How to Improve Email Marketing Metrics: A Beginner's Guide

You've done it! After much planning, editing and testing, you've entered the world of email marketing and sent your first campaign. This momentous event comes with much anticipation, but all of that excitement can be quickly squashed if a campaign yields low metrics. 

Don't give up yet: low metrics are a symptom of small errors that can be easily fixed. Read on to learn how you can improve your email metrics and become an inbox superstar.

In order to properly address low metric causes and solutions, I think it makes sense to start with metrics you should be paying attention to. Even better, I've done a little digging around to pull you some benchmarks for each one.

Remember, these numbers are guidelines and not facts. Each industry will see fluctuations based on unique audience interaction levels. 

Unsubscribe Rate

Even the healthiest email list is prone to the occassional sayonara from a disinterested reader or dead address. The average list decays at 25% per year - if you're seeing significant unsubscribes corresponding to unique messages or campaigns, it's time to take a second look at your methods.

According to MailChimp, the Construction industry sees the highest average unsubscribes per message at 0.415%.

Open Rate

Having a hearty list doesn't mean much if your recipients are disinterested in your messages. Average open rates range anywhere from 20% all the way up to almost 50% depending on industry.

If you're lingering anywhere below that low end, you've got some optimizing to do.

Click Through Rate

Getting someone to open your email is half the battle, and it's usually the harder half. But you can't report much success if people are opening the message and taking no action.

Click through rates measure the percentage of your users who are actually clicking on calls-to-action and links to visit a landing page. With the exception of Gambling, Restaurant and PR emails, click through rates should be over 2%

Conversion Rate

This metric is simultaneously the most important and the most frequently overlooked in email marketing. An open is great, a click is excellent, but a conversion is the only true measurement of success. Whatever your email is meant to do (drive purchases, build social following, etc) - this metric tracks whether or not it's being accomplished.

I don't have a benchmark for you here, because it really depends on the threshold to what you're offering. Gaining Twitter followers is easier than driving software purchases, but both are worth tracking. Keep tabs internally to determine your average conversion rate and weigh success against it.

Are you experiencing metrics lower than the thresholds listed above? Or are you above the benchmark, but still gunning for higher performance? Here's what you can do to improve in each area:

High Unsubscribes

While the science of unsubscriptions will probably never be 100% clear, we do know there are three popular reasons for people dropping off our lists:

1. Sending too many emails
2. Sending too few emails
3. Sending irrelevant emails

If you want people to continue welcoming your presence in their inbox, you have to find the right balance of frequency and scarcity, all while presenting only the most intriguing and relevant information.

This all starts at your first interaction with a subscriber: when they first provide their contact information. Be honest about what they can expect to recieve, and how often. The more transparent you are on the front end, the more people will stick around down the road.

unsubscribe(Image credit

Low Opens

There are few things in the life of a marketer more frustrating than crafting a rockin email, only to have it ignored by 98% of it's recipients. 

When people aren't opening your emails, it can be attributed to any of the same reasons for unsubscribes, as well as one more: a blah subject line.

Think of your subject line as your first impression: if you don't make a splash, you won't attract and hold attention.

With Black Friday looming, my Inbox has been bombarded lately with "Sneak Peeks" and "Early Access" to supposedly exclusive deals. Check out the two emails below, and guess which one actually enticed me to open: 


I gave you some help there, so hopefully you guessed email #2.

Not only do I appreciate that they're not bizarelly emailing me at 2:19 AM, I am thrilled with the promise of unlimited free shipping and paying 20% the normal price on their products. 

The overall message for both of these emails is the same: they have great excuses for me to frivolously blow my paycheck before Saturday rolls around. What separates them is how they communicate their deals: one is generic, one skips the frills and gives me the specifics of what I'll find in the message.

Low Click Throughs

Marketing, by definition, functions to aide in the selling process. Going off that basic fact, it makes sense that email marketing often operates as a vehicle for sales.

Sometimes it looks like a direct sale (click here to get 50% off!) and sometimes it's a part of a longer process (like us on Facebook so hopefully you'll engage with the brand and buy from us later!) Either way, there are few emails that can be considered a success without driving the reader to take action.
ecard(Image credit)

When that action is measured in a click, the best way to ensure it's taking place is to make the click easy. Make your call-to-action compelling, make it easily visible, and make it trustworthy.

Most importantly, make it relevant to the reader. If someone subscribes to a list expecting a monthly blog update and is bombarded with sales pitches, all the prettifying and optimizing in the world won't make that click rate go up.

Low Conversions

Although your overall conversion rate will almost always be the smallest percentage you track, it's actually the simplest to improve. A conversion can be measured in two ways:

Total number of actions/total number of emails delivered
Total number of actions/total number of clicks

Either way, the outcome is entirely based on utility to the reader. Like we said above, nobody clicks on a call-to-action that's not relevant to them. Similarly, nobody converts on a page that doesn't speak to something they want or expect to find.

email conversions
If your conversions are low, you may be sending people prompts to take action that are simply not interesting to them. Or, you may be sending them to a page who's content does not match their expectation based on the email CTA. Either way, the issue can be fixed by taking a step back and looking at the email/landing page from a reader's perspective.

While you're taking that step back, take another big one and go all the way back to our discussion of unsubscribes. You'll recall that we discussed unsubscribes often being a result emailing people content they do not expect or want to recieve. If you're honest about the list's intent and content from the start, the people on it will inherently be more welcoming to the messages you send.

No matter where you start, there is always room for improvement and always a new facet of your email campaigns to test. Here's to your success in improving those metrics!