Am I average?

10 minute read

I thought I’d test out some of the ‘average’ statistics of the email world on my own inbox, so I picked an average day (last Thursday) and took a detailed look at all of the messages I received in that 24 hour period. Interesting!



Here we go. I have 1 business email account and 2 personal accounts so in that respect of email users I’m already pretty average – 3 is common.

As a marketer I sign up for and receive a relatively large number of promotional type content but my business inbox figures are still dominated by direct and CC messages from colleagues, business contacts and suppliers – these account for about 65% of the emails.

That’s why all of the figures below are based on my main personal email account. In this respect again I think I’m a fairly average email user and consumer. I’m not an avid online shopper but I do make online purchases for the usual – books, music, gifts, and entertainments. I do actively sign up to receive news and offers from the brands and a few charities that I like and trust (according to the DMA around 90% of consumers are also willing to do this), and I do generally manage things like banking, bills, and other personal-business needs online. I’m an active user of LinkedIn (please connect if you wish) but otherwise my personal social media involvement is relatively low key.

As an email marketer I’m perhaps a little more selective than most in opting-in but on the other hand also a little more adventurous to investigate if I sign up what I might receive. I’m also probably a little more active than many in unsubscribing from unwanted content – of the emails I surveyed I unsubscribed from slightly less than 1% (slightly above average), but I’m equally guilty in allowing continued irrelevant contact from those who should really be dumped.

It’s widely estimated that around 195 billion emails are sent every day to around 4 billion active email address. All things being equal (which they’re not) at 2-3 accounts per person that’s conservatively 2 billion email users each receiving around 80 emails per day. So I’m still average.

Firstly looking at where they are coming from.

Excluding those from friends and family, most of the emails I receive are from businesses or organisations who I know, with around half being from those with whom I’ve had some form of historical contact – a purchase, event attendance or donation. These are almost certainly not illegal but not true permission based contacts either. As far as I know I’m not actively opted in to most, but if push came to shove then it wouldn’t be too hard to identify some form of historical relationship. The next biggest group is social media notifications – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc. My in-app settings attempt to minimise these communications to what’s really useful but it’s still a relatively large source of daily traffic. Again not illegal and not totally unwelcome, but on the whole not generally useful either – more of a distraction.


On a typical day, genuine, current and anticipated opt-in messages account for just 4% of my typical inbox. True spam, that is unknown, unsolicited and unwelcome messages which make it through delivery (at least as far as my junk folder) account for around 15% of messages received. Many others will of course not be delivered but in that respect I’m fortunate. Spam levels have fallen over recent years but estimates are still that spam accounts for between 50-65% of all email traffic.

71% of the messages I surveyed included an unsubscribe option but only 49% included full sender details. That’s below the requirement (100%), but checking over a longer period of time and with colleagues, that seems pretty average.

So what do the emails I receive look like?

Most ‘non-personal’ emails I receive are HTML based, that’s 76% of the total and over 95% excluding those from friends and family.

Good news. Around 13% of them are perfectly responsive – that is they nicely adapt and are equally usable on my desktop, tablet and phone. The content and layout adapts to a single column, small screen viewing area and unnecessary navigation and calls to action are minimised or removed. Perfect. That’s broadly in line with findings from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) who’ve reported around 18% of current emails as being responsive.

Around another 20% of my receipts are broadly described as ‘scalable’. With a bit of pinching, zooming and scrolling I can read them – but that’s if I can be bothered. Again, like the (average 80%) statistics from the DMA unless I’m particularly interested in the sender I’m quite happy to instantly delete the majority of these – life’s too short.

It varies but I typically delete without reading, or based on the subject and sender set to ‘read’ (without reading) around 80% of the messages I receive. This is broadly in line with our own benchmark statistics which show an average open rate, across all industries and all sectors of around 25%. Even then, of those that I do open, I would say I actually read (in detail) and go on to interact with less than a few %. Skimming the content in this way is another really common ‘filter’ and again it’s broadly in line with the 10ish % of emails which are typically opened and then clicked. Open doesn’t necessarily (in fact doesn’t probably) equate to being ‘read’.

And how do they relate specifically to me and my needs?

24% of the emails I surveyed contained no personalisation at all. Some of these of course also fell into the ‘spam’ category but I was surprised also at how many didn’t. 51% made the effort to include at least a minimum of personalisation (first or surname) – this is one of the easy ways to identify those to which I’ve actively subscribed as these invariably personalise as ‘Dear Tony’. Those with ‘Dear Antony’, ‘Dear Dr. Kent’ are a tell-tale giveaway that my details have been (albeit correctly) ‘extracted’ rather than voluntarily donated. Ironically it was the message ‘Dear Natasha’ which was the only name personalisation which sticks in my mind – a sign that mail-merge type personalisation has become so commonplace that we only notice it when it goes wrong.

On the plus side, around 25% of the messages I received contained more specific personalisation, that is information other than my name that is unique to me. However the vast majority of these were the social media notifications. I’m afraid that those from my favourite brands and charities failed badly here, with obviously generic content being broadcast to an un-targeted audience.


This leads me to the real test – relevance. Here again I’m disappointed. It’s a little subjective but even being kind to the senders (excluding those from friends and family) I considered just 4% of the messages to contain information to be directly interesting and relevant. I classed around 22% as FYI – so not strictly irrelevant but really just background information. That leaves a whopping 74% of messages which, other than a possible brand reinforcement, contained no perceivable value to me at all. Considering that I do actually have some form of relationship with the majority of these senders most would also hold useful information which would allow them to better target their content had they wished or tried.

So am I average? Try surveying your own inbox on a typical day and let me know.