Silverpop - 2015 Email Benchmark Study: Key Takeaways and Suggested Tactics
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2015 Email Benchmark Study: Key Takeaways and Suggested Tactics

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
12 August 2015

Benchmark study If you have any doubts that transactional emails engage with customers, statistics from Silverpop's “2015 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study” should put them to rest.

How transactional emails perform against nontransactional messages was just one of the findings that stand out in this year's research, which studied data from emails sent by nearly 3,000 brands from more than 750 companies in 40 countries.

As in previous studies, we examined open and click metrics that measure how well marketers are engaging their audiences, as well as disengagement measures such as unsubscribes and spam complaints.

We present these findings several ways, all intended to help you draw extra meaning from the numbers:

  • Best and worst performers: Besides reporting the mean (average) and median, we highlight results from the top and bottom 25% of performers. Results for the top quartile often are double or higher the average or median numbers.
  • Global comparison: We compare brands in five global regions: the United States, Canada, the U.K., Asia-Pacific countries (APAC) and Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA).
  • Industry verticals: We slice results by 17 verticals for more detailed and precise comparisons.

If you want to elevate your email marketing program, compare yourself to the best performers in your competitive niche and on the benchmarks that are most important to you. Our motto is "'Average' is the new bottom."

Unique Open Rate: APAC Countries were Highest

On average, 21 percent of emails were opened (median 17.4 percent). The rate nearly doubled in the top quartile of senders, to 41.3 percent, but in the bottom quartile, it plunged to 7 percent.

Global: Senders in APAC countries outperformed the three other regions on all measurements: mean (26.1 percent), median (21.5 percent) and top quartile (49.5 percent).

Unique Open Rate by Country/Region

Canadian brands posted markedly lower mean and median open rates, but Canadian brands in the top quartile performed better than three of the other four regions, behind only APAC.

Industry verticals: The top three verticals were Lodging, Travel Agencies & Services (29.6 percent), Insurance (28 percent) and Computer Hardware & Telecommunications (27.5 percent). Among the top quartile, five industries saw opens higher than 50 percent: Lodging, Schools & Education; Consumer Products; Insurance and Hospitals, Healthcare & Biotech.

Click-through Rate: APAC Leads Again

The overall click rate was a mean 3.2 percent and a median 1.4 percent. The difference between those two indicates some significant outlier brands might have inflated the mean. That's why we report both statistics and why you should always look beyond the mean for insights.

The top-quartile click rate was 6X higher than the median, at 9.4 percent.

Global: APAC brands led the pack again on the mean (4.6 percent), median (tied with UK at 2 percent) and top quartile (13.2 percent). This higher performance on both opens and clicks might reflect email's relative youth as a marketing channel compared with the U.S. and UK.

Industry verticals: Overall leaders included Computer Hardware & Telecommunications (5.7 percent), Consumer Products (5.4 percent) and Lodging, Travel Agencies & Services (5.3 percent). All three also were top industry performers.

About Those Transactional Emails

We at Silverpop know that transactional emails are strong performers. They reflect actions your customers have taken on your website: purchases, account registrations, downloads, information requests, etc.

Your customers love these emails, too. But if you're still skeptical, or if you need to persuade your higher-ups to invest in transactional emails, the numbers below comparing transactional emails with all others should help make the case.

Open rate: Transactional emails get opened more than twice as often: a mean 44.9 percent compared with 20.8 percent for nontransactionals and 21 percent overall. A whopping 72.2 percent of emails sent by top-quartile brands get opened – more than 7 in 10!

Unique Open Rate by Message Type

Click rate: Remember how the top-quartile click-through rate was 9.4 percent, 3X the mean and 6X the median? Transactional emails blew past those numbers, scoring a mean 10.4 percent and median 4.9 percent overall, with top-quartile brands logging a 30.2 percent click rate.

Note: The full benchmark study reports on many other metrics, including opens per opener/clicks per clicker, the click-to-open rate (more precise than the simple open rate) and list-churn stats including hard bounce, unsubscribe and spam complaint rates.

If you haven't downloaded yours yet, get your copy here.

Tips for Boosting Engagement through Opens and Clicks

How does your email program compare on these engagement metrics? Many factors can hinder recipients from opening or acting on your emails, but in general, these three guidelines apply:

Low open rates often mean you need to tune up your inbox presence with a "From" line and subject line that help your recipients understand immediately who sent the email and why they should open it.

More importantly, look for ways to create real value for your subscribers. Open rates typically start out pretty high for new subscribers but can decline significantly within just a couple of weeks if your emails don't deliver on each subscriber's expectations.

Low click-through rates can result from several factors. Your copy or offers might not be compelling or personalized. You might have too many offers, too many images and copy that creates confusion instead of suggesting options.

Perhaps your emails aren’t mobile-optimized. Or, your call-to-action wording and button design creates a "ho-hum" response instead of intrigue that leads to a click. Maybe your subject lines and preheader text do drive opens and initial engagement but don't set up your primary calls to action.

Mobile unfriendliness can be an engagement-killer now that email opens on mobile are hovering around or above 50 percent for most brands. The tips below will help reduce friction for subscribers reading on smaller screens:

  • Don't make readers pinch, squint or side-scroll to view your content. Smaller screens need bigger point sizes, such as 14pt for body copy, 22pt for headlines and buttons that are at least 44x44pts.
  • Redesign your preheader copy. Some mobile inboxes truncate subject lines but show the entire preheader, the first line of copy in the email. Don't waste this precious space on boilerplate text such as, "If you're having trouble viewing …" Put your top headline, primary CTA or other crucial copy there.

Finally, whether mobile or desktop, tell readers exactly what you want them to do. Don't worry about being too obvious. Do you want them to "click here" or "Find out which is best?"

3 Strategies to Turn Numbers into Action

Keep in mind that benchmark studies like this one generally focus on "process" metrics that examine how different elements of your email program drive success.

Use them to diagnose issues with creative/design, offers and content and deliverability and list hygiene. In contrast, "output" metrics such as total revenue, average order value or revenue per email, more accurately measure campaign success.

Beyond comparing yourself to your peers and competitors, benchmark studies lend themselves to two other self-improvement strategies:

1. Lobby for a bigger budget and more resources to upgrade and improve your email program. These metrics might provide the push you need to persuade the check-writers that it's time to fund a complete makeover or more sophisticated data integrations.

2. See which email or marketing automation features your vendors offer but you don't use. Services such as A/B testing, send-time optimization, personalization, progressive profiling, scoring, real-time content, API/partner integrations, Web tracking, dynamic content and automation can transform a so-so email program into a superstar.

3. Focus on the big issues. What's the one factor that your business success rides on, and how can email make a difference? That's where you should direct your time, attention and resources.

Related Resources:

1) Ebook: “2015 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study

2) Video: “3 Tips for Prioritizing Automated Emails

3) Ebook: “Unsubscribe Best Practices: How to Decrease Database Churn and Strengthen Your Marketing Program

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