What are average click-throughs and open rates in association emails, and how can you move your own metrics closer to the industry standard?
By Cecily Walters
One frequent topic of discussion on Association Media & Publishing’s members-only listserve is open and click-through rates for emails. Have your association’s open rates dropped lately? What’s the click-through average for associations? How can you increase your own rates?
First, let’s define the terms "open rate” and "click-through rate.” An open rate represents the number of people who opened an email. It is calculated by dividing the number of email messages opened by the number of messages delivered. The result is expressed as a percentage. A click-through rate is the percentage of opened emails that were clicked by recipients.
According to email marketing and newsletter service Mailer Mailer in its E-mail Marketing Metrics Report (www.mailermailer.com/resources/metrics/2011/open-rates.rwp), open rates have declined in recent years due largely to image blocking by email service providers, the increased use of smartphones, and email fatigue. "As the volume of emails reaching the inbox increases, the likelihood that recipients are opening and interacting with the email starts to diminish,” states the report.
Another valuable report that cites information about open- and click-through rates is the 2012 Association Email Marketing Benchmark Report produced by Informz, Inc., an email service provider for the association and nonprofit industries. The report explains that the average email metrics for associations indicate a 34 percent open rate and a 19 percent click-through rate.
Informz found that survey-related emails had the highest combined open and click-through rates (37 percent and 33 percent, respectively, while appeal-related emails had the lowest click-through rate at 15 percent with a 31 percent open rate). Delving into the Informz findings in more detail reveals that event emails garnered a 39 percent open rate and a 17 percent click-through rate, while e-newsletters received a 28 percent open rate and a 22 percent click-through rate. Based on these results, the report recommends that associations send several follow-up event-related emails, as recipients may not take immediate action to register for an event.
Among other additional information, the Informz report summarizes average open and click-through rates by type of association (for example, banking, medical, and education, along with a handful of other types). Informz suggests tailoring emails so that they are delivered at a time, or in a fashion, that works best for your members, citing the example that medical industry associations have the highest open rate but the lowest click-through rate. As a result, states the report, "This speaks to a need to make the content be brief, to the point, and relevant.”
When it comes to click-through rates, the Informz report notes that providing readers with a variety of opportunities to click to reach the same location is valuable and recommends testing the placement of links to achieve insight into how recipients read and interact with your emails. On the other hand, recipients may find links to multiple websites or sections of a website (for example, register now, download conference program, etc.) distracting and overwhelming.
Research from both Mailer Mailer and Informz shows that a smaller email list size tends to result in higher open and click-through rates, as smaller recipient lists often are more targeted. (For example, your association may have a smaller recipient list for those who have registered for an upcoming conference vs. a larger recipient list to which it advertises the conference and encourages registration.)
Informz also discovered that emails with shorter subject lines performed better than emails with longer subject lines. Emails with subject lines of fewer than 10 characters achieved the highest open rates at 58 percent.
What about time of day? Is there any truth to the thought that recipients are more likely to open and engage with an email if it is sent during a certain time of day? Mailer Mailer’s report notes, "Once an email campaign has been sent, email marketers can expect their open rates to peak within the first two hours after delivery. This peak is then followed by a sloping decline for the next 46 hours. This indicates that those who are looking forward to the email, because they recognize the brand or come to expect the email as a source of valuable information, are more likely to open it soon after it reaches their inbox.”
Explaining what the results of the Informz report and other research might mean for Association Media & Publishing members, Joe Stella, vice president for business development at Northbrook, Ill.-based GLC, says that the industry standard for open and click-through rates can vary greatly, depending on factors such as the subject line of the email, the type of message being communicated, and whether the recipient opted in to receive the content.
In Stella’s experience, open rates for what he calls "generic emails” (not a great deal of thought put into the subject line and a broad-based message in the email) can be in the 12-15 percent range, while emails with "concise, well-worded subject lines and hyper-relevant messaging can yield opens in the higher than 50 percent range.” Click-through rates also may incorporate a large range, depending on message relevance, resulting in a rate of anywhere from 25 percent to higher than 50 percent, notes Stella.
Best Practices and Tips
If you’re looking to increase your own association’s open and click-through rates, give some of Stella’s tips a try. Here’s a recap:
· Subject line. Spend time coming up with the most effective, actionable subject lines you can, and then test them.
· Time of day. Though the Mailer Mailer report indicates that email often is read within two hours after delivery, Stella feels that the time of day an association sends an email is no longer as relevant as it once was, given the increasingly widespread usage of smartphones and tablet devices. He explains that first thing in the morning often can be the most successful time to send an email, but overall, "the day and time aren’t as important as making sure your message renders correctly across the client/device spectrum.”
· Description. Focus on outcomes when creating your description, asserts Stella. "In other words,” he asks, "what is the reader going to gain from spending the next 15, 30, or 60 seconds engaging with your content? Don’t just list headlines from the email.”
· Finding a balance. How do you walk the line between sending an appropriate number of emails and causing email fatigue among your members? In Stella’s opinion, "Each audience has its own breaking point as to when email fatigue kicks in, and they begin to gloss over your message. Finding that point can be difficult, but it’s worth the effort and can be uncovered through reader surveys. In general, three messages per week [to a particular audience] is the maximum.”
· Other tips. Target your message to your audience, and make it easy for the recipient to share the email through preferred social networks, Stella points out. Finally, "measure, analyze, adjust, and repeat,” he insists.
Cecily Walters is assistant editor for the School Nutrition Association’s School Nutrition magazine and a member of Association Media & Publishing’s Content Creation Committee.