New to email marketing? Need a refresher? Feel like you’ve heard terms like CTOR thrown around and want an in-depth explanation? This post is for you.

To understand your performance, there are 3 major email marketing metrics you need to calculate, and each one addresses a different aspect of email engagement. In this post, we’re going to go over them and outline…

  1. What they mean
  2. How to calculate them
  3. How to use them (and how not to use them) to gain insight into your performance
  4. What you can do if your metrics are lagging

Open Rate (OR)

The email open rate is simply the ratio of people who’ve actually open the email vs. the total number of people who were sent an email. That is, OR = total email opens / total email sends.

The open rate is most useful for understanding the effectiveness of your email subject line, because it only takes into account what happens before users have had a chance to read the email. In other words, the subject line is the main piece of marketing content that can influence the rate.

Another factor that influences open rates considerably: the sender name. According to Convince and Convert, 43% of email recipients mark messages as spam based on this factor. Using the name of your company (or the particular service your users signed up for) generally works well, as does something like “Mary from NASA.” It’s worth A/B testing, but not too often — consistency is important here.

Extra credit: the fact that you sent the email doesn’t guarantee that it’ll arrive in someone’s inbox. The deliverability of email can vary depending on a number of factors, the quality of your email service provider being the most important. Low deliverability could also indicate that you’re not verifying the validity of email addresses at the time of sign-up, or that you haven’t pruned your list enough (e.g. you haven’t removed the emails that consistently bounce). A deliverability rate of 95% to 99% is common. If yours dips below that range, it’s a sign that you should do some digging.

Finally, many modern email clients display more than just the subject line in the inbox (e.g. Gmail shows the beginning of the body). Twitter uses this preheader to its advantage:

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 11.45.15 AM

You should consider doing it too — nothing wrong with a little extra enticement. To get started, check out this excellent guide to configuring the preheader.

Click-to-Open Rate (CTOR)

Not to be confused with CTR (we’ll get into that momentarily), the click-to-open rate captures email engagement after users have opened the email. Literally, the CTOR is the ratio of clicked emails vs. opened emails. That is, CTOR = total email clicks / total email opens.

CTOR is critical to measuring the quality of the content within your email, since it only considers emails that users have actually opened. It tells us how likely people are to click on what’s in the email — nothing less, nothing more. If people are looking at the body of your email but not clicking through, it’s a sign that your content might not be very compelling.

Some things to think about if you want to raise your CTOR:

  • Is the content in your email relevant to the individual recipients? (For more on how personalized content raises CTOR, check out our case study on CBSi’s Chowhound.)
  • Does the body of the email deliver on the promise of the subject line? (That flashy subject line isn’t worth it if it has nothing to do with your content!)
  • Does your email design work well on mobile devices? (More than half of all emails now get opened on mobile devices).

Click-through Rate (CTR)

If you only look at one metric, it might as well be the clickthrough rate. That’s because the CTR looks at the entire email engagement cycle — from the time you send until the time a user clicks through. The metric is calculated as CTR = total email clicks / total emails sent.

The great thing about this metric is that it considers end-to-end engagement. The downside is that a high (or low) CTR doesn’t give you much insight into the cause. It could be due to a bad subject line, bad email content, or even bad design; by itself, CTR won’t tell you. But hey, that’s what OR and CTOR are for.

Happy emailing!

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