The Email Marketing Equation (and How You Can Master It)

Email marketing

Assessing the performance of your email marketing strategy can be daunting at first. There are many metrics you can look at: bounce rate, open rate, click-through rate, unsubscribe rate, reactivity rate, etc.

But it gets way easier when you adopt the right approach. In this blog, I’ll share the five metrics you should follow, how you can interpret your results and how you can improve them.

The Funnel Metaphor

Email marketing statistics can be discouraging. There are a lot of them, often labeled with mysterious acronyms (OR? CTR?). To make sense of these metrics, the best approach is to see the emails you send as a funnel during which:

  1. The user receives your email
  2. The user opens your email
  3. The user clicks your link

As with traditional online marketing funnels, the user can choose to leave the funnel at any point. Each step of this funnel can be associated with a metric that describes your performance. Let’s review these metrics and check how you compare to the industry for each of them.

Subscribers Count

How Can You Evaluate Your Subscriber Base?

This is the only absolute metric we’ll discuss in this article. All the others are ratios. The best way to evaluate the growth of your subscriber list is to look at the absolute number of net new subscribers you add each month.

To calculate, use the following formula: New subscribers – Unsubscribes

What Does This Metric Tell You?

This metric will tell you how effective you are at turning visitors and customers into email subscribers. Are your email forms visible enough? Do you provide the right incentive to subscribe?

What Can You Do to Get More Subscribers?

There are a few techniques that can help:

Email Marketing
An opt-in checkbox displayed during the checkout process on

We recommend you combine these techniques with appropriate rewards to maximize their impact.

Bounce Rate

How Can You Calculate Your Bounce Rate?

Here’s the bounce rate formula: Number of bounces/Total emails sent

Bounces are the emails that are rejected by the recipient’s email server. Usually a bounce happens when the user has closed his email account, when his mailbox is full, or if he provided an incorrect email address.

What Does This Metric Tell You?

The bounce rate is the best indicator of your subscriber base’s health. Getting a lot of bounces means that your list is outdated.

How Good Is Your Bounce Rate?

According to MailChimp, the average bounce rate is between 0.17 and 2.76 percent.

What Can You Do to Improve Your Bounce Rate?

The bounce rate is one of the easiest factors you can influence.

Tip #1: Activate double opt-in

When you activate double opt-in, your subscribers have to confirm their subscription. This allows you to remove the fake email addresses or the addresses with typos.

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Tip #2: Exclude inactive subscribers

Periodically remove from your email list the users who have not opened or clicked one of your emails in a long time. Inactivity is one of the first signs that a user is not using an email address anymore.

Open Rate

How Can You Calculate Your Open Rate?

Here’s the open rate formula: Users who opened your email/Users who received your email

Bounces should not be included in the people who received your email to isolate the “quality” factor.

What Does the Open Rate Tell You?

When your subscribers receive your email, they only have a few details to help them decide if they want to open it:

  • Your sender name
  • Your subject
  • The preview of your email body
An email sent by MailChimp previewed in Gmail

In other words, your open rate will mainly tell you:

  • If your subscribers recognize your brand
  • If your subject is attractive
  • If the first lines of your email make it look worth opening

How Good Is Your Open Rate?

According to MailChimp, the average open rate varies by industry and is between 15 and 28 percent.

Campaign Monitor, another email marketing solution, estimates that the average open rate is between 15 and 25 percent.

What Can You Do to Improve Your Open Rate?

Tip #1: Segment your list

The best way to get more subscribers to read your emails is to improve their relevance. To do so, segment your list. If you run a digital business that sells two different types of SaaS products, for example, it could be worth sending a different newsletter to the two groups.

Tip#2: Improve your subject

Adopt a user approach. What would you expect from an email sent by your company as a user? Promotions? Exclusive news? Whatever it is, make sure your subject includes one of these elements.

Tip #3: Add a pre-header

It can be hard to communicate all you have to say in your subject line. Luckily, most email clients display the first few words of your email after the subject. Marketers call this space the pre-header. Use it to tell your subscribers more about what they can expect from your email.

Tip #4: Test your subject

Before sending your email, test it! Is the subject short enough to display well on most clients? Is the pre-header displayed? Solutions such as Email on Acid can help. And if you have enough time, A/B test your subject lines.

Reactivity Rate

How Can You Calculate Your Reactivity Rate?

The reactivity rate’s formula is: Unique users who clicked your email/Unique users who opened your email

Note that the reactivity rate is different from the click-through rate, which is: Users who clicked your email/Users who received your email

The CTR doesn’t allow you to separate the impact of the subject line and the impact of the email body. If your solution doesn’t display the reactivity rate, you can calculate it with the following formula: Click-through-rate/Open rate

What Does the Reactivity Rate Tell You?

The reactivity rate gives you an idea of what the users who open your email think of your email content. If they like it, chances are they will click it and you will end up with a high reactivity rate.

How Good Is Your Reactivity Rate?

According to MailChimp, the average reactivity rate is between 6 and 21 percent, depending on the industry.

What Can You Do to Improve Your Reactivity Rate?

The best way to get your customers to click is to provide relevant content. That’s obvious. But two additional techniques can help you boost clicks.

Tip #1: Use product recommendations

Product recommendations work wonders. Amazon built its fortune off of them. To give you a better idea of the results you can expect, one ecommerce website reported a 175 percent increase in its CTR after adding product recommendations to its emails.

An email sent by Amazon including product recommendations

Tip #2: Include category links

Adding links to your different product categories can help a lot as well. It increases the chances that your user clicks your email. After all, your subscribers may not be interested in the products you’re promoting in your newsletter. In that case, they may want to check your other products using your category links.

Unsubscribe Rate

How Can You Calculate Your Unsubscribe Rate?

Here’s the formula: Unsubscribes/Emails received

How Good Is Your Unsubscribe Rate?

According to GetResponse, the average unsubscribe rate is 0.24 percent.

What Can You Do to Improve Your Unsubscribe Rate?

Tip #1: Avoid sending too many emails

A study by GetApp Lab found that the main driver of unsubscribes was email frequency. So one of the best ways to reduce your unsubscribe rate is to reduce the number of emails you’re sending.

Tip #2: Make sure your emails are relevant

The study also highlights the importance of the other elements we discussed: content and relevance. These elements will impact your open rate and reactivity rate, but also, in the longer run, your unsubscribe rate.

I hope this article will help you get a clearer picture of your email marketing strategy’s performance. Are you following additional or alternate metrics? Share them in the comments and tell us how you interpret them.

Ben Cahen is the founder and CEO of WisePops, a platform that helps marketers design engaging website popups.