TL;DR Summary

  • Most published email performance benchmarks focus on open rate (OR) or click-through rate (CTR). Unfortunately, these metrics can be misleading, because the email list quality impacts the results.
  • We propose focusing on click-to-open rate (CTOR) because this metric avoids the list quality issue.
  • We analyze results from over 100 million opened emails and present a new email performance benchmark.

The Problem With Traditional Metrics

If you’re an email marketer, you’ve probably wondered (or been asked) about how your numbers stack up against industry peers. As the field becomes increasingly data-driven, you should expect this trend to continue.

Email service providers like MailChimp have done us all a great service by sharing performance metrics based on billions of marketing emails–it’s like a giant leader board for emails. However, there are some big gotchas that prevent the most commonly shared metrics from being as actionable as we’d like. In the worst case, if you put too much weight on them, they could lead you in the wrong direction.

A couple of basic email metrics frequently serve as industry benchmarks: open rate (OR) and click-through rate (CTR) (take a look at our recent post for an email metrics refresher). Unfortunately, they’re both affected by a factor that has nothing to do with your email content: the quality of your list.

Imagine a marketer who’s been passively maintaining an email list over many years, one that’s accumulated a substantial amount of inactive email addresses and dormant users. Now, imagine that this marketer has a slightly more diligent colleague, one who consistently scrubs her email list to make sure it only contains subscribers who’ve opened their emails in the last month.

If these two marketers sent the the exact same email to their lists, clearly the OR and CTR would be higher in the scrubbed list — and that lift would have nothing to do with the email’s actual content. It would be based on nothing but list quality.

CTOR: A Better Way

The click-to-open metric captures email engagement after users have opened the email, so it allows you evaluate your email content — everything from the copy to the content recommendations to the design. Things like list quality, subject line, and send time don’t factor in at all.

To put this idea into action, we’ve compiled data from more than 100 million opened emails from 100 different businesses across 3,000 weekly campaign data points.

Take a look below to see how you measure up:






 0-4% CTOR, (<5th percentile): “The Danger Zone”

 5-12% CTOR, (5-25th percentile): “Room for Improvement”

  13-25% CTOR, (25-75th percentile): “Solid Performance”

 26-51% CTOR, (75-95th percentile): “Overachiever”

 +51% CTOR, (>95th percentile): “Crushing It”


Interpreting the Results


  • We computed CTOR as unique email clicks / unique email opens. Make sure you are using the same formula for a valid comparison.
  • Online media brands are heavily represented in our benchmark sample, so it may not generalize to all industries.
  • If the rainbow distribution graph above is confusing (perhaps for your boss!), you can benchmark against the simple CTOR average (20.6%) or median (17.6%).

Looking to bump up your email performance? Learn more about how GameSpot raised CTOR 280%.

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