While 2014 saw the highest average email open rates in several years, the year also saw historic lows for both click-through rates and click-to-open rates. How should marketers respond to this data?
It was roughly a year ago that I wrote about the highest open rates since at least 2007 - and now, according to the Epsilon 1Q 2014 Email Trends and Benchmark Report released last month, we've bested that.
According to Epsilon, average open rate across all industries was 32.9 percent in the first quarter of this year - that's 6 percent higher than the 1Q 2013 number (31.1 percent), which was the previous record holder.
But the news from the report wasn't all rosy. 1Q 2014 also marked a low point for average click-through rate, at 4.3 percent. The only other time we've hit this mark was in 2Q 2013 - and every other quarter since I began tracking this data it was higher than that.
Thanks to the very high average open rate and the very low average click-through rate (CTR), the click-to-open rate (CTOR) fell to a historic low of 13.1 percent. The fall here has been somewhat dramatic. The average CTOR was always above 20 percent until 2012; it was above 15 percent until the last quarter of 2013. So we've lost nearly eight percentage points in nine quarters.
So what does all this mean?
Not as much as you might think.
First off, let me state for the record that email isn't dead.
Earlier this year Econsultancy released their 2014 Email Marketing Industry Census; email was ranked as the best channel in terms of return on investment (68 percent of those surveyed ranked email "good" or "excellent"). It also reported an average 28 percent increase in revenue from email year-over-year.
And while it's not a quantitative accolade for email, those of us in the industry were happy to see a recent New York Times article celebrating email newsletters, even if some of us did take offense at email being called "the cockroach of the Internet.'
So looking at open and click rates is nice, but what really matters is conversion rate (whatever the sender defines as a conversion) and, often but not always, revenue generated.
Open and click rates can provide insight in how people are or aren't interacting with your email. And when we're looking to increase conversion rate, it often involves finding ways to increase open and/or click rates (but not always).
It's also important to remember that a decrease in click-through rate may be caused by send quantities increasing at a faster rate than clicks (similar to what we see here with the CTOR calculation). It doesn't necessarily mean that fewer people are clicking; in fact more people may be clicking. The Epsilon report doesn't give any insight into this.
All that said, it's still useful to compare your own email marketing results to industry benchmarks for open and click rates. It's not a measure of success or failure, but it can identify areas where your program is doing well and places you might test to improve performance.
Until next time,
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Jeanne Jennings is a 20 year veteran of the online/email marketing industry, having started her career with CompuServe in the late 1980s. As Vice President of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, Jennings helps organizations become more effective and more profitable online. Previously Jennings ran her own email marketing consultancy with a focus on strategy; clients included AARP, Hasbro, Scholastic, Verizon and Weight Watchers International. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.
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