Email marketing: the risks of comparing your open rates and click-through rates with those of others

The most used tactical metrics in email marketing still include the ‘open rate’ and the ‘click rate’ or ‘click-through rate’ (CTR). 

Just as a reminder: the ‘open rate’ is a percentage that expresses the ratio between the number of emails that are delivered to the recipient (all emails that reached the inbox) and the number of subscribers who actually opened the mail. 

The CTR is the number of emails that were clicked at least once, divided by the number of delivered emails. 

Both metrics can be calculated differently now and then. Some marketers don’t look at the number of delivered emails but the number of sent emails. A big difference indeed so, when benchmarking, make sure you’re not comparing apples and pears. 

The ‘open rate’ and the CTR depend on several factors such as the relevance of the content, the timing of the email, the subject line and of course list hygiene. 

With the latter I mean how up-to-date and ‘clean’ you keep your email list. If you never delete email addresses from recipients that never interact with your mails (even after having tried to reactivate them), it goes without saying that this affects both metrics. 

Most ESPs regularly publish the average “open rates” and “click rates” they (or better: all their customers in average) achieve with their email marketing platforms. It’s an interesting barometer to find out how effective your campaigns are, but as I said: beware. 

The calculation can be different but there are many other elements to take into account. Every ESP has a different platform, different customers from different countries or industries and with different lists. Some ESPs focus more on small and medium businesses and some try to distinguish themselves by reaching out to vertical industries and sometimes a specific focus on a specific type of customer might simply be historical.

However, given the volume of emails most ESPs consider when drafting their trends and benchmarking reports, they remain an interesting resource for email marketers.

Benchmarking is good but, again, be careful. And finally: note that many ESPs offer tools that enable you to compare your open rates and click rates with those of similar companies that use the same platform.

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