9 email marketing metrics to measure campaign success

Illustration of email marketing metrics

Despite the wide array of today’s promotional options, email marketing remains a vital part of your campaign toolkit — and measuring and reporting accurately on it is crucial. As a manager, you need to verify and even improve how you’re calculating and monitoring the success of your email campaigns in order to prove value that validates budgets and demonstrates return on investment (ROI).

A relevant list of email marketing metrics makes this task simple. With the right email marketing metrics targeted, you’ll be able to measure and report on the real value of your campaigns, command more budget, and secure greater executive buy-in.

In this guide to email marketing metrics, you’ll learn about:

Click-through rate

Click-through rate (CTR) is an email marketing metric that represents the percentage of recipients who clicked on a link in a particular email. It’s one of the most important metrics because it indicates how engaging and relevant your emails are. For example, if your email reaches 100 people but only 10 click on a link, something isn’t connecting with your audience.

A low click-through rate might not mean your emails are completely irrelevant, however. Before you give up on the campaign, try some simple strategies that improve CTR. Providing links throughout the email, personalizing the content, or even sending fewer emails with more relevant content are all ways to encourage audiences to click through to what you send.

Email CTR is calculated by the number of subscribers that have clicked on at least one link in your email marketing campaign. To calculate the email click-through rate, take the number of people that have clicked on your email campaign and divide that by the number of emails you have sent. You can then multiply that number by 100 to show a percentage.

Email marketing clickthrough rate calculation

Conversion rate

In digital marketing, a conversion occurs when a user completes a desired action or goal on a website, online app, or other digital platform. This can be an event such as a purchase or form submission, or a metric such as the number of return visits within a given time period.

A conversion rate is a calculation that tells you how well you are converting traffic into revenue. Specifically, it shows how effectively a brand is using its online platform to transform traffic into revenue. It’s a critical marketing metric.

Conversion rates vary based on many factors, including industry and business type, key business objectives, brand, customer segment, goals, time of year, product releases, marketing efforts, and more. It’s important to decide how you want to determine your conversion rate to produce calculations that provide you with the most relevant results.

To improve conversion rates of marketing emails, take steps such as segmenting your intended audience, creating engaging CTAs, running A/B tests, and using a simple template. As you address the target audience preferences, you can improve your strategy and see increased conversion rates from marketing emails.

There is a formula to calculate your conversion rate based on the percentage of conversions per visit.

Email marketing conversion rate calculation

While the above formula calculates the percentage of conversions per visit or visitor, the following formula calculates the percentage of visits during which a conversion occurred. This can often be more useful because visits can be targeted.

Email marketing visit conversion rate calculation

Bounce rate

A bounce rate is the percentage of website or app visitors who view one page or piece of content and then leave the site. Viewed alongside other information and data, and within the context of what success looks like for your business, the bounce rate offers overall value and is most beneficial when used as a starting point for evaluating how well an email campaign is connecting with audiences.

Emails bounce for many reasons — the email server is under maintenance, the recipient no longer has the email account or the account is currently inactive, the recipient’s email inbox is full, or the recipient has blocked you. The point isn’t focusing on the why, however. The focus should instead be on improving your bounce rate overall.

There are several approaches to improving bounce rate and increasing the success rate of your email campaigns. Try things like double opt-ins and a sign-up form with CAPTCHA to make sure you’re getting people on your list who want to be there. You can also attend to your email list by cleaning it regularly, segmenting it, and removing hard-bounced email addresses immediately.

Bounce rate is calculated as visits to a single page divided by entries or the total number of people who have come to the website through that landing page.

Email marketing bounce rate calculation

Every digital analytics platform and product analytics solution has some form of built-in bounce rate metric, but how a single-page visit is defined differs across sites, companies, and solutions.

In Adobe Analytics, for example, a bounce is defined as a session that is made up of a single hit from the website to Analytics. When the user clicks “play” on a video, another call gets sent to Analytics, so the visit is no longer considered a single-page session.

However, other tools define the actions differently, arguing that because the user only interacted with a single page during their visit, it’s considered a bounce. A company can choose which interpretation of bounce rate most closely matches its definition of success.

Forward and sharing rates

This metric focuses on the percentage of people that have shared or forwarded the email using a "forward" or "share this" button within the email.

Understanding the rate of recipients that forward or share your emails is important because it’s how you generate new contacts since your recipients are already part of your mailing list.

Your first step in improving forwarding and sharing rates is to create personalized emails. An email that is personalized is forwarded much more often than standard emails. Along with including a clear forward CTA in your email, also be sure your email content is naturally sharable — something helpful, engaging, or connected to an event that your recipients would be inclined to pass along.

Calculate the email forward and sharing rate by dividing the total number of forwards or shares by the total number of delivered emails. Multiply that number by 100 to calculate the percentage.

Email marketing share rate calculation

Open rates

An email open rate is a way of measuring the frequency at which audiences open marketing emails against the number of emails you send during a specific campaign period. When you send marketing materials and advertisements to customers and leads on your email lists, the email open rate becomes an important metric for determining the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns.

Although not 100% accurate, open rates provide a good measure of engagement over time. If you find the number of opens starts to dip, for example, you know that you need to review your sending frequency and your content. Common factors in low or decreasing open rates include sending too many or too few campaigns.

To improve open rates, try a test-and-see approach. Target a few different variables such as the time of day you send the email, what kinds of subject lines you use, and how you use images. Then gather some rough data from your experiment to inform how you’ll move forward with your email campaign.

Use this formula to calculate email open rate:

Email marketing open rate calculation

However, determining the number of emails that were read in a campaign can be tricky. In order for an email to be deemed as opened, one of two things must happen:

  1. Your recipient must enable images to be viewed. This is because most email marketing software platforms embed pixels in emails, which help track whether an email has been opened or not.
  2. A link within the email must be clicked.

Because these two factors are out of your control, the email open rate is actually an estimate and not a completely accurate figure.

Unsubscribe rates

An unsubscribe occurs when a recipient chooses to opt out of a mailing list. An email unsubscribe rate, then, is the percentage of email addresses that unsubscribe from an email marketing campaign out of all email addresses that successfully received an email.

The unsubscribe rate is important because it impacts email deliverability, so a large number of unsubscribes leads to negative consequences from email service providers like Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook.

A high unsubscribe rate indicates gaps in your strategy that require you to take a closer look at your email campaigns. Perhaps your sending volume is too frequent or your content or templates are missing the mark with your audience. You can improve your unsubscribe numbers by letting subscribers select how often to receive emails, by asking for feedback, and by making emails that are mobile-friendly.

To calculate unsubscribe rates, you need to know two metrics:

  1. The number of delivered emails.
  2. The number of unsubscribes.

Email marketing unsubscribe rate calculation

List growth rate

The list growth rate is a KPI that measures how quickly your email list is growing or shrinking over time. It’s important because it helps you measure how successful your lead capture campaigns are by giving you insight into why some methods or channels are getting better results than others. Once you have this information, you can adjust your overall strategy accordingly.

You can improve your list growth rate by tracking your list decay. If you’re finding that your lists are decaying faster than they’re growing, you may want to be more proactive about tracking the issue to understand where the problems are happening. You can also try running more lead capture campaigns. Gating some of your most downloaded content or most visited content can help you increase the number of subscribers on your lists.

To calculate list growth rate, you need to know your new subscriber numbers, unsubscribe numbers, and the number of your total contacts.

Email marketing list growth rate calculation

Calculate your list metrics on a regular basis — maybe once a month or once a quarter, depending on your business — so you can see the rate of list growth over time.

Overall ROI

Overall ROI is the return you receive on your investment in email marketing campaigns. While some will argue that email marketing is old news when compared to social media and apps, email marketing remains effective and widely used, with an average ROI of $36 for every $1 spent. Because email reaches customers where they spend a lot of time every day — their inbox — it drives sales and remains the most effective form of marketing today.

Knowing the overall ROI of your email marketing campaign matters because it’s how you know whether it’s proving to be a profitable strategy or just draining resources from your business. Because email marketing is such a versatile strategy that can help you achieve a number of diverse goals — from lead nurturing to building brand awareness to increasing website traffic — it’s important that you know which goal you’re tracking so you can use the right metrics and get the right data.

There are many ways to improve ROI from your email marketing campaign. Investing in email marketing automation, for example, helps you constantly recalibrate your approach to reach the right people at the right time and on a large scale. Meanwhile, focusing on building highly targeted lists ensures improved success rates when you send content as effectively and efficiently as possible.

To find the overall ROI of your marketing emails, calculate your spend and gain first, and then plug in those numbers to determine your ROI.

Email marketing overall ROI

Spam complaint rate

The spam complaint rate is the number of people who report your email as spam out of the total number of messages you sent. Contacts can report email as spam by clicking the "this is spam" or "report spam" button in their inbox, or they can click the native unsubscribe link, citing "spam" as the reason. The acceptable industry standard spam complaint rate — set by major inbox providers like Gmail — is 1 for every 1,000 messages sent. Anything above this level is considered to be high.

Spam complaint rate is important because it is a clear measure of the sending performance of your campaign. A high number of spam complaints indicates that the email recipients didn’t understand why they received the email, didn’t believe they should have received it, or didn’t know how to unsubscribe.

To reduce your spam complaint rate, do not use co-registration, third party, or traded lists. Make sure your emails come from the same domain where contacts signed up for your list, and make sure the email has the same branding. Also be sure the "from" name for your campaign aligns closely with the branding on the page where contacts signed up. And be sure to send relevant, personalized, automated messages rather than batch-and-blast email campaigns to large lists.

The calculation for your spam complaint rate is simple:

Email marketing spam complaint rate calculation

How to decide which metrics are most important

In order to know which metrics you should use, you need to think through your email campaign overall.

Start by ranking your primary and secondary objectives for email marketing. Is your goal conversions? Lead generation? Widening the top of the funnel? You’ll likely have more than one goal for each of these, but the key here is to list and prioritize to help you narrow down your metrics approach. And be sure to get specific and actionable with your goals, so you actually have something to measure.

Once you’ve decided which goals matter most, align metrics to those goals. Different emails or email campaigns may target different goals, so they will be measured against different primary metrics.

Here’s an example: Let’s say that after considering your campaign’s purpose and your target audience, you decide that the performance metric you want to improve is your email conversion rate. Your specific goal and metric alignment might be something like: "We will improve our email conversion rate by 1% from May 1 to June 30 by segmenting our email list and sending targeted content that matches the recipient’s stage in the funnel."

This goal helps you know which metrics to use because it’s specific, clearly measurable, and time-bound.

Getting started with email marketing metrics and KPIs

Email marketing is still critically important, so measuring and reporting accurately on campaigns is crucial.

Email marketing metrics are vital to your campaigns. They help you to understand the value of your email marketing and recognize if your campaign is hitting the marks necessary to reach your intended goals. As a result, it’s important to carefully select and closely monitor your email marketing metrics. With this list of KPIs, you’re well on your way to deciding what you want to measure and how to ensure those measurements are accurate and relevant.

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