Robert Tyson's Small Business Marketing Blog

Free marketing and sales ideas to grow your small business.

Four Key Email Marketing Benchmarks You Should Know

No business in its right mind can afford to ignore doing proper email marketing. Email may not be in vogue just now, but it’s still BIG, BIG, BIG – in fact the biggest digital messaging medium there is – and the simple fact is that it is proven to be a hugely effective marketing channel (generating $43 for every $1 spent, on average, according to the DMA). I’d also argue that to make the most of social media, you need to be email marketing too, because it knits what can otherwise be some pretty diverse activity together extremely well.

But if you’ve not really done much email marketing – or even if you have – what kinds of results should you be expecting?

Accepting first of all that the response to any marketing you do is ALWAYS dictated by the interplay between three basic factors (your MESSAGE; where your product or service sits in the COMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENT (including your product offering and pricing); and the MEDIUM you use for promotion (in which I include the source and quality of the audience), there are certain industry benchmarks for email marketing that can give you a general impression of the kind of ballpark your own returns should be in.

And, based on huge studies on billions of commercial, bulk-sent email from all over the world sent in 2010, here are four key email marketing benchmarks you should know:

  1. Open rates
  2. Time of opens
  3. Clickthrough rates
  4. List attrition rates

Open rates

Email ‘open rates’ are a measure used my marketers to gauge what proportion of recipients ‘open’ or ‘view’ commercial email. (See my ebook for a full explanation of why open rates should be taken with a pinch of salt and as a relative, rather than absolute, measure).

Open rates are overall about 11% for mass email, but this varies from an average of 5% to 25% depending on the industry you’re in.

Unsurprisingly, the smaller the list, the better the rate of opens and clickthroughs, so if you’re just starting out with your list, you may see even higher rates.

Even the very best small list, however, will generally only get an open rate of 40%, so get used to the idea that even the very best email ezine or email promotion will not be read by the majority of its recipients every time.

How do you improve your open rates? The biggest factor you control after deliverability (which is heavily influenced by your choice of email marketing software) is subject line.

Time of opening

In general, about one-third of total opens of commercial happen within two hours of receipt, and 75% happen within 24 hours.

So within one day of sending an email, you can make a fairly clear judgment on its success, certainly in terms of clickthroughs and opens.

But don’t discount the ‘long tail’ of respondents who respond after 24 hours. Who knows when a latecomer could become your biggest client, or someone dig out an old email, or forward your email on? For this reason, you should always keep the links (and any images used in your email promotion) LIVE for a long time – certainly months, probably a year, and arguably longer.

Clickthrough rates

The clickthrough rate (CTR) of an email marketing campaign is calculated by dividing the total number of clicks on the email by the total number of emails sent out (multiplied by 100 to get a percentage).

Clickthrough rates vary by sector but 0.5% to 2.5% is a general ballpark figure for bulk email as a whole.

Bear in mind that this statistic includes standalone promotional email (a marketing method we’ll look at in detail next week), where we might expect higher clickthrough rates, since the entire purpose of the email is to generate clicks.

By contrast, ezines (otherwise known as email newsletters) often have more subtle purposes (like providing information, positioning a business or individual, building trust and so on) so immediate clicks are not always the be-all and end-all.

What can you do to improve your clickthrough rates? One very simply method is to include video in your email, which has been found to improve clickthrough rate by two to three times. Clickable screenshots, leading to a video on YouTube for example, are just as effective as embedding a video in your email.

List attrition

Annual list attrition – meaning the proportion of email addresses on a list that leave or become invalid – is typically 10% to 33%.

In other words, every year, you will 1 in 10 to 1 in 3 of your subscribers’ email addresses will leave your list or become inactive.

What does this mean for you? Well unfortunately, if your list appears to be standing still, you’re actually probably going backwards.

Solution? Produce valuable content that can’t be had anywhere else, like a great ezine, and market it. There is little you can do that is as valuable to you as actively building your list!

NB Please note that these four benchmarks are AVERAGES based on an extremely broad range of data – there is no such thing as a typical list or email promotion, so you must test and learn what works for you.

But they ARE useful benchmarks to keep in mind as you plan, test and refine your email marketing.


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