Email benchmarks 2016: click-through performance

9 minute read

Clicks are a clear engagement signal. The good news is both click-through and click-to-open rates show an overall increase over the previous year. Figures from our 2016 email benchmark report show the average click (or click-through) rate across all sectors to be 3.42% (previously 3.13%). The average click-to-open (CTO) rate is 10.88% (previously 10.79%).

Clicks and CTO

I’ve already looked in detail at open rates, so for the second dive into the findings of our 2016 Benchmark Report, today I’m reviewing what the report tells us about click-through rates and the related metric click-to-opens.

Firstly, definitions of performance metrics vary, so to define both terms. Click-through rate is defined as the number of unique clicks divided by the total of emails delivered. You may also see this referred to as the click-to-deliver rate. Click-to-open rate is defined as the number of unique clicks divided by the number of opens. Both results are expressed as a percentage. A click can relate to any linked content – for example linked text, images, a specific call to action button or social sharing icons.

Historical trends 2010 – 2016

From the benchmark report archives both metrics have shown variation over the last 7 years of accumulated data. Click-through, although variable over recent years, is now at the highest level since 2010.

Clicks history

Click-to-opens has seen a progressive decrease over the same period, from a 2011 high of 18.07%. The 2016 data shows a small recovery on the same period last year.

CTO history

Clicks and click-to-open rates by sector

Looking in more detail across the individual sectors, click-through rates show significant variability, ranging from 1.33% (previously 1.67%) to 9.69% (previously 11.03%). Click-to-opens also vary considerably (from 4.68% to 25.36%) – with an overall average of 10.88% – a 0.8% increase from 2015.

Clicks/CTO by sector

Click rate by sector – 2015 to 2016

The graph below shows click-through rates for each sector from our 2105 and 2016 benchmark reports. 10 sectors saw an average increase in click-through rate from 2015 – the largest increases were in Sales/ Marketing/Design and Health/Beauty. By contrast 13 sectors saw an average decrease in click-through rate from 2015. The largest decreases were in Engineering/ Manufacturing and Online Services.

Clicks 2015-2016

Click-to-open rate by sector – 2015 to 2016

The graph below shows click-to-open rates for each sector from our 2105 and 2016 benchmark reports. 12 sectors saw an increase in click-to-open rate from 2015. The largest increases were in Health/Beauty and Legal/Accounting. 11 sectors saw a decrease in click-to-open rate from 2015.The largest decreases were in Online Services and Engineering/Manufacturing.

CTO 2015-2016

Some considerations.

Getting your readers to click through to additional content is a common objective, so by their nature, both clicks and click-to-opens are a measure of successful engagement. Crucially they also begin to tell you how your readers are reacting to your content rather than just to you as a sender or the appeal of your subject line. If you missed it have a look back at my previous blog post Clicks and/or Click-to-opens. This goes into a little more detail about the definitions and the key differences in interpretation between clicks and click-to-opens.

Clicks or opens?

Not all email campaigns contain links and so click-through (or click-to-opens) may not be a high priority metric to review. For campaigns where all of the key content is included in the email itself, and where there is no further information or action required it’s likely that open rate might be a more suitable metric. Since opens and clicks indicate the strength of different aspects of a campaign, generally review both.

More links means more clicks?

Another very common situation is the inclusion of multiple links in a single campaign. By the way, when calculating clicks and click-to-opens we always record unique clicks only (that is multiple clicks on a link by the same person within the campaign are not recounted). We feel that this gives a more realistic measure of engagement.

Eye trackingIt doesn’t necessarily follow that including multiple links will increase the likelihood that your reader will respond by clicking one or more of them – it depends on the nature of the content being presented and the action that you want people to take. For example newsletter type campaigns often contain multiple links through to additional online content (the expanded story, additional images and references).

Readers will scan the headlines (also any included images and teasers) and then selectively click through only to the articles of interest. Eye-tracking studies often show the golden triangle, the F-shape and the left-hand vertical as common forms of visual website scanning. This has important implications for emails too, notably how and where you place your content and your click through links in order to optimise exposure and hence the likelihood of action being taken.

Engagement heat maps

One neat way of tracking the relative impact of multiple links is to a view a heat-map analysis of your campaign – there’s more on heat-maps in this recent blog post.

Heat map analysis

Text, images or buttons?

It’s also common to include both text and image links, often duplicating the same call to action. Online readers (of both email and we content) are generally attuned to recognise text links. Sticking with typical convention like blue highlight and underline will help readers easily identify the links from standard text. Images are slightly less intuitive – readers do recognise the change in cursor when moving over a clickable image but if clicking the image is an important or even your primary call to action then it’s worthwhile making this clear in the content of the image itself.

text and image links

Social sharing icons (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) are a common image link addition to many campaigns – often at the top or bottom of a campaign layout. Our experience indicates that these are generally recognisable as a call-to-action but that they’ll not attract large volumes of clicks. If social sharing (for brand awareness) is a specific objective of a campaign it’s worthwhile adding this a specific and clear call-to-action, rather than just relying on passive sharing through the otherwise included icons.

Social sharing

Social icons

This also leads to specific call to action buttons – ‘click me’, ‘shop now’, ‘get a quote’ etc.

Not surprisingly short, compelling and clear call to action buttons work very well as a key or primary call to action (too many can induce call to action confusion and fatigue). They also work really well on mobile devices where a clear call to action and a large interaction area is especially desirable.

Shop now

Traditionally call to action buttons would have been included as images with an attached link. Changing the message would require creation and re-loading of a new image. As a neat feature includes customisable call-to-action buttons as a specific content type so you can just type your text, theme your button and add the link … ‘Shop Now’.

Consistency is generally good, but it depends on your brand style and the expectation of your audience. I recently attended a seminar which recommended clear (single if possible) calls-to-action, centre justified and ideally in green (green means ‘it’s safe to go’) or blue – but not red or other colours likely to evoke fear or hesitation. Interesting!