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Email continues to be an extremely important marketing channel, so it's important to know how well your email efforts are performing. 

But while it’s easy to find out how many clicks, opens and so on your emails are getting, it can be difficult to understand the significance of those numbers without having something to benchmark them against. 

A new report from Sign-up.to analysed more than 1bn emails sent through its platform across all sectors and devices to create some email marketing benchmark figures for 2016. 

In this post I’m going to dig into the report and show you the key facts and figures you need to be aware of. 

And to learn more about this channel, check out our range of Email Marketing Training Courses.

Key highlights

Before delving into too much detail about this report, let’s first look at the top-line figures for opens, click-through rate (CTR), unsubscribes, click-to-open rate (CTO) and unsubscribe-to-open rate (UTO). 

These are averaged across all sectors and devices, but I will break the numbers down further as I go through this post. 

  • Opens: 24.88% (up 0.43% YoY)
  • CTR: 3.42% (up 0.29% YoY)
  • Unsubscribes: 0.52% (down 0.03% YoY)
  • CTO: 10.88% (up 0.09% YoY)
  • UTO: 2.72% (up 0.04% YoY)

email marketing benchmarks 2016

As you can see, in general terms things are improving (albeit not by a huge margin). 

Now I know you'd all love to see some more numbers, so let’s delve a little deeper into the top-line figures. 

Open rates

While a 0.43% YoY increase in open rates is certainly nothing to write home about, it does at least suggest that email continues to be a relevant channel. 

Relevant in the sense that people are still responsive to it, even more so than last year. 

Looking at sectors, legal and accounting enjoyed the highest open rates of all, with 37.25%. The next two most successful sectors are TV, radio and film (35.81%) and government (33.99%). 

The charity sector also fairs well (30.88%), being the only other sector to achieve open rates higher than 30%. 

At the bottom end of the sector scale is 'other service (B2B)' at 18.47%, events (19.91%) and restaurant/hospitality (20.47%). 

Bad news for recruiters, too, who only achieve a 20.63% open rate on average. 

Email open rate benchmarks 2016

Click-through rates (CTR)

Government is the clear winner here, with 9.69% CTR, so one can only assume that either this sector understands its audience better than most or people in the UK just can’t get enough of politics. 

Legal/accounting faired well again (6.75%), with construction coming in third with 6.29%. 

But as with opens, success varies wildly across all sectors.

TV, radio and film achieves only a 1.33% CTR, with PR faring only slightly better (1.35%) and restaurant/hospitality only seeing 1.37%. 

email CTR benchmarks 2016

Clearly these sectors at the lower end of the scale need to rethink their strategy.

Either their email content is not engaging and relevant enough or they’re simply not sending it to the right people. 

Unsubscribe rates

Overall, unsubscribe rates look positive. While they’re only down a marginal amount since 2015, the total rates are still pretty low, although they are much higher than in 2012. 

Construction sees the highest unsubscribe rate at 0.97%, with recruitment/HR (0.87%) and legal/accounting (0.85%) taking second and third place respectively.

On the other end of the scale, government is the best performer with 0.23%, followed by wholesale (0.24%) and charity/non-profit (0.26%). 

Email unsubscribe benchmarks 2016

Click-to-open (CTO) rates

CTO – i.e. the number of opened emails that had a link clicked – is another important metric when it comes to email marketing. 

Government performs well again in this section given that it sits at or very near the top of both the opens and CTR rankings. 

But other sectors sit much higher up on this list than the previous two, such as fashion (15.23%) and publishing (15.11%). 

Email CTO benchmarks 2016

These latter figures tell an interesting story about fashion and publishing.

Both sectors score very low in terms of open rates, but of the people who do actually open the emails a large proportion go on to click a link. 

This suggests that the content within the emails is relevant and engaging, but either the subject lines are not connecting with people or many of the recipients don’t feel the emails are relevant enough to them to warrant an open.

If you want to improve your email efforts, check out these 16 useful email marketing tools

Unsubscribe-to-open (UTO) rates

Now here’s the part where we find out which sectors are turning people off with their email marketing. 

UTO is a more accurate measure of subscriber loyalty because, similarly to CTO, it measurers the number of unsubscribes in proportion to the number of opens. 

Top of the list is recruitment/HR with a 4% UTO rate, arguably driven by the sheer amount of emails along the line of: ‘Oh hi, we’ve got this really great role for you based on your CV you registered with us 10 years ago when you first left sixth form college.’

I’m exaggerating of course, but you get the point. 

Next on the list for UTO is IT at 4.37%, but perhaps the most interesting one here – and by interesting I mean clearly doing something very wrong – is 'other service (B2B)'  at 4.15%.

This sector is not only the absolute worst performer in terms of email opens, but it also has the third highest proportion of people unsubscribing from the mailing list once they do open an email. 

Email UTO benchmarks 2016

Hardly the kind of figures you’d want to be reporting to the powers that be... 

Opens by device

Obviously we can’t have an email marketing benchmark post without talking about devices, and by devices I obviously mean the continuing importance of mobile

Looking at the chart below you can see that mobile has again increased its share of opens, although only by 1.59%. 

Since 2011, however, mobile has increased its share from just 27%. 

email opens by device 2016

Clearly mobile’s share of email opens is still increasing, but certainly at a slower rate than in previous years. 

Conclusion: positive outlook but some sectors lagging

The main thing to take from this report is that these numbers are moving in the right direction generally, although not exactly at pace. 

But it seems certain sectors are dragging the averages down somewhat, and there could be a number of factors behind that. 

People may just be generally more receptive to emails from certain sectors, but it is also possible that certain sectors are simply better at email marketing than others. 

Either way, hopefully this post will help you benchmark your own email marketing efforts and determine how well your emails are performing. 

Go here to download the full report.

Jack Simpson

Published 16 March, 2016 by Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

252 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

John Butcher

John Butcher, Group Procurement Director at Merlin Entertainments

It is good to see this standard set of comparable metrics for email performance. These are good basics to start with and the sector comparisons are interesting. I am not surprised to see Music / artists with one of the lowest unsubscribe %, given how loyal artist followers normally are, but did not expect them to feature mid table on open and click through rates. Seems like they passively ignoring content, but feel too loyal to leave.

5 months ago

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Charlie Clinton, Digital Manager at Bel UK

Hello! quick question - I was scanning the list of sectors for FMCG benchmarks - but its not explicitly there. Do you know if FMCG brands have been lumped in "Retail B2C" or "Other Service B2C" - neither quite sounds right for FMCG / consumer goods (we're not retailers specifically and we're not a service...). Or are we something else on this list?

thanks in advance!

Cheers
Charlie

5 months ago

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Tony Kent, Marketing Manager at Sign-Up.to

Hi Charlie – you’re right FMCG isn’t identified as a specific sector as aspects of this potentially fall into several of our classifications. B2C Retail is similar and probably the closest although it also includes some business that you might not consider as traditional FMCG. Hope this helps.

5 months ago

Adam Davis

Adam Davis, Customer Strategy Manager at Softonic

Great view to have, thanks!

I've always looked at the ratio of unsubscribes to clicks instead of to opens, as in most cases the unsub should generate a click. This seems a more accurate measure of the engagement.

3 months ago

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