“In 2009, The Wall Street Journal published an article claiming that email was dead. Ironically, it was the most emailed article of the day.”
Source: Marketo, The Definitive Guide to Engaging Email Marketing (2013).
Twice in a week, I found myself having a conversation about email marketing.
What’s the typical click-through rate on marketing emails?
Two percent, right? Everyone knows that.
Or do we.
The truth is I haven’t looked at a current email marketing study in a while. So, this past weekend, I spent a lot of time on the websites of several email marketing vendors to pour over data they’ve published.
Why turn to email marketing vendors? Because many commercial email marketing tools are SaaS products which allow them to aggregate data – often analyzing millions of emails – and look at trends across their customer base.
This is important because it’s not survey data – it’s behavioral data. I reviewed every single primary source listed here. There are no secondary sources.
This post is presented in an easy-to-read format. The data and sources are named up top while I reserved the links to the underlying source at the bottom. I do encourage you to spend time reviewing those.
In the meantime, here’s what I found.
What is the average email marketing open rate?
An analysis of data shows the average email marketing open rate ranges between 16.74% and 21.09% across all industries and markets.
Here’s the data:
- 16.74% across all markets according to Constant Contact;
- 17.92% across all markets according to Campaign Monitor;
- Campaign Monitor also says Thursdays have the highest open rates;
- 18.89% across all [US] markets according to GetResponse;
- 19.3% across 170 clients in Q4 2018 according to Epsilon; and
- 21.09% across all markets according to Mailchimp.
While these statistics are not as clean:
- Return Path doesn’t use the same metric standards as everyone else. The closest thing to an open rate they have is a “read rate” which was 24% across all verticals in 2018.
- HubSpot has a tool for checking to benchmark your open rate. I tried it for this post, and it’s telling me the average open rate for all industries is 37% and it’s 28% for PR and communications. This seems high to me, but website metadata indicates the tool was fielded in 2017.
What are the average email click-through rates (CTRs)?
An analysis of data shows the average email marketing click-through rate (CTR) ranges between 2.61% and 7.43% accross all industries and markets but most marketers will see CTRs at about 2-3%.
Here’s the data:
- 2.1% across 170 clients in Q4 2018 according to Epsilon;
- 2.61% across all markets according to Mailchimp;
- 2.69% across all markets according to Campaign Monitor;
- Campaign Monitor also says Tuesdays have the highest CTRs;
- 3.18% across all [US] markets according to GetResponse; and
- 7.43% across all markets according to Constant Contact.
What are the average email marketing bounce rates?
An analysis of data shows the average email marketing bounce rates can range from less than 1% to 10%.
Some vendors, like Mailchimp, distinguish between a “hard bounce” and a “soft bounce.” A hard bounce will happen when an email address is closed – like when someone moves on to a new job. A soft bounce will occur when an inbox is full – like when someone goes on vacation.
Here’s the data:
- 0.39% across all markets according to Mailchimp (hard bounce);
- 1.06% across all markets according to Campaign Monitor;
- Campaign Monitor also says Mondays have the fewest bounces; and
- 10.05% across all markets according to Constant Contact.
The Constant Contact bounce rate seems exceedingly high but I double-checked the number before scheduling this post, and that’s what the company is reporting at the time this was published. I welcome an email from a representative with a correction or clarification.
What are the average email marketing unsubscribe rates?
An analysis of data shows the average email marketing unsubscribe rate ranges from 0.02% to 0.23% across all industries and markets.
Here’s the data:
- 0.02% across all markets according to Constant Contact;
- 0.17% across all markets according to Campaign Monitor;
- Campaign Monitor also says Sunday and Monday have the least unsubscribes;
- 0.19% across all [US] markets according to GetResponse; and
- 0.23% across all markets according to Mailchimp.
I use the Mailchimp email marketing system and can tell you they make really easy for people to unsubscribe in one-click – this is a good thing.
What is the average length of an email marketing subject line?
An analysis of data suggests that between 80-120 characters are the ideal length for an email subject line. However, there is hard evidence to show that longer subject lines can outperform average open rates. In addition, only about 50 characters of a subject line are visible when an email is being read on a mobile device.
Here’s the data:
- The most recent reporting by GetResponse shows the data varies widely. For example, subject lines between 80-120 characters have the highest open rates, around 25%. However, some of the longer subject lines also performed well. For example, about 0.13% of emails sent through their system had subject lines of 180-189 characters and CTRs of 17.8%. GetResponse says in the commentary, “At the end of the day, it all comes down to giving your subscriber an idea of what’s inside.”
- An analysis by AWeber of 1,000 emails produced by “top marketers” found the subject lines had an average of 44 characters; this very is clause is about 40 characters long.
- In 2016, an email marketing agency in the UK called AlchemyWorx tested 21 billion emails and found no real difference in the subject line length. Sometimes longer ones performed better, and sometimes short ones did.“With one or two exceptions there aren’t significant differences between the tactics,” wrote the company. “That’s because there is no single tactic that works all the time. It’s the change in approach that yields results and naturally these even out over time.”
- A 2016 study by Boomerang found, “Subject lines with only 3-4 words (excluding email conventions like Re: and Fwd:) received the most responses.” By my calculations that works out to about 20-30 characters with spaces, which is this much.“Once again, though, the response rates dropped slowly as more words were added. So, if an extra subject line word will add a lot of clarity, go ahead and include it,” the company advises.
And while these related statistics are specifically about subject line length, they are useful for considering effective subject lines:
- “There’s only around a 5 percentage point difference between personalized and non-personalized subject lines,” according to GetResponse. In addition, “there’s little difference between personalized and non-personalized emails.”I’d suggest being wary about drawing conclusions based on this statistic. If you do personalize emails be sure to carefully test what happens to your own rates with and without it.
- iContact found that “subject lines that received an 80% or higher open rate” tended to have a “single declarative word or instructional phrase, followed by a colon, and then followed by the rest of the sender’s subject line text.”Those words were: congratulations, please read, action required, reminder, update available, announcing, information enclosed, alert, last day to enter, urgent, and important.
- “Subject lines are often truncated depending on device or service provider, so limit them to 50 characters or fewer,” according to Salesforce. On that topic, “around 53% of all emails are opened on phones and tablets,” according to Emma Email Marketing.
Studies suggest the more effective marketing emails are somewhere between 100-200 words. One study puts that number at as few as 50 while another had an average of more than 400.
As the old saying goes, “brevity is the soul of wit.”
Here’s the data:
- “Emails that had no more than 20 lines of text or 200 words generated higher click-through rates,” according to Constant Contact. “Adding anything more lowered the effectiveness of the email.”
- An analysis by AWeber of 1,000 emails produced by 100 people they identified as “top marketers” found these messages have an average of 434 words.
- A 2016 study by Boomerang found, “The sweet spot for email length is between 50-125 words, all of which yielded response rates above 50%. Response rates declined slowly from 50% for 125-word messages to about 44% for 500-word messages.”Their recommendation? “So, while the optimal length for an email is under 125 words, you shouldn’t worry too much if you need a few extra.”However, you shouldn’t make the messages too short. The company found “emails under 50 words showed a much steeper decline in response rates. A 25-word email works about as well as a 2000-word one, with only a 44% chance of getting a response.”
- A 2006 eye-tracking study of 117 email newsletters with 42 participants by the Nielsen Norman Group found, “found that users are extremely fast at both processing their inboxes and reading newsletters: the average time allocated to a newsletter after opening it was only 51 seconds. “Reading” is not even the right word, since participants fully read only 19% of newsletters. The predominant user behavior was scanning. Often, users didn’t even scan the entire newsletter: 35% of the time, participants only skimmed a small part of the newsletter or glanced at the content.” Though I could not pinpoint a definitive study, several sources suggest the average person reads about 200 words per minute, which leads some to conclude that rounding 51 seconds up to a minute gives you 200 words or less per email.
If you have another primary source on the average length of marketing email copy, I’d welcome, well, an email about it.
When is the best time to send a marketing email?
The available data indicated that Mondays and Tuesdays are the best times to send email because those days have higher open rates. However, the reporting sources show that the best day can vary over time. More data is necessary to be more convincing.
Here’s the data:
- According to GetResponse, Mondays and Tuesdays were the best days in the most recent assessment of the data. In addition, “two timeslots tend to get the best average email open rates and CTRs: 9-11am and 3-5pm. And it’s been that way for at least the last two years.”However, a previous study the company did found Friday was the best day to send an email, so the “best time” can vary over time.
- Constant Contact measures this by the highest open rate by local time. The company doesn’t provide an average across all industries for this metric. By my assessment of their data, afternoons and evenings tend to have higher open rates. Here’s what the company says for a few markets by vertical:
- Legal Services: Tuesday 4:00 p.m.
- Marketing, Advertising, Public Relations: Tuesday 4:00 p.m.
- Publishing: Monday 3:00 p.m.
11 Data-Driven Tips that will Improve Your Email Marketing
While I set out to look for benchmarking data, in the course of reviewing so many different reports, I saw tips that just looked interesting and thought would add value to this post.
1) Choose your links carefully.
iContact says, “Many lead generation professionals would warn email marketers not to include too many link choices; it’s best to stick with just one. Otherwise, your customer will not know what you want them to do!”
Constant Contact makes a similar assessment. “Emails with just a couple of links, especially those featured at the top of the email saw greater clicks. And, people tended to click links that appeared higher up in the email.”
2) Better than social?
According to Emma, “you are 6x more likely to get a click-through with an email campaign than a tweet.”
3) Readers welcome the welcome emails.
“The welcome email is the single most effective message you can send. According to our latest data, average open rates soar above 80% – and click-through rates are around 22-25%,” according to GetResponse.
4) One email per week yields higher open rates and CTRs.
Get Response also says, “If we look at the mailing frequency data, we see that email marketers who send just one newsletter a week get the highest average open and click-through rates. It’s a popular approach since 49% of all accounts we analyzed only send one newsletter a week.”
5) The NoReplay and DoNotReplay email addresses.
“The noreply@ addresses is a little ironic,” according to GetResponse.
“Most marketers will swear their customers are at the center of their business. That they care about their opinions and feedback, both positive and negative. And then, after earning their trust and convincing them to complete an opt-in form, they use an email address that straight-out says: “We don’t care enough about you to check this inbox.”
6) Pictures are worth 1,000 words.
“Emails with images perform better than those without. There’s over one percentage point difference in click-through rates (4.11% vs 2.87%),” according to GetResponse. Similarly, Constant Contact says, “Emails with 1-3 images performed better than those with no images or more than three.”
7) Deleted without reading.
In 2018, 16% of all email was deleted before being read, according to Return Path. The company also produces some other interesting statistics. For 2018 and across all markets, these include: a .06% reply rate, .02% forward rate, and .02% of emails were rescued – marked “not junk” or “not spam”.
8) The larger the email list, the lower your rates.
Generally, the data from GetResponse shows that the larger email lists have lower open rates and CTRs. This makes sense if you think about comparing it to website metrics – clicks and time-on-page tend to move inversely.
9) Technologists don’t trust emails that push urgency.
In the software and technology market, iContact says educational subject lines are best and does not recommend subject lines that aim to “create a sense of urgency.” Why? “The tech audience is one of the most marketed-to and is, therefore, the savviest in evaluating which emails are relevant to them and which are just blowing smoke.”
10) Ask and you shall receive.
“We found that emails that asked 1-3 questions are 50% more likely to get a response than emails asking no questions,” according to Boomerang.
11) Sad face: Emojis will reduce your engagement rates.
Outreach tested emojis on their own sales prospects (so think B2B). The targeted prospects that were in the middle or the end of a defined email sequence – so it wasn’t their first attempt. In testing 2,000 emails, “across all seven test variations, we saw [emojis create] a 42% decline in reply rate when the subject line featured emojis.”
Ten years ago, I worked for a company that acquired iContact. It was really eye-opening to get a behind-the-scenes look at the science of email marketing up close.
It was equally amazing to see all the crazy things email marketing vendors have to deal with. Bad actors abused email like nothing else back then – and today phishing emails are the single largest source of threats.
Today, I do quite a bit of email marketing, both for clients and for my own business. So, all things considered – my vender experience, my own email marketing and reviewing a bunch of studies – below are three takeaways…
a) Go short, go short, go short, then go long.
In American football, if you run several quick outs in a row and move the chains marking a first down, you create an opportunity to go throw a long pass down the sidelines. This is because the defensive backs start to cheat up on the field to stop the short pass.
Similarly, in email marketing, less copy is probably better but mix it up once in a while and experiment. If everyone is sending pithy subject lines and brief emails, this is an easy way to stand out and be different in a sea of marketing sameness.
But by all means, take the space you need to effectively communicate an idea. Or as Constant Contact put it, “The best length for an email is long enough to entice the reader to take the desired action.”
b) The best time to send an email?
There just isn’t enough data to make a call here and it can clearly change. In my own email marketing, I’ve seen higher open rates and CTRs on Sunday than I do on Monday, and almost all the studies say, “don’t send an email on Sunday.”
Indeed, people will joke that there’s a special place in hell for marketers that send an email on the weekend. Yet what people say and what they do are often two different things – and you’ve got to look at your own data and decide.
c) Continuously challenge assumptions and test previous conclusions.
A “best practice” that you did yesterday, a year ago, or at your last company, may not be the best practice anymore. Marketing automation and the ability to send trigger emails based on behavior, rather than campaign-style emails, for example, is changing things.
The fact is email techniques and practices change with time and space. We’ve all got to continuously challenge our assumptions and test our previous conclusions. We’re all forever students of marketing, or we’re not marketers anymore.We’ve all got to continuously challenge our assumptions and test our previous conclusions. We’re all forever students of marketing, or we’re not marketers anymore.Click To Tweet
Here are the Data Sources for Your Review
Most of these vendors do a wonderful job of presenting this data and I’ve just skimmed the surface of the data they provide. As such, these numbers can vary by industry, by frequency and by type – i.e. welcome email vs. triggered-by-behavior email vs. newsletter. If email marketing is one of your duties, it’s worth spending some time looking over these sources for yourself.
Some of these sources are updated periodically. I referenced the data displayed on the links below, or around the weekend of July 6, 2019.
- Email Marketing Benchmarks by Mailchimp
- Average Industry Rates for Email by Constant Contact
- Find the Best Time to Send an Email by Constant Contact
- How Long Should a Marketing Email Be? by Constant Contact
- The Ultimate Subject Line Guide by iContact
- Ultimate Email Marketing Benchmarks for 2019 by Campaign Monitor
- 5 Stats that reveal the state of email in 2019 by Emma Email Marketing
- 2019 Email Marketing Statistics: We Analyzed 1,000 Emails… by AWeber
- Email Marketing Benchmarks by GetResponse
- Email Marketing Best Practices for 2019 by GetResponse
- Q4 2018 email trends & benchmarks by Epsilon
- The 2019 Hidden Metrics of Email Deliverability by Return Path
- 50 Best Practices for Email Marketers by Salesforce
- The Definitive Guide to Engaging Email Marketing by Marketo 
- Subject Line Gold – originality is the key to sustainable success by AlchemyWorx
- 7 Tips for Getting More Responses to Your Emails (With Data!) by Boomerang
- Email open rate comparison tool by HubSpot
- Will Emojis Increase Reply Rates? by Outreach
- Email Newsletters: Surviving Inbox Congestion by Nielsen Norman Group
Also, this one isn’t a study, but I happened upon it in my research and found it thought-provoking and relevant: Email Testing: Going Beyond Open Rate and Click Rate.
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If you work for a vendor and have data to share, I’d welcome an email. Please read the Pitches! Read Me! section first.
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Image credits: Unsplash, AWeber, Outreach