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Trends and Benchmarks in Click-Through Rate by Message Type

  |  February 20, 2012   |  Comments

Data that proves that editorial messages should be an important part of your email marketing mix.

In my last column, I wrote about open rate data by message type. Today, we're going to pull the click-through data by message type and look at that. The data comes from the Email Trends and Benchmarks report presented by Epsilon and the Email Experience Council (EEC); the Q3 2011 report was released December 2011.

As a quick recap:

Epsilon and the EEC have defined six message types (definitions are my own; it would be nice if the report included definitions, but it does not), which are:

  • Marketing. Straight promotional email: sole purpose of the message is to drive a purchase (or in some cases, generate a lead that can drive to the purchase).
  • Service. Transactional email messages, relating to a new email sign-up, an order, or some other issue involving a recent action (may and should include some marketing calls to action).
  • Editorial. Messages that include content that provides value to the reader without a purchase (may and should also include some marketing calls to action).
  • Acquisition. Email message to someone who doesn't have a pre-existing relationship with the sender or whose relationship with the sender is very casual (for instance, someone that drops a business card in a jar at a trade show booth).
  • Research. Email sent to gather opinions via surveys.
  • Other. Anything that doesn't fall into one of the other categories.

The vast majority of email messages sent in Q3 2011 were for marketing purposes (65.8 percent); the "other" category made up another 26.6 percent. Service emails accounted for 6.7 percent of messages, editorial, 0.6 percent; acquisition and research messages were very low contributors to volume (0.1 percent each).

OK, now onto the data. Click-through rate is defined as unique clicks (one per email address) over the quantity of email assumed delivered (calculated by removing the number of bounces from the total quantity of email sent).

In Q3 2011, editorial email messages garnered the highest click-through rates (10.3 percent). That's 178 percent better - almost three times higher - than the click-through rate on marketing messages (3.7 percent) for this period.

If this isn't enough to convince you that editorial messages are an important part of your email marketing mix, look at the trend. Click-throughs on editorial messages are trending strongly upward, with large increases in the last three quarters, while click-through rates on marketing messages have been relatively flat.


I understand that editorial messages are inherently different from marketing messages - not every click leads the reader down a path to purchase. But editorial messages are a great way to position your company as an expert in its field and build a relationship with your email subscribers. By offering value regardless of whether the reader purchases, you engage them and they get to know your organization. See my ideas for developing editorial content if you're not a publisher, as well as my lament at the low volume of editorial messages being sent, in my last column.

The CTR on editorial messages was way up in Q3 2011 - it was only the second quarter when it surpassed the CTR on service messages. I find the high click-through rate on service messages both logical and a bit surprising.

Logical because of course people are going to open them to get the status of a recent action they took. Surprising because few service messages I've seen include links to additional information that is of value to the customer. I've done a lot of work in the past few years helping organizations turn their service messages from a cost center to a profit center by including marketing calls to action, but those companies are still the minority, not the majority.

This drives home a recommendation I made based on higher open rates for service email messages - if you aren't including relevant marketing copy, you are missing a huge opportunity.

As with open rates, acquisition-type email messages were the bottom of the barrel in click-through rates for Q3 2011. They bested research email messages, but that's not saying much - they have historically garnered much lower click-through rates than other types of email messages.

A rule of thumb I've used for years is that email messages to people you don't really have a relationship with (whether it's third-party lists or house lists where the relationship hasn't been built) will perform half as well, at best, as messages to people that know and like your organization. All the more reason to use editorial emails, where readers get value without having to make a purchase, to build the relationship and boost performance on all the email messages you send.

Until next time,


This column was originally published on January 9, 2012 on ClickZ.


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Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a recognized expert in the email marketing industry and managing director of digital marketing for Digital Prism Advisors. She has more than 20 years of experience in the email and online marketing and product development world. Jeanne's direct-response approach to digital strategy, tactics, and creative direction helps organizations make their online marketing initiatives more effective and more profitable. Digital Prism Advisors helps established businesses unlock significant growth and revenue opportunities in the digital marketplace; our clients learn to develop and implement successful digital strategies, leveraging data and technology to better meet bottom line goals. Want to learn more? Check out Jeanne's blog and Digital Prisim Advisors.

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