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Comparing your mailings' performance

In email marketing circles, we know that things like open and click-through rates vary wildly not only from industry to industry, but even among mailings sent by the same organization. In our own mailings, for example, our click-through rate can dip as low as 3% in emails where getting people to click is not particularly important to us, and rise as high as 40% when it's something we clearly set out to do. When we do want people to click, we make sure the link goes to really worthwhile content, we position that link prominently in the email, and we frame it in a way that entices even the most casual reader to consider hitting it. That's a much different approach from campaigns where the object is to get people to read, not click, and it's a good example of our tip #1 for comparing mailings:

When comparing numbers, make sure you cared about those numbers to begin with

If enticing people to click through to your website wasn't one of your goals for a particular mailing, don't use its click-through numbers for any comparisons after the fact. Instead, focus on campaigns where prior to sending you thought, or perhaps said out loud to no one in particular, "Man, I really really want people to click through to my website."

Sometimes, comparing apples to oranges is a good thing

Most industry reports will segment their results based on the type of mailing sent to show how one newsletter fared against another newsletter, or how a set of promotional emails fared against another set of promotional emails. But don't be afraid to get crazy and mix it up by comparing a newsletter, and an event reminder, and a promotion. Sometimes seeing the different kinds of mailings side by side can reveal a lot about your audience.

When looking for benchmarks, the best ones are your own

We can sit here and spout out industry averages (and in the next paragraph we commence with said spouting), but remember that the best benchmarks in the world are your own. Industry averages can give you a general sense of where you fall, but the most applicable numbers are the ones you generate -- after all, your metrics are as specific as they get, and they're your best way to see how you're doing over time. They're segmented according to your industry, your audience, your content and your frequency.

OK, but seriously, what should I expect?

As long as you're bringing the grain of salt, we'll bring the numbers. According to MarketingSherpa:

  • If you send a newsletter to a mostly consumer-based list, you should expect open rates of roughly 25%.
  • If you send to a newsletter to a mostly business-based list, you should expect open rates closer to 20%.
  • If you send a promotion to a mostly consumer-based list, you should expect open rates of roughly 20%.
  • If you send a promotion to a mostly business-based list, you should expect open rates of roughly 20%.

Keep in mind, when you look at open rates in particular, that all email marketing tracking is limited in showing you those people who read (and loved) your email in its plaintext form, or people who, for security reasons, choose not to display images in HTML emails. Unless those readers also click a link, we won't be able to report them as an open.

Click-through rates are harder to average, simply because the various types of email campaigns and audiences out there have vastly different quantities and types of links. In general, according to MarketingSherpa, most senders should expect click-through rates in the single digits.

Again, these numbers are generic averages, across every industry and every audience and every kind of content being distributed. The better the list, the more engaging the content, the more responsive the industry, the better those numbers can be.

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