want to make incremental changes, choose one element of your email to change. This will help you isolate a single variable and learn something specific, like if a green or white button is more effective. Another great single-variable test is comparing lifestyle and product imagery. You might be surprised what your audience prefers!
“A missed opportunity for many brands is to A/B test key flow messages with both an email and an SMS version,” says Ryan O’Connor, Director of Growth, SmartBug Media. “Oftentimes one channel performs differently depending on the brand and where the customer is in their journey.”
If you choose the latter method, keep as many variables as possible the same. Schedule your two email versions to go to a randomized group on the same day and time. Try to keep email formatting similar to avoid introducing extra variables that might skew one email to perform better than the other for a formatting reason.
4. Optimize your emails for mobile
“Approach your emails from a mobile-first perspective,” says Ismailovski. “The large majority of emails that brands send are opened on smartphones instead of a computer or laptop. When testing your email design, make sure it looks great on small screens in addition to the standard desktop layout.”
Next, visualize how much information the recipient will be able to view on their screen at one time. The smaller screen usually shortens the text lines, so keep copy concise to avoid a block of text filling up the entire phone screen.
5. Rank your CTAs
“Use the squint test to check your email design,” says Nichelle Hubley, Founder, CEO, &BAM. “ Squint until the design blurs and see if you can tell where the customer should click. It should be super freaking obvious. If your CTA doesn’t stand out, then the customer will scroll on by.”
Higher click rate, higher revenue
These tips are great and all––okay, I’m biased––but I want to emphasize that they’re all ultimately intended to help you drive more ecommerce revenue. Driving a higher click rate doesn’t mean much if your revenue doesn’t go up with it, as well.
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Aubrey is a Content Strategist at Klaviyo, where she leads content efforts across EMEA. Her background is in marketing technology, but she most recently worked in ecommerce, giving her a passion for entrepreneurs selling amazing stuff online. When she’s not making content to educate fellow ecom enthusiasts, you can find her in one of the many London parks chasing after her squirrel-happy dog and listening to the Everybody Hates Marketers podcast.
8 email performance tips that work, according to experts
Collect zero-party data––and actually use it
“Dynamic content within email marketing campaigns and flows can be extremely powerful when done well. Focus on specific messaging that aligns with a particular group of users’ interests. How do you get there? Surveys, quizzes, etc. As buzzwordy as it sounds, zero-party data is the key to unlocking the potential of your email and text marketing program.” —Ben Zettler, digital marketing & ecommerce consultant, Ben Zettler Digital
“Personalize your emails. You want to personalize your emails the best you can with the data you have. Personalization will help your user experience stay relevant and keep them coming back for more.” —Tennessee Allgood, lifecycle marketing senior manager, Stak Agency
Make your emails conversational––and you’ll stay out of spam, too
“The reply email is often overlooked. Ask people to reply to 1) engage in a poll, 2) be put on an early access list for a product launch, or 3) answer a question that helps with list segmentation. Just ask people to share and engage beyond opening and clicking.” —Christopher Maroney-Petitt at Ecom Growers
“Use email as a 2-way communication channel with customers. It’s grossly underused, but it has innumerable benefits if executed well for engagement rates, email deliverability, and sales.” —Adam Kitchen, CEO, Magnet Monster
“Use proactive 1-to-1 outreach for your high-value VIP customers. No frills in the design templates, these simple text-based emails or SMS messages build real human connections with customers. Despite the simple design, the experience feels premium and has been shown to increase engagement rate, upsell, and cross-sell.”—Eli Mitchell, director of partnerships at Lexer
A/B test everything––send times, number of emails, CTAs, SMS vs. email, and more
“A/B testing send times is one of the most underrated strategies I see with brands. Just by testing morning sends vs. night sends––or day of the week––you might see an extraordinary difference in conversions.”—Brandon Matis, owner at Luxor Marketing
“A missed opportunity for many brands is to A/B test key flow messages with both an email and an SMS version. Oftentimes, one channel performs differently depending on the brand and where the customer is in their journey.”—Ryan O’Connor, director of growth, SmartBug Media
“Approach your email strategy from a mobile-first perspective. The large majority of emails that brands send are opened on smartphones instead of a computer or laptop. When testing your email design, make sure it looks great on mobile devices in addition to the standard desktop layout.”—Ashley Ismailovski, CRO operations manager, SmartSites
“Increasing cadence––such as adding a lot of resends––can quickly cause list fatigue and drive subscribers away. Focusing on inactive segments––long-term unengaged contacts––often results in low performance and can unleash email deliverability issues. While it’s a good idea to have a re-engagement strategy in place, suddenly emailing a large group of inactive contacts can create spikes in email bounce rate, including hard bounces and complaints, and can even lead to blocklisting. The recommendation here is to be cautious, and ask yourself if the efforts invested in re-engaging inactive segments could instead be automated, and energy reinvested in list growth––therefore focusing on the future, not the past.”—Ananda Farge, senior strategist, CRM and email, Tinuiti
Don’t ignore customer data and signals––change how you communicate, instead
“If an email recipient hasn’t opened an email in a month, don’t continue to send the same content at the same cadence to them. Reach out in a different way. Ask for a preferences update, or offer a discount. If a subscriber opens every email and never clicks, that’s an opportunity for a different type of outreach.”—Abby Siciliano, email expert and director business development, Tinuiti
“Don’t simply point customers to a product page. Point them to an experience with relevant content. The typical experience of ‘clicking around a catalog from an email’ really hasn’t changed that much in the past 30 years. Use email marketing to direct customers to a more interactive experience, whether it’s through a livestream event, 1:1 video co-shopping, or a metaverse implementation.”—Brittany Rycroft, director of marketing, GhostRetail
Email marketing automations are powerful––and still underutilized
“Explore having some fun with your automated emails. Use your abandoned carts, email confirmation and more as an extra reinforcement of your brand. It’s small, but when merchants do it well, it shines.”—Darin Lynch, founder and CEO, Irish Titan