It’s time to rethink email marketing metrics. Here’s how to measure what matters now
The way successful brands measure and optimize their email marketing metrics has changed a lot in the last 2 years.
First, Apple’s iOS 15 privacy features launched in June 2021 allowed Apple Mail users to block third parties from tracking email opens. With 65% of email client market share owned by Apple, that means a significant portion of your brand’s open rate metrics don’t reflect how many people actually opened your email.
Second, inflation, lower retail margins, and a recession that may or may not come are affecting everyone’s spending habits. Your email and SMS channels need to work harder—and smarter—than they did before.
Alexa Kilroy, head of brand at Triple Whale, has noticed the shift. “Consumers are doing less impulse buying, so DTC brands are seeing longer sales cycles,” she says. “Rather than churning and burning through acquiring customers, they’re more focused on retention metrics—and they’re investing in ongoing post-purchase communication.”
The shift in focus from acquisition to retention has deprioritized new subscribers as a metric of success. Smaller, more engaged lists are paving the way toward more revenue. “People are cleaning up their email lists sooner than before,” Kilroy says.
“If subscribers have been receiving emails for 2-3 months and they still haven’t converted, brands are either removing them from lists entirely or segmenting them down more quickly.”
Whereas some marketers may have feared “the end of email marketing” with the launch of iOS 15, what we’re actually seeing is an era of more targeted email marketing strategies.
Experienced email marketers are now less concerned with the total size of their list and more focused on improving deeper engagement and revenue attribution metrics.
In other words: Quality matters more than quantity.
What is a vanity email metric vs. a quality metric?
At its most basic, a vanity metric in email marketing is a measure that may look impressive at first glance but doesn’t inform future business decisions or contribute to revenue goals.
For example, a high email open rate and a growing subscriber list may indicate good email marketing campaign performance on the surface, but neither automatically leads to higher engagement or revenue.
But if you ask any experienced email marketer how they define a vanity metric vs. a quality metric, they’ll almost always say: It depends on your goals.
“It’s not fair to say any particular metric is consistently a vanity metric. But if you’re not meaningfully analyzing open rates, unsubscribe rates, and click-through rates in tandem with your goals for that segment, for that flow, they’ll end up being vanity metrics,” Kilroy says.
Ananda Farge, email marketing associate director at The Stable, says she still values open rate—but only relative to itself and other metrics that inform her about the overall health of an email program. “I’m straightforward with clients about the new limitations of iOS 15,” she says.
“We know that a 60% open rate doesn’t mean 60% of people actually opened your email. But if we had a 60% open rate on Monday, and on Tuesday we see a 40% open rate, we can compare campaigns and make decisions from there. Maybe deliverability dropped off, so we’ll look at that.”
Key takeaway: Email metrics are part of an ecosystem. No one metric is meaningful when examined in isolation. And when you zoom out further, it becomes even more difficult to credit your email marketing efforts without understanding yet another influencing factor: attribution windows.
Why do attribution windows matter in email marketing?
Many marketing tools have an attribution problem: They’re trying to take too much credit for their work.
An attribution window is the time between the moment someone interacts with a marketing asset and the moment they convert, whether it’s buying a product or signing up on a form.
While it’s important to understand attribution so that leadership teams know where revenue is coming from, the importance of attribution extends well beyond the potential ego boost or bust of who gets credit. Attribution is crucial for understanding which parts of your end-to-end marketing strategy are generating revenue—and which ones still need work.
One of the most egregious misallocations of attribution is Facebook, which used to have a 90-day attribution window. That meant Facebook received credit for a conversion no matter which other channels influenced the purchase, as long as the purchaser clicked on a Facebook ad within 90 days.
This encouraged brands to shift more spend to Facebook than brand channels, which left companies with unsustainable revenue models plagued by high customer acquisition costs and lower profit margins.
Owned channels aren’t off the hook when it comes to unrealistic attribution windows. For example, some automation platforms use a default SMS attribution window of 30 days. But when you think about how someone interacts with their text messages, it seems silly to think anyone is taking action on an SMS message that’s more than a few days old.
Klaviyo, on the other hand, applies a 5- to 7-day window for email and an even shorter one for SMS. This is how Klaviyo provides an accurate view of what’s working and what’s not, reflective of how recipients actually interact with email and SMS channels.
But similar to vanity metrics, the way you slice up attribution data will depend on your goals.
“At Triple Whale, we like to use fractional attribution, which divides credit across all touchpoints on your customer’s buying journey,” Kilroy explains. “If you’re working on faster buying decisions, for example, you can use a 7- or 14-day attribution window to see who clicked on a Facebook ad, who clicked on an email, and who maybe decided to buy from an SMS message. But you may need longer attribution windows if you’re trying to shorten your entire buyer’s journey.”
Key takeaway: Email marketing metrics or KPIs (key performance indicators) are only useful when you understand your customer journey as a whole. Always use multiple attribution models to assess the performance of your owned channels in isolation and against other marketing channels like ads, SEO, etc. Multichannel attribution assigns value or credit to each channel that contributes to a conversion or sale. It helps in understanding how different channels work together to drive conversions and allows for a more nuanced assessment of performance.
Now that you know how to measure email marketing metrics, keep reading to learn what to measure—and how to take action to improve.
8 key email marketing metrics to track and optimize in 2023
Now that you know how to measure email marketing metrics, keep reading to learn what to measure—and how to take action to improve.
- Click-through rate (CTR)
- “Active on site”
- Conversion rate
- Revenue per recipient
- Deliverability rates
- Unsubscribe rate
- List growth rate
- Return on investment (ROI)
1. Click-through rate (CTR)
Click-through rate (CTR) is the percentage of recipients who click on a link within an email. When email marketers track CTR, they’re tracking engagement with their emails. The higher the engagement—the more people who click through—the greater the chances that those clicks will result in purchases (though not necessarily).
How to calculate click-through rate
To calculate CTR, divide unique clicks by total email deliveries and multiply by 100.
What’s the difference between click-through rate and click-to-open rate?
Click-to-open rate (CTOR) measures the percentage of people who clicked based only on who opened the email. To calculate CTOR, divide unique clicks by unique opens and multiply by 100.
Your CTOR will be higher than your CTR unless your unique opens are the same as the number of emails you sent. That said, iOS 15 has stripped away a lot of visibility into open rates, so CTOR isn’t as reliable as it used to be.
What is a good click-through rate?
How to measure click-through rate against other metrics
Always assess CTR with context in mind. We recommend assessing it alongside:
- List/segment size
- Conversion rate
- Deliverability rate
For example, Farge says, “If you’re sending to a group of VIP customers who are spending 3x more than your average order value, you’re likely to see a huge click rate.”
“It would be easy to say that email was your top-performing email of the month—but not so fast,” Farge points out. “You may have seen an outstanding click rate on the campaign, but it only went to 4% of your list. We always need to keep our segments in mind so we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.”
How to improve click-through rate
1. Clean up your email lists
If you’re seeing low CTRs, the first thing to check is email deliverability.
Email deliverability reflects how many of your emails are making it to inboxes. Cleaning your email lists—removing unengaged subscribers before they mark your emails as spam—improves overall deliverability by making sure only interested recipients receive your emails.
Interested recipients are engaged recipients, and engaged recipients click.
2. Optimize your subject lines
A great email subject line convinces the recipient to open the email and click through to your website.
First, always view your subject lines on a mobile device view—this is most likely how your recipients will see it. On average, subject lines are 7 words long (including emojis), or 36 characters.
Second, use your subject line to create a curiosity gap, which is the gap between what the reader knows and what they want to know. For example, “The new ingredient that will clear up your skin” creates more curiosity than “Get clear skin with our latest face wash.”
Third, A/B test all subject lines within each of your segments to understand what works and what doesn’t.
3. Make sure your CTAs pass the “squint test”
“Use the squint test to check your email design,” says Nichelle Hubley, founder and CEO, &BAM. “Squint until the design blurs and see if you can tell where the customer should click. It should be super freaking obvious. If your CTA (call-to-action) doesn’t stand out, then the customer will scroll on by.”
If you have more than one CTA in your email, make sure they follow a hierarchy. For example, if your email includes several products with individual purchase links, include a primary CTA to browse all products. People who otherwise might not click on a specific product will still have an incentive to click somewhere and take at least one desired action.
Tip: Track link activity to understand how many people click on each individual link. This will help you identify which CTAs are driving the highest number of clicks and which offers are generating the most interest.
4. Create personalized emails that scale
Email marketing automation, or an automated email, is a message sent to people at scale, typically based on common online behaviors such as subscribing to a list or browsing a website.
Since automated emails are based on behavior, they’re personalized from the get-go—and personalization typically garners more clicks. Welcome emails, for example, perform at 4x the click rate and 23x the conversion rate of non-automated email campaigns, according to Klaviyo benchmarks.
An example of click-through rate improvement
Solo Stove improved their CTRs by 50% when they started sending automated emails based on customer purchases. After purchase, Solo Stove sent customers product suggestions based on items frequently bought together.
As a result, Solo Stove was not only able to increase their CTR, but also decrease their reliance on Amazon in favor of their own online store.
2. “Active on site”
Whereas CTRs are a good place to start measuring engagement, the “active on site” metric measures product interest and buying intent with more granularity.
When you measure website activity, you see what happens after someone clicks on your email—specifically:
- How much time they spend on your website
- Which product pages or landing pages they browse
- What they leave in their carts
How to use “active on site”
Use website activity data to personalize your email marketing strategy. “Active on site” information tells you where people are spending the most time on your website, so you can segment email recipients based on their interests and engagement level.
What is a good “active on site” rate?
With “active on site,” the more website visits, the better. In the example below, recipients visit a website an average of once per week. These recipients are considered “highly active” and warrant the extra effort for a personalized experience that can tip them toward a sale.
An example of using “active on site” to personalize marketing
Let’s say a segment of your recipients has been active on your website at least 4 times in the past 30 days, but they haven’t purchased anything. This is your cue to create an “urgency” email segment with a limited-time offer to accelerate the decision-making process and shorten your sales cycle.
Then, segment that segment based on product page browsing, and voila—you’ve created a personalized limited-time offer.
How to improve your “active on site” rate
1. Segment your lists
“Active on site” presents a bit of a “chicken or the egg” dilemma: You’ll need to segment your lists to improve this metric, but to fine-tune your audience segmentation, you need to understand how people are interacting with your site (yes, our heads are spinning, too).
Start by segmenting based on demographic information you’ve compliantly collected from your subscribers that’s relevant to your brand. As you refine your email marketing strategy with A/B testing, you should start to see enough website traffic to begin segmenting based on behavior.
2. Create interactive content
Interactive content like quizzes, polls, and games can help you accomplish 3 things:
- Keep people on your website for longer periods of time.
- Learn more about your subscribers and segment your email lists more quickly.
- Craft offers the majority of your audience would like.
3. Improve website experience
Similar to when someone walks into a store, your website should offer a positive browsing experience as a reward for clicking on your email. Make sure your website covers usability basics, like:
- Suggesting similar products on product description pages
- Offering several product category selections, including bestsellers
- Investing in detailed product description pages
- Meeting accessibility standards, especially on mobile devices
- Loading quickly, especially on mobile devices
3. Conversion rate
Email conversion rate measures the percentage of recipients who took action after they clicked on an email. The action you’ll likely measure most diligently is the purchase of a product—but this can vary business to business.
How to calculate conversion rate
To calculate email conversion rate, divide total conversions by total email deliveries and multiply by 100.
What is a good conversion rate?
It depends! Across all industries, our latest data indicates an average conversion rate of 0.1% for email campaigns and 1.82% for automations. But results vary across industry and email type.
How to measure conversion rate against other metrics
A high conversion rate is great—but it’s even better when it’s inexpensive to achieve and produceslucrative results. When analyzing conversion rate, always assess alongside revenue per recipient and return on investment.
Revenue per recipient tells you how much your conversion rate is worth. Return on investment tells you how much you paid for a conversion versus how much you made.
A word of caution: For brands running an omnichannel marketing strategy, tracking conversions back to email marketing isn’t always straightforward. For example, your customers may have interacted with your brand mainly via email but converted in-store.
“Consumer behavior changed over the past 2 years and people prefer to shop online—but we’re still seeing a pattern of people coming back to stores,” says Audrey Durand, senior director of digital services at The Stable. “In those cases, we may want to incentivize in-store buyers to make a repeat purchase online.”
This is why collecting Customer-First Data™—information the customer hands over voluntarily—at every step of the journey is so important for strengthening your email marketing strategy.
How to improve conversion rate
To improve conversion rate, apply similar principles to improving website activity—except here, you’ll need to also improve the online purchase experience. Here are some ways to do this:
- Minimize the number of steps to purchase.
- Provide multiple payment options.
- Provide detailed product information, including specifications, customer reviews, user-generated content, and high-quality product images.
- Implement live chat support.
- Optimize for mobile.
An example of conversion rate improvement
Heist Studios improved purchase rate by 50% using segmentation.
To encourage repeat purchase, the London-based lingerie brand gave previous purchasers first access to new colors and styles within their previous purchase category. For example, when Heist released new shapewear in 3 limited-edition colors, past shapewear purchasers were the first to know.
As a result, nearly 50% of Heist Studios’ revenue is repeat—and they’ve seen an 11% increase in average order value (AOV) from a customer’s first purchase to their second.
4. Revenue per recipient
Revenue per recipient (RPR) is how you answer the question: How much money is one email recipient worth?
Whereas return on investment may be more difficult to calculate because it requires knowledge of all your costs, RPR is a straightforward metric for understanding how much money every email recipient is bringing in.
RPR is also great for understanding the efficiency of your email marketing strategy, and whether or not you’re segmenting your list properly.
How to calculate revenue per recipient
To calculate RPR, divide the total amount of revenue your email generated by total email deliveries.
What is a good revenue per recipient?
Surprise, surprise—there is no universal standard for what constitutes a “good” RPR. Brands with higher price points may have a higher RPR benchmark, whereas brands with lower price points may have a lower benchmark.
Across all industries, our latest data indicates an average RPR is $0.12 for email campaigns and $1.91 for automations. But results vary across industry and email type.
How to measure revenue per recipient against other metrics
With email, less is sometimes more—and blasting your entire email list is one way to make sure your RPR plummets.
Farge says email efficiency is something to monitor as soon as your emails start to generate revenue.
“When I’m working with a new client, I’m always looking at overall revenue—but I’m also looking at RPR to make the point that sending more does not mean making more money,” Farge explains. “We want a good RPR rather than just sending to everyone on the list.”
This is why it’s important to monitor RPR alongside unsubscribe rates. If your unsubscribe rates are going up and your RPR is going down, it’s time to clean and segment your lists.
How to improve revenue per recipient
Similar to improving CTR, improving RPR requires making your email marketing strategy “smarter”—which means niching down on your lists with Customer-First Data and segmentation.
Customer-First Data is based on observable behavior like purchasing trends, website activity, email and SMS engagement, and customer service interactions. Use it to segment your lists based on:
- People who have made a purchase
- VIP customers who spend a lot
- Holiday shoppers
- Website browsers
- Cart abandoners
- Product interest
- Event attendees
- Discount shoppers
Segmentation will also help you set expectations for “normal” RPR within each segment. Your discount shoppers, for example, may yield a lower RPR to begin with, but they may yield more over time as they become loyal to your brand.
5. Deliverability rates
Your deliverability rate is the percentage of emails that makes it to your recipients’ inboxes.
As much as we’d like to believe every person on our list receives the emails we send, it’s just not true. Some emails bounce back. Some end up in spam.
If you’re seeing low deliverability rates, it’s likely in the form of:
Email bounces come in two flavors:
- Hard bounces: emails that can’t be delivered because the email address is fake or spam
- Soft bounces: emails that can’t be delivered for a temporary reason, such as a full inbox
Spam complaints happen when an email recipient marks an email as spam. When an email receives enough spam complaints, it sends a signal to email providers that it’s not a great email. As a result, the sender’s reputation is tarnished in the eyes of the email provider—and more of their emails end up in spam folders in the future.
Email deliverability is so important that it’s the first place Farge looks when assessing the overall health of an email program. “There’s a lot happening on the back end that brands don’t always think about,” Farge explains.
“You want to make yourself look as good as possible in the eyes of the email providers, so that you continue going to the inbox.”
How to calculate email deliverability
To calculate email deliverability rate, divide the number of emails delivered to inboxes by the total number of emails sent and multiply by 100.
What is a good deliverability rate?
When assessing deliverability, you’re assessing a few metrics in one: open rate, click rate, email bounce rate, unsubscribe rate, and spam complaint rate.
Here’s where you should aim to be with these metrics to determine the overall baseline health of your email marketing program:
How to improve email deliverability
The best way to improve deliverability is to send good emails to people who asked to receive them. Here are some specific ways to make sure you’re doing that:
1. Clean your lists regularly
As Kilroy mentioned at the top of this article, successful brands are focused on quality lists, not quantity. If someone has been receiving emails for 3-6 months and they still haven’t engaged, remove them from your list with a sunset strategy.
2. Develop a sunset flow
Sunset flows are a last-ditch effort to win back someone’s business after a period of inactivity, either with a special offer or another incentive. If they still don’t convert after that final email, that’s your cue to remove them from your list and decrease the likelihood of a spam complaint.
3. Use double opt-in
Double opt-in is a process that empowers a new subscriber to confirm their subscription after they sign up, but before they’re actually added to your list. This process creates a stronger connection between you and your recipients, and signals that they really do want to receive your email content.
4. Make it easy to unsubscribe
It may seem counterintuitive, but if you make it easy for people to unsubscribe, you reduce the likelihood of spam complaints. You may also give unsubscribers the option to reduce email frequency rather than cutting you off completely, which is good intel for your email sending schedule.
5. Create personalized content
Segmented, personalized content triggered by recipient behavior is the best way to make sure people want what you’re sending.
“Please, please don’t blast your list,” says Katherine Burlock, CLV strategist, &BAM.
“Even if it doesn’t affect deliverability—which it surely will—you’re possibly hurting your reputation by blasting the list over and over,” Burlock explains. “Segment out customers vs. non-customers, and by brand/collection users have shown interest in. There are a million ways to segment and personalize so you don’t overwhelm the inbox.”
6. Unsubscribe rate
Your unsubscribe rate is the percentage of people who receive your email and then unsubscribe from your list.
How to calculate unsubscribe rate
To calculate unsubscribe rate, divide the number of people who unsubscribe by the total number of emails delivered and multiply by 100.
What is a good unsubscribe rate?
According to Klaviyo data, if your unsubscribe rate is less than 0.2%, you’re doing great. But you can get up to 0.3% and still be considered within a good range.
How to measure unsubscribe rate against other KPIs
Before you panic about your unsubscribe rate, check it against your list growth rate. “If you’re seeing higher unsubscribe rates, it could mean different things,” Farge points out.
For example, “it could mean that you didn’t set proper expectations,” Farge says, “but it could also mean you ran an acquisition campaign for an event or a free giveaway, and a lot of people unsubscribed all at once after it was over.”
How to improve unsubscribe rate
To improve unsubscribe rates, review how to improve CTR and email deliverability. The same principles apply.
An example of improved unsubscribe rate
Taylor Stitch, a high-quality men’s and women’s apparel company, decreased their unsubscribe rate by 60% when they segmented their lists and cut email volume in half.
To assess recipient behavior, Taylor Stitch A/B tested sending an email to people who had actively browsed their site or opened more than 3 emails within 180 days. The second email went to the rest of their list, which was double the size.
The active segment clicked through at a rate of 3% and made 36 purchases, whereas the larger list clicked through at a rate of 0.5% and made no purchases at all. This is how Taylor Stitch was able to reduce email volume while sending to a smaller, more engaged list—which ultimately reduced their unsubscribe rate.
7. List growth rate
List growth rate tracks the rate at which you’re acquiring new subscribers to your list. A tricky metric that risks falling into vanity territory, list growth rate is only meaningful when high engagement comes along for the ride.
How to calculate list growth rate
To calculate list growth rate, subtract the number of unsubscribes from the number of new subscribers within a given time period. Divide that number by the total number of recipients on that list and multiply by 100.
What is a good list growth rate?
List growth rate is dependent on so many other metrics we almost don’t want to provide a benchmark. Some organizations think 2.5% growth is a good number to aim for, but your performance here is only as good as your click rate and conversion rate.
How to measure list growth rate against other metrics
Quality matters here more than quantity. Your list growth rate is less indicative of a successful email marketing program if these other metrics aren’t performing:
- Click rate
- Conversion rate
- Email deliverability
How to improve list growth rate
Now that we’ve successfully downplayed the importance of list growth rate, here’s where we acknowledge that new subscriber acquisition is still important. If you want to increase list growth rate, here are a few strategies to try:
1. Pair a sign-up form with a discount
The most common way to gather email addresses is through a sign-up form on your website. You may not want to use a discount to encourage people to sign up, but people who sign up on forms with a discount are 190% more likely to make an initial purchase than people who don’t.
2. Partner with another brand
If your audience is just starting out, consider partnering with a larger brand to give you a boost. Look for brands that aren’t competitors but offer a complementary product, and incentivize email sign-ups on their channels via giveaways, social media content, website promotion, or co-branded products.
3. Use referrals
If you have a loyalty program, use it to grow your email list. With rewards like discounts, early access to new products, or exclusive access to products, incentivize loyal customers to spread the word about your list.
8. Return on investment (ROI)
Your return on investment (ROI) is the financial return from your email program as compared to the money you’ve spent. To calculate the cost of your email marketing program, you’ll need to factor in:
- Marketing and email automation platform cost
- Human resources: writers, designers, data analytics specialists, marketing operations specialists, etc.
- Third-party vendors: list cleaning, strategy, A/B testing, delivery, etc.
- Ads to encourage sign-ups
How to calculate return on investment
To calculate ROI, subtract total costs from revenue attributed to your email channel. Then divide that number by cost and multiply by 100.
What is a good return on investment?
Email marketing continues to earn a high ROI compared to many marketing channels. According to a 2022 report by Litmus, the average ROI for email is $36. That number shoots up to $45 for retail, ecommerce, and consumer goods.
The ultimate takeaway: how to improve return on investment for your email marketing program
When you’re focused on email marketing metrics, the best way to improve your ROI is to analyze metrics as they relate to each other—never in isolation.
No one metric will unlock more ROI for your brand. A high click rate doesn’t mean much if your conversion rate is low, and conversion rate isn’t efficient if your RPR isn’t high enough to be considered profitable.
Through list segmentation, a focus on personalized, relevant content, and human empathy, you can start to improve ROI by simply…giving the people what they want.
Email marketing metrics FAQs
Which email marketing metrics should businesses track?
As every business has unique goals, the insights from tracking email marketing metrics are only useful when analyzed through the lens of clear email performance goals, such as increasing brand awareness, driving sales, or nurturing customer relationships. The most useful email marketing metrics to track are:
- Click-through rate (CTR)
- Active time on site
- Conversion rate
- Revenue per recipient
- Delivery rates
- Unsubscribe rate
- List growth rate
- Return on investment (ROI)
How often should you report on email marketing metrics?
The most important aspect of reporting on email performance metrics is picking a consistent cadence, whether it is bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Longer reporting cadences give an overall picture of the health of your email list and customer loyalty, while shorter reporting cadences give insight into specific campaign performance and can be useful for identifying areas of improvement.
How can you measure the effectiveness of email marketing campaigns?
The foundation for an effective email marketing program is having good email deliverability rates. By prioritizing email deliverability, you are committing to maintaining a healthy email list and ensuring that your customers are getting value from interacting with your brand.