The 9 Most Important Email Marketing KPIs
Table of Contents
Digital marketing trends change fast, but one thing has been incredibly consistent for years: the effectiveness of email marketing.
Email marketing is still the best way to own and hone your customer outreach.
- Own: Your email list is yours and yours alone. Unlike Twitter, where only a fraction of your followers see what you post, email gives you a direct line to your audience. And it isn’t susceptible to platform or algorithm changes.
- Hone: As you send out emails, you can optimize them over time based on how they perform.
But although email as a channel has been consistent, the email marketing metrics you should be tracking have changed rapidly over the last couple of years.
That’s in large part because of new privacy updates that hamper accurate metric tracking.
For instance, it used to be best practice to track open rates. Now, with releases like Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection, open rates are all but meaningless. Email marketers who rely on them will need a new way to assess whether their emails are working.
Top email KPIs for 2022
We’ll go through the most important email marketing KPIs for 2022 below. These are the key performance indicators that will tell you how effective your email marketing campaigns are.
Everything you’re about to read has been researched and vetted by practitioners from our community. You can find plenty of other blog posts about the basics of email KPIs. But here, we're going to focus on the KPIs that practicing marketers at top companies are using to build their email marketing engines.
Here are the nine most important email marketing KPIs:
- Conversion rate
- Revenue per subscriber
- Revenue per email
- Click-through rate
- Click-to-open rate
- Bounce rate
- List growth rate
- Share & forward rate
- Overall ROI
Before we go over each KPI, we’ll set the stage. There are three things every email marketer should do before they ever start looking at their email analytics:
- Define your email marketing goals.
- Set up your tracking tools.
- Get up to speed on privacy—new updates have completely changed the game.
We’ll cover privacy in more detail after KPIs, but feel free to jump to it here.
Define your email marketing goals
It’s essential to know your goal for your email marketing campaigns.
There’s no point in tracking email KPIs if you don’t know why you’re tracking them. Every email marketing campaign should have at least one goal.
Defining your goal will help you focus your efforts.
For example, say you have an amazing new-to-market workout app. You’re entering a competitive industry, and you know it will take a while to build market share. Your initial goal isn’t to generate tons of revenue. Instead, it’s to increase brand awareness, so people who use competing workout apps will get curious about yours.
For your goal of brand awareness, you’ll probably care more about some KPIs than others. Your share and forward rate will be a big deal to you, since you want to know that subscribers are sharing your emails with their friends. Same with your list growth rate. You want more new signups than unsubscribes.
On the other hand, overall ROI is less pertinent to your goal. It’s not as much of an indicator that brand awareness is spreading.
Some common email marketing goals:
- Increasing conversions
- Building brand trust
- Decreasing churn
- Driving engagement
- Generating word of mouth
- Reducing the length of time between signup and purchase
No matter what your goal is, for all your email marketing KPIs, be sure to track:
- Trends over time
- KPIs against industry benchmarks
Metrics in isolation don’t reveal much. What takes them from moderately helpful to essential is studying them in comparison—both to past performance and to your industry standards.
How to track email marketing metrics
All email service providers (ESPs) track email marketing analytics directly within their platform. That includes big hitters like Mailchimp, SendGrid, Customer IO, and Klaviyo.
Platforms like those are also popular for their email automation capabilities. Although we never advocate for a “set it and forget it” mentality—marketers should always pay attention to what’s happening—automation is essential for increasing efficiency.
Not all metrics are tracked by all ESPs, however. Whereas ESPs always track clicks, opens, and unsubscribes, you might need to use a third-party tool for other KPIs, like ROI and revenue. Some analytics dashboards we like are Amplitude, Mixpanel, and Heap.
If you’re working on your email marketing stack, we recommend checking out our marketing tools playbook. It’s based on interviews with 100+ top growth marketers.
Now that the stage is set, let’s jump in to KPIs. Starting with a metric that’s often thought of as a KPI, but isn’t actually a true key performance indicator.
Why open rate probably shouldn’t be one of your email KPIs
Myth-debunking time: Open rates don’t matter as much as you might have heard.
Open rates have, frankly, always been kind of a vanity metric. They don’t tell you how good your email is. They tell you how good your subject line is, and how much recipients liked your past emails.
Plus, some email clients automatically open all images. Since tracking pixels are image elements, guess what that means for accurate reporting?
Now, with releases like Apple's iOS 15, open rates are even less useful. Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection keeps senders from knowing if an email has been opened, in addition to hiding IP addresses. (At the end of this article, we'll explain how Mail Privacy Protection and other releases have changed data tracking.)
Consider your email marketing goals. If first impressions and subject line appeal are important for you to track, go ahead and use open rate as a KPI, bearing in mind the possibility that your data is inflated. Otherwise, there are worthier metrics to pay attention to.
Note: An alternative to open rates is open reach rate. That’s the number of subscribers who, over a period of time (e.g., 30 days), open at least one of your emails, divided by the number of subscribers who received at least one email from you.
We prefer open reach rate because it tracks the number of unique subscribers who open your emails, instead of the number of emails that were opened. And it tracks change over a time period, instead of looking at open metrics on an email-by-email basis. Although open reach rate doesn’t solve the fundamental problem of its sibling metric, it is more informative when it comes to overarching trends.
KPI #1: Conversion rate
What it is: The percentage of recipients who convert based on your email
A conversion doesn’t necessarily mean a sale. A conversion could mean any desired action, such as a content download or event registration.
Or it could mean a sale. You might define “conversion” as a product bought or a subscription signed up for.
What a conversion is depends entirely on your goal for your email. Which is one reason why it helps so much to set goals.
Why it’s important: Your conversion rate is the most crucial KPI to track. It’s Indicator #1 of how strong your email marketing performance is. No matter what your conversion is, you want to track it and get more of it.
How to calculate it: Subscribers who complete your conversion action / Emails delivered * 100
Example: You send out a drip email series to prospects. It has five emails in it, and each one has a goal of getting recipients to sign up for a sales demo. Your first email goes out to 3,500 people and gets 50 signups. By the fifth email in the series, there are 1,200 recipients—the rest either converted or unsubscribed. Of those, nine sign up for the demo.
The first email has a conversion rate of 1.4%. The fifth has a conversion rate of 0.75%.
Ways to improve conversion rate:
- Have one goal per email.
- Segment your emails, so different buyer personas see what appeals most to them. Marketers generate 760% (!) more email revenue from segmented campaigns.
- Run A/B tests. Testing will help you fine-tune elements like subject lines, call-to-action (CTA) buttons, design, and messaging.
- Trigger emails to go out based on engagement with your site or app. Triggered emails drive 624% more conversions than broadcasts.
Note: We share the latest conversion tactics in our newsletter, which goes out to 50k+ marketers every other week.
KPI #2: Revenue per subscriber
What it is: Revenue earned per subscriber on your list
Why it’s important: Think of revenue per subscriber as the email version of average revenue per user (ARPU). ARPU tells you how much you’re earning per user, and it’s one of the most important metrics for businesses to track.
Revenue per subscriber reveals how much you earn for every email address on your list. It and the next KPI on our list, revenue per email, are the two strongest indicators of effectiveness in email marketing.
They’re the stats that tell you how your email marketing truly affects your bottom line. Which in turn affects your entire growth marketing strategy—not just email.
For instance, if your revenue per subscriber and revenue per email are high, you might make actionable growth decisions based on those numbers.
- You might decide to experiment with making “subscribe to our newsletter” your above-the-fold CTA.
- You might start putting ad spend behind your email marketing. Instead of running an ad for your product or service, maybe you promote a piece of content. And accessing it requires an email address.
- You might integrate your content marketing and email marketing strategies, so your blog content is informed by what’s worked in your emails.
If your email revenue is relatively low, you’ll need to put resources toward optimizing your emails in relation to your customer journey. Or maybe you’ll decide to focus on a different channel entirely.
How to calculate it: Total email revenue / Total subscribers
Example: Your company makes $30,000 from an email campaign promoting a seasonal special. The campaign reaches 4,000 subscribers. Your revenue per subscriber is $7.50.
Ways to improve revenue per subscriber:
- Segmentation. Emails that meet your subscribers exactly where they’re at produce more revenue than blanket “blasts.”
- List management. When you prune your list, you reduce the number of subscribers who are unlikely to ever become customers. We’ll explain how to keep your subscriber list “clean” under KPI #6, bounce rate.
- Personalization. Use personalization tags, and trigger emails to go out at appropriate times during a prospect’s journey. For an added personal touch, try including a person’s name in the “from” field, instead of just a brand name.
KPI #3: Revenue per email
What it is: Revenue earned per email
Why it’s important: Like revenue per subscriber, revenue per email assigns a monetary value to your email marketing. It’s an especially useful KPI for purchase conversion goals. If you have an ecommerce company, you’ll want to know how effective individual emails are at generating sales.
There are a few different ways to approach this metric:
- You can track revenue by email type—such as newsletter, promotion, or abandoned cart email—using tags in your ESP.
- You can track revenue by individual emails in a campaign, such as unique newsletters or emails in a drip campaign.
How to calculate it: Total email revenue / Emails delivered
Example: You send out eight emails after someone abandons their shopping cart. The first is delivered to 3,000 people over the course of a month and generates $15,000. The eighth is delivered to 1,800 people and earns $300. The revenue per email for the first email is $5, and for the eighth, it’s $0.16. Since the revenue/email has dropped so much, you decide to reduce the total number of emails that go out.
(PS Abandoned cart emails generate the most revenue of any email type. But to prevent inbox flooding, we don’t recommend sending out more than four.)
KPI #4: Click-through rate (CTR)
What it is: The percentage of recipients who click any link in an email
Why it’s important: Your CTR shows you how well an email captures your audience’s interest. The higher the CTR, the more engaging your email is.
How to calculate it: Link clicks / Emails delivered * 100
There are two types of CTR you can calculate:
- Total CTR: This includes all clicks. If a subscriber clicks the same link five times, total CTR would factor in those clicks five times.
- Unique CTR: This is only for unique clicks. For the subscriber who clicks the same link five times, unique CTR would count it as one click.
Both are beneficial to track. Total CTR provides a sense of how engaging your emails are overall. If your emails are driving a ton of clicks, they’re clearly compelling.
But total CTR can be noisy. Some of those clicks might be from people switching devices or forgetting they already opened a link in their browser. So unique CTR can be more illuminating when it comes to understanding what truly drives conversion.
Example: If an email is delivered to 3,000 recipients and gets 200 clicks, its CTR is 200/3,000 * 100: 6.67%.
Benchmarks: The team at MailerLite found that the average click rate across all industries is 3.75%. The top industries for clicks are bloggers (7.17%), games (6.74%), and government (5.75%), whereas software and web apps (1.35%), insurance (1.38%), and public relations (1.93%) have the lowest clicks. We recommend shooting for a CTR of at least 2-5%.
Ways to improve CTR:
- See conversion rate above. The same methods apply to CTR: a single goal, segmentation, A/B testing, and user-based triggering.
- Don’t forget about mobile optimization. Chances are that you’re building your emails on desktop. Make sure they look good on mobile too. How does the mobile version look above the fold?
- Use a call to value instead of a call to action. Having a call to value means replacing generic CTAs with ones with clear value. Think of a cooking supplies site that sends out an email with a link to a blog post. Instead of a CTA that says “read the blog post here,” a more value-driven button would say “learn how to make sourdough.”
- We’re big advocates of optimizing for clicks. But there is a risk to making CTR your primary email KPI: You can start to think of email as more of a conduit than a piece of content. Yes, you want clicks, but that doesn’t mean email should just be a means to an end. It should be a strong piece of content itself.
- A variation on CTR is click reach rate, which tracks clicks/emails over a time period (e.g., 30 or 90 days), for all emails sent during that time. It’s a helpful metric for understanding the percentage of your subscriber list that's clicking links in your emails over time. But it’s hard to calculate, and ESPs don’t typically automate this metric.
Email isn’t just a conduit. It’s content. To get clicks, it needs to click with readers.
KPI #5: Click-to-open rate (CTOR)
What it is: The percentage of subscribers who click in an email after opening it
Why it’s important: CTOR tells you how appealing your copy, design, and CTAs are. A low CTOR means your content isn’t delivering on the expectation set by your subject line and brand. A high CTOR shows that your email content is resonating with your audience.
Of course, take CTOR with a grain of salt. It factors in open rates, and you know how reliable those are (not very). Even so, clicks:opens can be useful as general evidence of email effectiveness.
How to calculate it: Unique clicks / Unique opens * 100
Example: New subscribers to your email list get a welcome email with a 15% off discount. It’s opened 600 unique times over the course of a week, and it gets 90 unique link clicks. Its CTOR is 90/600 * 100: 15%.
Benchmarks: According to Campaign Monitor, real estate, design, and construction have the highest CTOR: 17.2%. Retail has the lowest (5.8%), and the cross-industry average is 10.5%. But bear in mind that CTORs have been changing significantly since Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection release.
Campaign Monitor also found that the best days for CTOR are Tuesday and Wednesday, and the worst are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Ways to improve CTOR:
- Same as conversion rate and CTR
KPI #6: Bounce rate
What it is: The percentage of your emails that don’t get delivered to an email server
Why it’s important: Your email list needs to be clean. Internet service providers (ISPs) will judge your sender reputation by how engaged your subscribers are with your emails. That includes email deliverability. If your emails aren’t reaching subscribers, your sender reputation will be negatively affected—which means your emails might land in more spam folders than inboxes.
There are two types of bounce rate:
- Soft bounce: This is temporary. The recipient’s email address is valid, but there’s a delivery issue. Their mailbox might be full, the message might be too big, or something else might be preventing your email from reaching its destination. ESPs will often try resending an email a few times after a soft bounce.
- Hard bounce: This is permanent. It’s often caused by an email address being invalid or a server blocking delivery.
Hard bounces hurt your sender reputation more, so consider them to be more of a red flag. But soft bounces are also an indicator of list hygiene, or lack thereof. A high soft bounce rate could mean not only an at-risk sender rep, but also an inefficient email marketing program that’s not connecting with as many people as it could.
We recommend monitoring both types—which is easy to do, since most ESPs track both.
How to calculate it: Bounced emails / Total emails sent * 100
Example: You send an email to 13,000 email addresses. Your ESP reports that 70 are soft bounces, and 40 are hard bounces. The soft bounce rate is 0.54%, and the hard bounce rate is 0.31%.
Benchmarks: Daily deals and e-coupons have the healthiest bounce rate (0.14%), and construction has the highest: 1.89%. Across all industries, the average is 0.55%. We recommend keeping yours below 2%. A bounce rate in the 5% range or higher is cause for concern.
Ways to improve your bounce rate:
- Remove all hard-bounce email addresses from your list. And remove any duplicate emails.
- If a subscriber soft bounces during multiple campaigns, consider them a hard bounce. Remove them from your list.
- Check your subscriber list. If some email addresses have obvious typos (like firstname.lastname@example.org), fix them. If they’re clearly fake accounts (like email@example.com), delete them.
- Make sure your subscribers want to be your subscribers. Use double opt-in for new subscribers, and periodically clean your list. Once a quarter, duplicate your email list and search for contacts who’ve been inactive for over three months. Before you remove them, try a win-back campaign. Explain that they’ll be removed if they don’t start opening and engaging with your emails.
- The best way to have a good sender reputation: Consistently write quality emails. People engage with content they genuinely want to read. The stronger your email content, the more your subscribers will interact with it—and the better your ISP sender rep will become.
An added bonus of practicing good list hygiene: ESPs charge by contacts, so a clean list means a lower bill.
- Check your spam complaints and unsubscribe rate too. Although these aren’t among the most essential KPIs, a high complaint rate and many unsubscribes are signs that your email campaigns aren’t doing their job. They might be hurting your brand reputation and deliverability in the meantime.
- Just because your email doesn’t bounce doesn’t mean it’s reaching inboxes. Another metric you might want to track is your inbox placement rate (IPR). That’s how many emails are delivered to inboxes vs. other folders, like spam.
KPI #7: List growth rate
What it is: Growth rate for your subscriber list
Why it’s important: You want to be gaining subscribers over time. Your list will experience natural attrition as people unsubscribe, you remove inactive subscribers, etc. New signups should significantly outweigh those losses.
How to calculate it: (New subscribers - subscribers who leave your list) / Total subscribers * 100
Example: Your SaaS company is featured in a prominent news article and gets 7,000 new subscribers over the course of the following month. During that time, 900 existing subscribers leave your list, which ends up having 20,000 total subscribers.
Your list growth rate for that month is (7,000-900)/20,000 * 100: 30.5%.
For ways to improve your list growth rate, check out our tactics for how to grow your email list.
KPI #8: Shares & forwards
What it is: Click-through rate, but specifically for social media share buttons and forward buttons. It’s the percentage of your subscribers who click links to share or forward your emails.
Why it’s important: Shared content has a greater impact than non-shared. When people share a brand’s content, they’re indicating their support for it. And, implicitly, for that brand.
That’s a powerful form of word of mouth and social proof.
Plus, people make buying decisions based on what their friends share.
How to calculate it: Unique clicks on share and forward links / Emails delivered * 100
Example: You send out an email about an upcoming virtual event. It's delivered to 20,000 subscribers, and its social share and forward buttons get a total of 700 unique clicks. Its share and forward rate is 700/20,000 * 100: 3.5%.
Ways to improve shares and forwards:
- If you don’t have social share and forward links in your emails (like “share with your network”), add them.
- Analyze your email content to see what gets shared. Do particular content types or topics get more shares and forwards than others? Bring those insights with you to your next campaigns.
- Here are the six reasons why content gets shared, according to Contagious author Jonah Berger. Consider them as you create content you want readers to share.
1) It gives the sender social currency. As Berger explains, “People share things that make them look good to others.”
2) It’s triggered by the surrounding environment. If something is “top of mind, [it’s] tip of tongue.”
3) It elicits emotion. “When we care, we share.”
4) It’s publicly visible. “If something is built to show, it’s built to grow.”
5) It has practical value. “People like to pass along practical, useful information. News others can use.”
6) It’s a good story. “People don’t think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives.”
KPI #9: Overall ROI
What it is: Your email marketing return on investment. Your ROI compares revenue to costs.
Why it’s important: One of the most important ratios for all businesses is ARPU:CAC. That’s how much you earn (average revenue per user) compared to how much you spend (customer acquisition cost) to get customers.
Email marketing ROI reveals something similar. It’s how much you earn in relation to how much you spend on your email campaigns. It’s a crucial number.
- If you’re putting more money into your email marketing than you’re getting out of it, you might have a problem (unless email is an area where you’re willing to take a loss because of other benefits gained).
- If you’re earning much more than you’re spending, you might consider allocating more resources toward your email marketing efforts.
How to calculate it: Gross profit / Costs * 100
Your gross profit is your total revenue minus campaign costs. To get the most reliable ROI, you would factor all campaign costs into your calculation, including the costs of your email marketing tools, email marketer salaries, and creative.
Example: Your ecommerce company has an email campaign for your new product line. It cost $2,000 to make and earns $15,000. Your ROI is ($15,000-$2,000)/$2,000 * 100: 650%.
Benchmarks: The average email ROI is $36 for every dollar spent. The team at Litmus gathered data from over 2,000 marketers to reach that number. (We think they might be using revenue instead of gross profit, so yours might look different.) Here’s what they determined the ROI to be for different industries:
- Media, publishing, events, sports, and entertainment: 32:1
- Software and technology: 36:1
- Marketing, PR, and advertising agencies: 42:1
- Retail, ecommerce, and consumer goods: 45:1
Ways to improve email marketing ROI: All the tips throughout this article will help you improve your campaigns’ ROI.
What the latest privacy updates mean for your email KPI tracking
In addition to understanding the top KPIs to track, ahead-of-the-game marketers know how those KPIs fit into the current email ecosystem. It’s changed drastically.
One of the biggest shifts in technology in the 2020s has been the push for consumer privacy and data protection. Some Google users are migrating to private-searching platforms like DuckDuckGo. Many Facebook marketers had to adjust their ad strategies post–iOS 14, which limited targeting and reporting.
Email inboxes are among the affected realms. Consumers are choosing to treat their inboxes as their proprietary space, instead of a public page. They’re blocking images where possible, and they’re using encryption services to protect their IP addresses and other identifiers.
Companies are taking action too. In 2021, iPhone users who upgraded to iOS 15 saw a new screen as they completed their update. It had two options: “protect Mail activity” and “don’t protect Mail activity.”
The first offered to hide IP addresses and privately load remote content. Guess which one a lot of users picked?
(We’re not sure how many—Apple protected that data too! But average open rates started changing noticeably around the time of release, so it’s clear that many users opted in.)
We’re all for people taking their privacy into their own hands. And we’re big fans of the increased awareness of what exactly happens in your inbox. Can you imagine consumers in 2022 being okay with Gmail reading their emails (which it did until 2017, to improve ad targeting)?
Neither can we.
But this does affect how email marketers do their jobs.
Case in point: Consumers are becoming more mindful of which brands they subscribe to and what they read. Brands that provide real value are the ones that stick around. They’re seen as trusted senders who—to borrow a great insight from the writer Andrea Mignolo—treat email communication as a privilege, not a transaction.
“I want to do business with a company that treats emailing me as a privilege, not a transaction.” - Andrea Mignolo
The emails that don’t provide value get ignored, unsubscribed from—or worst of all, blocked. Follow the tactics throughout this article to avoid that fatal end.
We hope this article has helped highlight the main elements to prioritize in your email marketing campaigns. Driving revenue, growing your subscriber list, and keeping your campaign costs in check are obviously important for business reasons.
But the #1 thing we recommend has nothing to do with tactics or tracking. It’s simple.
Create really good emails.
That should be your top priority. It’s what will drive clicks, conversions, shares, and forwards. And it’s what will keep your bounce rate low.
That’s it! That’s the secret to effective email marketing. It all comes down to what your readers want. Which is great content that benefits them.
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