The online marketing company Constant Contact surveyed small business owners and found that 49 percent do not use email marketing data because they don’t know where to begin. If you’re reading this article, I’m betting you’re in the 49 percent. Let me see if I can help.

Before you can diagnose what’s going on with your metrics, you’ll need to understand what the metrics mean.  Let’s start with the two biggies: open rate and click-through rate.


Open Rate: The percentage of recipients who opened and looked at an email.

Getting readers to open your email is the first hurdle to sharing your message, but typical open rates vary per industry. According to MailChimp, a prominent email marketing provider, the average open rate for nonprofit emails is 24.98 percent, while open rates for marketing companies, for example, is closer to 17.81 percent. Most businesses experience an open rate of around 21 percent.

If you have a low open rate, consider making a few adjustments:


  • Adjust your subject lines. According to MailChimp: “When it comes to subject lines, boring works best. When you write your subject line, don’t sell what’s inside — tell what’s inside. If your email is a newsletter, put the name and issue of the newsletter in your subject line. Don’t write your subject lines like advertisements.” Mailchimp’s best email subject line is currently “COMPANY NAME Sales & Marketing Newsletter,” with an open rate of 60 to 87 percent, but “Last Minute Gift – We Have the Answer” only claims a 1 to 14 percent open rate. 
  • If you’re not sure what works for subject lines, try A/B testing. Many email services allow you to send out the same email with two subject lines, testing the two on a small selection of your subscribers and then using the more popular subject line to title the remainder of the emails. 
  • Try sending emails at various times and days of the week. Tuesday is considered the best day to send business to business emails, but it may not be the best for your business, you won’t know until you test and monitor.   
  • Consider segmenting your lists into groups based on shared traits or interests. Segmented email campaigns in 2016 had an open rate that is 14.32 percent higher than non-segmented campaigns, according to MailChimp.


Open rate is an intriguing metric, though it’s not always a true representation of the number of emails opened. An “open” actually comes every time an image in the newsletter is downloaded — so if you don’t have images, you can’t track open rate. Some mobile devices read email in text format only, so even if someone opens your email, it may not report back as opened.


Click-through Rate: The percentage of subscribers who clicked on one or more links within an email message.

Compare your open rate with your click-through rate, or CTR, to better understand if your audience likes the content you’re sharing. For example, if your open rate is high but your CTR is low, you have a great email title with a poorly executed message.

Click through rate is a good measure of how much your audience likes your content. This metric also varies per industry: most business experience a CTR of slightly lower than 3 percent.

If you have a low CTR, make sure you’re giving recipients a reason to click.


  • If all your newsletter content is available in your email, there’s not a reason for recipients to click. Write a teaser and direct recipients to your website for more information.  
  • Test your subject line against the content of the email. It should be consistent with the information delivered in the body of the email.    
  • If you’re only using text hyperlinks in your emails, consider using a button for your links.   Campaign Monitor reports including a call to action button instead of a text link can increase conversion rates by as much as 28 percent. 
  • Consider using variables to personalize content with information from your subscribers’ profiles.  Experian reported that, in 2016, brands that personalized promotional marketing emails experienced 27 percent higher unique click rates and 11 percent higher open rates than those that did not personalize. 
  • Make sure your email is mobile friendly.  About 53 percent of emails are opened on mobile devices according to Campaign Monitor, and recipients won’t take the time to deal with your ill formatted email message.


If you’re feeling super overwhelmed, call for backup! Ultimately, email marketing is not so different from all types of marketing: You have to review the numbers until you get the results you crave.


Monica Pitts is the chief creative director of MayeCreate Design.

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