Email Marketing Click-Through Rate Explained

Email click-through rate

Big changes are coming this Fall. Because of the upcoming iOS 15 update that’s going to stop pixel tracking mail, marketers will no longer be able to rely on open rates. So clicks are the new black now! It’s time to freshen up your knowledge about the email click-through rate and how to boost it.

What is email click-through rate and how to calculate it

What’s a perfect email campaign? Well, it’s when you send a message, people open it, click on a button, visit your website, buy/order/subscribe, whatever. Profit!

In a perfect world, maybe. In reality, only about 20% of subscribers would open your email, several times fewer folks will click, and still much fewer will buy or perform another targeted action.

So, before you get them to buy, you first need them to engage. The way to conversions basically looks like opens —> clicks —> purchases, and a marketer is always on the lookout for best practices to improve on every step of this way.

It’s natural to start with the opens, and the majority of email marketers do so:

According to Litmus

According to Litmus, in 2020, Open rate, Click rate, and Unsubscribe rate were the metrics used most often for tracking the KPIs of email campaigns. Source: Litmus

But since the opens are soon going to become unreliable, the focus will go to the second-best performer — clicks. Standing between opens and conversions, it’s a great indicator that tells you a lot about how healthy your campaigns are.

Formula explained

Click-through rate (CTR) is a ratio of the number of unique clicks your campaign got to the number of times it was sent, as a percentage. You divide the number of contacts who clicked on a link in your email at least once by the total number of people who received the message, and multiply the result by 100:

Formula explained

Example

If your CTR is 5%, it means that for every 100 people who got your email, 5 of them opened and clicked a link there.

You don’t have to count it manually, though. Your email service provider (ESP) will do it for you.

Here are some results from one of our own campaigns in the Unisender account:

Here are some results

If you hover over the results, you’ll see numbers, not percents:

If you hover over the results

Types of CTR

It would be fair to say that CTR comes in different varieties. 1% (or 192) of clicks you see in the above example is the number of unique clicks or UCTR. There’s also TCTR — the total number of clicks.

UCTR means how many unique clicks an email got. That is, one click/one person/one time. If you click a link twice, it won’t count. If you click the same link on a different device, it won’t count either.

TCTR is the total number of clicks, no matter how many devices are involved and everything else.

If you take the same campaign and go deeper, you’ll get to a page where you’ll see how many unique and total clicks an email got. Hover the mouse over the “clicks” results and you’ll see a tooltip:

Types of CTR

There’s also the difference between CTR (click-through rate) and CTOR (click-to-open rate). CTOR is another, similar albeit distinct, metric that measures the comparison between the number of unique clicks and unique opens. It shows you how well your campaign performed among your audience that is already engaged enough to open your messages. That’s why it’s always several times higher than CTR. For example, if you sent an email to 100 people, 20 of them have opened it and 5 of that 20 have clicked, your CTOR is 25%.

Why click-through rate is important

Does CTR matter? It sure does, especially if you can’t count on opens anymore. Before, many marketers would focus on the first stage of the conversion funnel — opens. If your open rate is above average, that’s good. That was enough for many. Now, your metric to go is the clicks.

Yet, the ultimate goal is to sell, so if few people went on to visit your website, it means you’re far from the goal. CTR measures engagement and is food for thought, whether it’s good or bad.

If your click-through rate is good, it means your audience finds your offer interesting enough to make the first step to purchasing.

If your click-through rate is bad, it means that your campaigns aren’t living to their full potential. They can do better! And you can, too.

The point is, even if you have some sales, it doesn’t mean you’re doing OK. If your CTR is below average, it means you have opportunities to do better and explore your potential.

After all, the more clicks you have, the higher your ROI and the more profitable your campaign, and the more money you get to spend on other business areas.

Analytics helps you improve your marketing. Without it, you are blind. Without gauging your performance, all efforts are pointless.

What is a good and an average CTR for email in different Industries

OK, but what exactly is below average or above average? What are the benchmarks?

It depends on the industry. Plus, various ESPs have their own survey with similar though slightly different results. We’ve gathered several of them and made a list for you to better understand the situation.

#1 Unisender survey

The first one is our own survey that we did last year. We analyzed almost 7 billion emails sent through our service from 06.2019 to 06.2020. And here are the results:

Unisender survey

Thus, our clients’ average CTR seems to be 1.70%. Systems integrators (4.52%), Government (3.83%), Science (3.59%), Network marketing (3.30%), Hosting providers (3.17%), and E-commerce (2.93%) are the leading industries. Things are the toughest in Web design (0.24%) and SMM.

Pro tip

In Unisender, you can compare your campaigns’ results with how other companies are doing the industry right inside your personal account. It’s available for clients with Standard and Premium pricing plans. Read more about this feature’s benefits and where to find it.

#2 GetResponse survey

GetResponse analyzed 5.5 billion messages sent by their customers and had the following results:

Source: GetResponse
Source: GetResponse

Their average CTR is 2.13%. The top industries are Nonprofits (3.60%), Restaurants & Food (2.99%), and Real Estate (2.42%). Travel (1.61%) and Internet Marketing (1.66%) seem to be underperforming. Understandably with Travel (hey Covid-19), but what’s with Internet Marketing? Tell us in the comments if you know.

#3 Campaign Monitor survey

Campaign Monitor analyzed over 100 billion emails sent with their help between January and December 2020 and found out the following:

Source: Campaign Monitor
Source: Campaign Monitor

Their average click-through rate is 2.60%. The leading industries are Government and Politics (6%), Nonprofit (4.10%), Education (4.30%), and Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting (4%). The lowest CTR is in Retail (1.10%) and Food and Beverages (1,70%).

#4 MailChimp survey

And one more (rather lengthy but detailed) result table compiled by MailChimp after scanning billions of emails delivered by their system in 2019:

Source: MailChimp
Source: MailChimp

They report their average CTR as 2.62%. The top-performing industries are Hobbies (5.01%), Media and Publishing (4.62%), and Government (3.99%). Industries with a bit more work to do are Restaurant (1.34%), Restaurant and Venue (1.40%), and Vitamin Supplements (1.62%).

Factors that affects email CTR

Now that you have a sense of direction, what to do if your click-through rate leaves something to be desired? The next step is to find out what factors affect this metric.

Days

What days of the week are best to send emails is an old question but one that every email marketer has to face. It turns out, there’s no big difference between days of the week, though Friday seems to be the day when people click more often followed by Wednesday. Saturday is the worst day CTR-wise:

Source: Campaign Monitor

GetResponse seconds these findings:

Source: GetResponse

Source: GetResponse

At the same time, with little competition, Sunday has the highest click-to-open rate:

Source: GetRespons

Source: GetRespons

An opportunity worth exploring, perhaps?

Hours

OK, we get it with days, now let’s look into hours.

According to surveys, subscribers click more often in emails sent in the early morning and the evening:

Hours

CTA placement

Next — the placement of your call(s) to action.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but the CTA placement directly influences how much attention it gets, and this basic idea often gets overlooked. So before you delve into more sophisticated marketing practices, check whether you at all have a CTA in your message and it’s easy to notice. Place the most important information on the first screen.

On MarketingExperiments, they describe several cases that show the importance of CTA placement. In one case, simply by adding a prominent button to the top of the email, they got a 340% increase in click-through rate. In another case, they moved a CTA from the middle to the top and got a 17% increase.

Tell what you offer and place a button right after. Don’t forget to make it contrast against the background and surround it with white space to distinguish it from other elements.

Images

In general, content with graphics works better than content without them, emails are no exception. Vero analyzed over 5,000 email campaigns and found out that campaigns with images had a 42% higher CTR than campaigns without images. These findings are backed by GetResponse, who say that image-based emails get 2.68% CTR vs text-based messages with 1.56% CTR.

If you heard that plain text messages are in fashion, that’s true too. The thing is, plain text is good for specific email campaigns where subscribers are used to this kind of messaging. Plus, technically, a plain text email not only contains no images and fancy design, but there are no hyperlinks also. So minimalistic email with links that looks like this…

Source: Litmus

Source: Litmus

…is actually more appropriately termed as a “plain text like” email that is in truth an HTML campaign. That’s a trend many brands are embracing, but in the great majority of cases, your email will benefit from having images.

Their number depends on the type of your email and your aim, there’s no ratio that guarantees success. The general rule is that the more images an email has, the more spam-like it looks to email services, so try to dedicate no more than 30-40% of an email’s real estate to graphics. Still, if your message is part of a promo campaign that advertises a line of products, there’s no way you can do it without some images:

Source: Email Love

Source: Email Love

Try different approaches and experiment with graphics. What’s important is that each one of them should be:

  • Consistent with the branding and other marketing materials.
  • Optimized for the web. Use tools like Optimizilla for image compression.
  • Accompanied with Alt texts that provide your images’ context. It’s good for websites and critical for emails because many email clients and individuals disable the automatic loading of images in their emails.
  • Of sufficient quality. It’s not really about whether you use photo stocks or not. Make sure the graphics look good and true to the product or service they depict so that subscribers are willing to visit your website for more.

Region

Click-through rate also differs from region to region:

Source: Campaign Monitor

It looks like the average global CTR is about 2.6-2.7% with Australia exceeding this figure and showing the result of 3.1% whereas Great Britain has a dramatically lower CTR of 1.6%.

According to another source, the highest CTR is in Europe (2.64%) followed by North America (2.41%), and the lowest one is in Africa (1.40%). Country-wise, you’ll get more clicks if you launch your email campaign in the Philippines (6.27%), Canada (5.92%), Belgium (5.45%), or Germany (4.32%). In Vietnam (0.77%), Mexico (1.17%), and India (1.29%) getting clicks is trickier than usual.

Tips to increase email marketing click-through rate

And finally, a few practical tips to improve your email click-through rate.

Clean your list

Start with cleaning up your lists. If you haven’t done it for some time and your CTR has dropped, these things are most likely connected. The contact quality has a direct impact on how much engagement you receive. If part of your audience is used to ignoring your messages, it’s hard to expect that they would click a button, let alone buy. That’s actually the title of one of our latest articles — “How To Clean Your Email List and Boost Engagement”. Check it out for actionable advice on making your contact base squeaky clean.

Add a strong subject line and a preheader

Make subject lines:

  • Clean and honest. Promise exactly what you are going to offer. Failed expectations are part of life but it’s better for your brand to not multiply them.
  • Useful and relevant. Any time a person sees another piece of content, they ask themselves consciously or subconsciously “What do I get from this?” That’s why subject lines with words like “newsletter”, “pdf”, “book”, “video” generate higher CTR.
  • Intriguing and attention-drawing. It’s not like you have to spend hours inventing super-creative headings but sometimes it pays to put here and there little things like emojis, questions, or subscribers’ names.
  • Play on emotions. Capitalize on human desires, curiosity, vanity, fears. Intrigued? We have an article that explores the emotional approach to email subject lines.

Don’t forget about the preheader. Statistics show that the click-through rate of emails with preheaders is 3.32% vs 2.23% of emails without them.

Segment your audience and make your content more relevant

It’s difficult to please a large list with one message. Imagine you have dry skin. What feels better, to get an email that promotes the entire beauty parlor’s stock or the line of products for dry skin? Targeted messages naturally get stronger reactions.

Divide your list into several smaller ones using segmentation techniques and send separate emails to each group. Marketers with smaller lists are better at engaging their audiences, so their messages tend to get a higher click-through rate. MailChimp compared the results of segmented campaigns to the results of the same non-segmented campaigns and found out that segmentation yields 100.95% better CTR.

Reduce the number of CTAs

That’s right, with a lot of CTAs in front of them, readers’ attention gets diluted and it becomes hard to make any kind of choice. Take a look at this hardcore specimen found on the web:

Reduce the number of CTAs

Click… where? This is too much, I want out! Source: medium.com

This is an extreme example, but the main point is that if you have several calls to action, try to reduce their number, especially if their messages are diverse. MarketingExperiments describes the case where the reduction of CTAs and making them more prominent got a 43% lift in CTR.

Create a sense of urgency

Good old FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) makes people do things right there on the spot instead of putting them off for later never.

  • Set the end date for the promotion and add a timer.
  • Say that supply is limited.
  • Use a combination of active and urgent words like “now”, “buy”, “free”, or “sale”. Only, don’t overdo it or you’ll draw the attention of spam filters.
  • Avoid vague CTA texts like “Click here”. Add more action-oriented and specific “Get on the Guest List” or “Get My Free PDF” instead.
An email with a timer from Banana Republic

An email with a timer from Banana Republic. Source: Stripo.email

Optimize for mobile

Mobile is the top environment for people to read emails. Here’s the fresh 2021 data from Litmus:

Source: Litmus

Source: Litmus

There’s no current data on the correlation with the click-through rate (back in the days mobile had lower CTR than web-based clients). Still, the percentage you see above means that mobile versions of emails are a prerequisite for clicks and conversions.

  • Adjust the size of the pictures so that they fit into smaller screens.
  • Align product cards.
  • Hide some of the blocks on the mobile version and add specific ones like the “Call” button.
  • Send a test campaign and make sure the text size is OK, CTAs are discernable, and a layout hasn’t gone awry.

Automate for personalization

Email automation exists to help you get rid of the routine and set up personalized email flows. Messages are sent automatically in response to some event or subscriber action like making a purchase or registering with your service. And since all the emails in these flows are targeted and are a part of a larger experience, they always get higher CTR:

Klaviyo’s general click-through rate

Klaviyo’s general click-through rate is 2.25%. With automated emails, it’s 3 times higher. Source: Klaviyo

Find the right frequency

The click-through rate also depends on how often you send your messages. If you don’t know how often you should send, start with 1-2 emails a week. Statistics show that you get higher CTR if you send no more than 5 emails a week:

Source: GetResponse

Source: GetResponse

Email marketing is super-adaptive

Email marketing is about to change with click-through rate becoming its most important metric. Although it’s not new, it’ll take time to adjust to the new reality. The good thing is — email marketing has lived through a lot, and it’s only becoming stronger.

So, things to know about the click-through rate:

  • You calculate CTR by dividing the number of contacts who clicked on a link by the total number of people who received the message and multiply the result by 100.
  • There’s UCTR that measures unique clicks, TCTR that measures the total number of clicks, and CTOR that measures the comparison between the number of unique clicks and unique opens.
  • The average click-through rate is somewhere between 1.70% and 2.62% and depends on the industry.
  • If your CTR is below average, try cleaning up your lists and segmenting them, paying attention to the day and time you launch your campaigns, working on CTAs, images and subject lines, and trying other tips from this guide.

What is your average CTR? How do you improve it?

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