When the film critic Roger Ebert first met his future wife Chaz Hammelsmith at a social event in the early 1990s, he thought she was beautiful and worked up the courage to introduce himself, and they exchanged business cards.  It was when they began corresponding by email, though, that she stole his heart; her writing style was poetic, and the fact that her impeccable proofreading skills rendered her emails entirely free of typographical errors was not lost on a journalist like Ebert.  A love story like that can only belong to a bygone era.  Today, no one uses email for courtship, at least not of the personal kind.  These days, people mostly use their personal email accounts to receive updates about products they have ordered and look for promotional offers from their favorite brands and retailers.  In other words, email is for communication between businesses and consumers.  Therefore, if your most recent email marketing campaign yielded less than impressive results, it is not because email marketing is obsolete.  You might need some new strategies to boost email marketing success, or it could be that you are measuring the success of your email marketing campaigns by unrealistic benchmarks.

Email Open Rate, Email Click-Through Rate, and Other Measures of Email Marketing Effectiveness

How many new customers did you get as a result of your most recent email marketing campaign?  Probably none.  How many purchases resulted directly from your email campaign?  It is almost impossible to tell.  A major purpose of email marketing is to remind customers who have already expressed interest in your products or services that you exist, and to keep sending them reminders to that effect until you catch them at the right moment when they are ready to click on your site again.  Imagine that you are the proprietor of an eco-friendly shampoo company, and you are feeling dejected because of a low “conversion rate” from your email marketing campaign.  You sent the recipients on your list two emails per week for a month, and none of them made an order from your site more than once.  That is not because your campaign was unsuccessful.  It was because no one buys eco-friendly shampoo eight times a month and because no one scrolls through hundreds of emails to find a shampoo coupon that a merchant sent weeks ago.

When we measure the success of email marketing, we are actually measuring several things:

  • Email open rate – the percentage of emails that get opened, out of the total emails you send. It varies from one industry to another, but the average across all industries is between 20 and 25 percent.
  • Email click-through rate (CTR) – of the total emails you send, the percentage of emails in which the recipient clicks on an image or follows a link to navigate to your site. Across all industries, the average email CTR is between seven and nine percent; keep in mind that this figure includes the emails that never get opened.  If you only count the emails that actually get opened, then the average click to open rate is about 15 percent.
  • Email bounce rate – The percentage of emails you that never reached a recipient’s inbox. This figure includes email accounts that no longer exist or that never existed, as well as recipients that have flagged your messages and blocked your emails.  The average bounce rest is just under one percent, but you want it to be as close to zero as possible.

How to Improve Your Email Open Rate

Here are some tips for improving your email open rate:

  • Use email formatting that makes your emails display well on mobile devices. Ideally, it should let the recipient see one or two sentences of preview text before they even click to open the message.
  • Follow the best practices for subject lines, including personalization and getting to the point about what you are offering. One or two emojis in a subject line can be eye-catching, but don’t use multiple exclamation points or “text speak” spellings, because it will look unprofessional and spammy.
  • Make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe from your list. Your email marketing campaigns should only include people who really want to receive your emails.
  • Have recipients opt in to your email list, more than once if possible. The surer you are the people on your email list want to continue receiving your emails, the higher your click-through rate will be.
  • Remove inactive members of your email list. For example, if someone has not opened any of your emails in a year, remove them from the list.

How to Reduce Email Bounce Rate

These are some guidelines for keeping your email bounce rate as low as possible:

  • Do not buy email lists; most of the people on them have never shown interest in your products, and some of the email addresses are no longer valid.
  • Don’t require people to enter an email address when they buy from you in person or by phone and then use those addresses as an email list. People are as likely to give fake email addresses to companies eager to send unsolicited emails as they are to give a fake phone number to a creepy guy who flirts with them in a nightclub.
  • Don’t include attachments, large images, or anything else that makes it difficult for email servers to deal with them.

As with any aspect of marketing, trial and error is the key to success.  Successful email marketing requires continuous A/B testing and refining your strategy based on user response.