Email marketing analytics – 101

12 minute read

The numbers are being crunched and we’ll soon be releasing our 2016 Email Marketing Benchmark report. If you don’t already know it – this documents a range of performance analytics compiled from over 1 billion emails sent via the platform over the last 12 months. They all relate to campaigns sent from a range of small-medium sized, primarily UK organisations and public sector departments, sent to fully opted-in business and consumer lists (by the way – you can download the latest Benchmark Report here).

With that in mind, I thought I’d prepare the ground with a series of posts on the subject of analytics. It’s a big subject so look out for a number of analytics and performance related blog posts over the coming weeks.

Firstly, why are performance analytics important?

It’s easy to think of email marketing as a linear step-by-step process. You assemble your data, create you campaign, send and analyse. In reality it’s more of a repeated cycle and analysing your performance is a critical step in refining your future campaigns. It allows you to quantifiably assess what works and what doesn’t, at a quite granular level, and is the intelligence you need for both improvement and demonstrating return on investment.

One of the great things about email marketing is the wealth of analytics data which is available. This ranges from the usual metrics like opens, clicks and unsubscribes, to more useful measures of campaign performance like click to open and unsubscribe to open rates. If you’ve set specific goals (it could be a web download or even an online purchase) you can track this as a goal too. This gives you real insight to the commercial value and

If you’ve set specific goals (it could be a web download or even an online purchase) you can track this too. This gives you real insight to the commercial value and return on your campaign investment. And it’s not just at the campaign level. Email marketing allows you to track campaign engagement to the individual subscriber level, providing valuable information on their likes and preferences, even how they interact with your website.


Over the first 3 blog posts I’ll be describing the type of metrics available, discussing which ones to use and outlining what you can learn from them. So, coming up…

1. Standard performance metrics: opens clicks etc
2. Derived metrics, goals and subscriber level tracking
3. ‘After the click’ tracking

The normal metrics that you commonly see are things like delivery statistics, opens, clicks and unsubscribes. They’re a good place to start.

Without doubt, the first ‘standard’ metric you should be looking at is your delivery rate.

Delivery measures the messages that were accepted for delivery by the recipient mail servers. These messages got through the first phase of ISP filters (which look at the reputation of the sending domain and other technical characteristics) but this doesn’t guarantee that the message got to the inbox, as further spam filter checks will be applied to the message to determine if it goes into the junk mail folder or straight to the inbox.


If you are looking at delivery statistics then you should also review your hard and soft bounces – that is those messages which had a permanent fatal or temporary delivery error. These can yield useful information about the cause of the bounce and tell you if you’re being intentionally blocked. An unusually high bounce rate could indicate problems with your content or your domain reputation that you need to address.

The next 2 most common performance metrics are Opens and Clicks.

Opens is probably the most widely used and quoted metric. Unique opens shows you how many people have rendered your email and/or interacted with it by clicking a link. This figure will only include emails rendered in HTML format. It’s not a guarantee that they fully read the email, or a definitive indication that people not listed as opens didn’t (especially if you follow best design practices and your email is readable without images) but it is an excellent benchmark for measuring engagement across different emails sent to the same group of subscribers.

Click tracking is probably the next most common standard metric. Most campaigns contain links which drive readers through to additional content or actions. Clicks (that is the total (or unique) number of clicks) is a valid metric in its own right but click through rate (CTR) is often more useful. This this is the proportion of unique recipients who click at least one link in your email, so you know that this many people interacted with your email beyond just opening it. This number gives you a good basis for judging the relative success of your campaign, particularly if you have a clearly defined objective that you are directing readers towards. For greater granularity you can of course also track the clicks to individual links in your campaign.


You should also take a moment to review your unsubscribes – that is the number of recipients who opted out after receiving this campaign. This is measured using the unsubscribe link that is added into your campaign by your email service provider (by the way this should always be in every campaign you send as it’s a legal requirement). Unsubscribes is normally expressed as a percentage of the number of emails sent. Large numbers of unsubscribes is an alert that all is not well – either with your data or your campaign content.

With all these (even basic) metrics available, how do you choose the right ones to monitor?

Low rates of delivery are a good indication of problems with your data or your sender relationship. It’s also sometimes a good measure if brand awareness is your main objective. Your customers might not be purchasing a new car or holiday of a lifetime every week, but if you can get the essence of your brand and message into just the subject line then opening of your message may not be needed in order to keep your brand in the forefront of their minds.

Assuming that the content of your message is important then Open rate is the next thing to look at.

Opens are tracked through the rendering of an included image pixel. Since images are routinely downloaded (especially on mobile devices) it can be a difficult metric to interpret – but its valuable none-the-less, readily accessible and widely used. By the way, there’s no guarantee that an opened email has been read, that’s why although it’s a very common performance metric we wouldn’t generally consider open rate as a true measure of campaign engagement.

Since it requires both a successful open and a conscious completion action by the recipient click-through rate is generally a better measure of campaign engagement than open rate. It helps you to differentiate the motivation for opening your campaign and for subsequent interaction with your content. However, for a more in-depth assessment you should always review your click-through results in relation to your click-to-open rate and ultimately to any specific goal-based objectives – we’ll come to this in the next blog post.

Remember that whatever metrics you review statistics are captured and displayed in real-time, so when analysing a campaign you may need to wait 24–72 hours to see the most relevant results.

And, what should you expect?

We’re just about to update our figures for 2015 (watch this space for our 2016 Email Benchmark Report…coming soon) so these results are compiled from emails sent between 1st January and 31st December 2014.

summary (new)

Regarding delivery all being well, you should be in the high 90’s (typically around 97%) in terms of delivery percent. It’s commonly quoted that average open rate performance is typically in the range of 10-15%, with high performers achieving 15-20%. The DMA (Direct Marketing Association) document a quarterly range of 19.5% to 21.6% with a 2014 UK average of 22.9%. Our data shows a spread of averages across the UK sectors of 17.14% to 36.89% with an overall average across all sectors of 24.45%.

Like open rates, click-through rates show significant variability across the tracked industry sectors, ranging from 1.67% for the General Sales & Marketing category to 11.03% for the Public Sector. The average across all tracked sectors is 3.13% a value which is also echoed by the DMA.


High unsubscribe rates are an active indication of dissatisfaction. High one-off unsubscribes might just indicate a campaign that’s somehow missed its target, but where high or growing unsubscribes is a trend it is likely to indicate more serious problems with your data, content or both. Take a good look if you are experiencing unsubscribe rates of greater than 0.5%.

I’ll be back soon with the second and third parts of this discussion on analytics, and I’ll be introducing some other analytics-related topics over the coming weeks. Stay tuned.