The email industry has had a long love for benchmarks (we even started EmailStatCenter.com many moons ago), and one of the most frequent questions we encounter is “what should my open/click/unsubscribe rate be?” We often find that many people are using industry benchmarks as the standard by which they judge the success of their own program. While benchmarks are useful tools in that they are a reflection of how the email channel as a whole is trending over time, they should not be used as the yardstick by which you measure the success of your program.
Where benchmarks are channel trends, baselines are measures of your program’s historical trends. It is against these metrics that you should set your goals and measure the success of your program month-over-month and year-over-year. As much as possible, it’s prudent to be granular in these baseline measurements, looking not only at your email program as a whole, but also how different campaign types and audiences perform.
So, what baseline metrics should you be using to measure the success of your program? Ultimately, we strive for a cohesive cross-channel attribution model that allows us to assign dollars to an individual email campaign. However, that requires an entire organizational shift in the way all campaigns across all channels are tagged, tracked and analyzed. Looking at email as a single channel, we recommend the following metrics:
Open Rate (unique opens / delivered)
Open rates measure brand awareness. By simply seeing your brand’s name in the from name or a catchy subject line, a subscriber was enticed to open your email.
Click-Through Rate (unique clicks / delivered)
Click-through rates measure interest. The subscriber saw something in the email that interested them enough to take the next step. While clicks are a valuable metric and certainly indicative of campaign success, we also use and prefer effective rate.
Effective Rate (unique clicks / unique opens)
Effective rate, also called action rate or CTOR (click-to-open rate) is often a better measure of intent and the effectiveness of your content for a given audience. This metric asks, of those who opened, how many liked what they saw enough to click?
While we also routinely measure the bounce rate or delivered rate as well as the unsubscribe rate, we don’t view these as true measures of the success of your program. These are metrics that should be pretty constant, so we monitor them solely for large shifts one direction or the other but not necessarily as a trend over time (as we expect that to be largely flat).
Assess your own program and be sure that you are assigning a success metric or KPI for every campaign or audience type before sending a single email.