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Email analytics: Email metrics & KPIs for sales & marketing

Learn how to strategize a new wave of email optimization by tracking analytics.

What is email analytics?

Email analytics is the method of tracking how recipients respond to and interact with your sales emails and marketing campaigns. By being able to see what content makes potential customers engage—and what gets ignored or tossed out—marketing and sales teams can refine their messaging over time. Then they check their analytics with every new iteration and see how it compares to other campaigns.

The result is more highly personalized communication, higher conversion rates, and increased sales. The good news is using email analytics to optimize your email campaigns is pretty straightforward. It only requires a few key email KPI metrics.

In this guide, we’ll explain some of the basic concepts of email analytics. As well as the best email marketing KPIs to focus on to optimize your messaging. We’ll also provide an in-depth example of using engagement metrics in a small business setting. Then point you toward some of the best software tools for making analytics simple and stress free.

Why should you use email analytics?

To put it simply—because it isn’t that difficult to do. Email analytics features are often included in common business apps like CRMs and email marketing platforms because it’s a natural fit. Seeing how recipients interact with your emails gives you a real-time view of what captured their attention and what didn’t.

Then, through a thoughtful process of constant tweaking and tracking email KPI metrics, you can trim away the elements of your emails that didn’t get positive responses. All while optimizing the features that did.

Using email analytics is a simple, straightforward way of moving more leads into your sales pipeline. But the simple act of tracking your email metrics isn’t enough to make the magic happen. You need to know how to make the most of your email engagement metrics. That way you can follow up with the appropriate actions for reaching your goals.

How do you make the most of email analytics?

There are two key things you can do to make the most of your email analytics. First, you need to have set goals in place. Whether you’re trying to improve the quality of your leads, grow your list of subscribers, or increase sales, you need to know what metrics to watch if you’re going to know how to act on them afterwards.

Before even touching your sales analytics data, identify specific goals, complete with deadlines and subgoals. Just like most things in life, optimizing sales emails using analytics starts with selecting an endpoint, and then plotting the path forward from there.

Another way to get the most out of email analytics is to have an easy-to-use email marketing software program or CRM. Not only do they usually include the best engagement metrics tracking features, they also have functions for organizing your contact database and automatically sending sales follow-up emails.

CRMs are great for compiling and analyzing all of your campaigns. That makes it infinitely easier to capture accurate data about how your recipients are responding to them.

These programs also usually come with a wide range of customizable cold email templates. These let you quickly tweak messaging to produce and share multiple iterations of the same email. Then track them to see which version got the best response. Without a good email marketing software program, you might be forced to save drafts in spreadsheets and track every little change manually. And that’s tedious, time-intensive, and error-prone.

What are typical benchmarks?

Email analytics benchmarks are the standard metrics used to determine the success of an email campaign. By comparing your metrics to the industry standards, you can gauge how far you are from performing as well as—or better than—the competition.

Here are some industry standard benchmark rates from different industries:

Open rateClick-through rateUnsubscribe rate
IT/ tech / software services
Food & beverage
Wellness & fitness
Healthcare services

Benchmark averages vary based on industry. Seeing how others in your line of business are performing helps you set realistic goals when starting out with email analytics.

What is A/B testing?

68% of digital marketers say that A/B testing has the greatest impact on their email optimizations. So that means it’s worth stopping to look at and define.

A/B testing is a process of comparing the success of two different versions of the same thing. You can run A/B tests on nearly everything to see which version—A or B—has the more positive impact on engagement. In emailing, this might involve having two versions of the same email campaign, but with different CTAs. You would send both out to different segments of your list, then track your email marketing KPIs to see which one had the highest open and click-through rates.

In A/B testing, you can try out different approaches with your messaging and see what gets the best results. Keep in mind that the content alone isn’t the only thing that can vary when comparing two different versions. You also need to test against things like the time of the day, the day of the week, and the frequency of emails, to see which variation is best.

Top email metrics to focus on

Let’s explore some of the top email marketing KPIs using a hypothetical small business undergoing some marketing optimization as an example. Let’s imagine an ecommerce business that also does live events to promote its products.

Their email list has recently reached 1,500. And after a good quarter, the owner has decided to expand its marketing budget to make room for hiring a freelance copywriter and graphic designer to create brand-appropriate communication.

The business’s goals are threefold: to increase its subscriber list, attract more high quality leads, and convert more sales directly from its emailing campaigns. All in the span of one quarter.

Let’s look at the key email marketing KPIs this small business owner should be tracking to reach some of those goals.

Open rate

This email tracking metric records the percentage of emails that were actually opened by the recipient. An opened email means that something about the headline grabbed the recipient’s attention. So it’s good to know exactly which headlines got an opening click, and which didn’t.

Experts agree that the average person gets about 121 emails per day. Most of those don’t even get opened. If your marketing team has crafted a sales email subject line that actually inspires the recipient to open it, it’s worth trying to replicate that same angle and see if it gets the same result.

Let’s look at how our theoretical online business would calculate their open rate email metric.

Email open rate = unique open emails ÷ (total number of emails sent - total number of bounced emails) * 100

Up until now, our business owner has been writing their own email headlines and copy. Their last email campaign was sent out to all 1,500 subscribers. Of the emails sent out, 350 bounced back, and only 10 were opened.

Email open rate = 10 ÷ (1,500 - 350) * 100

At not even 1% open rate, this is a pretty poor performance for email marketing. With an open rate this low, it’s unlikely that this business was generating any meaningful revenue from its email marketing efforts.

However, after employing a freelance copywriter with a good grasp of crafting gripping headlines, the next month saw 125 opened emails. So now, the owner can see how the open rate has improved.

Email open rate = 175 ÷ (1,500 - 350) * 100

With a new open rate of over 15%, our fake ecommerce business is now performing better than industry benchmarks for food and beverage. At the very least, this email engagement metric reveals that the copywriter’s headlines are resonating with the subscriber list.

Beyond this, however, open rates don’t indicate much. When it comes to true optimization, the next metric is one of the most critical to watch.

Clickthrough rate

The clickthrough rate—or CTR—is the percentage of how many recipients clicked on a link contained in one of your marketing emails. This metric is excellent for measuring engagement—but at around 2-3%, average click-through rates are much lower than average open rates.

Marketing emails typically contain a call to action (CTA), which is a direction for the next step the recipient should take if they’re interested in the product or service. And usually, the CTA points to an embedded link that brings the recipient to another location, like an appointment schedule app or enrollment website.

Our online business has improved its email open rate to 15%, just by crafting better headlines. Let’s also say that the subscriber list has grown by 100. Now, the owner wants to improve the number of recipients taking the desired next step.

Throughout February, the owner has plans to send out a sequence of 3 emails advertising its exclusive Valentine’s Day live webinar. The email’s CTA—an embedded link—brings recipients to a page where they can reserve a place for two with a $10 deposit to hold their spot.

After the event takes place, the owner wants to know exactly what percentage of subscribers actually clicked the link and followed through to the form. They’ll calculate the clickthrough rate using this formula:

Clickthrough rate = emails clicked ÷ (total number of emails sent - total number of bounced emails) * 100

In February, of the 1,600 emails our online business sent out promoting the live webinar event. 375 bounced back. 50 were clicked through.

Clickthrough rate = 50 ÷ (1,600 - 375) * 100

At about 4%, this clickthrough rate would actually be considered above average. When metrics fall above average like this, it’s wise to take note of whatever practices were going on at that time. Because if something is working, you need to be able to replicate it. A high click-through rate indicates that the copy and/or the visuals of the email were compelling enough to inspire further action.

Conversion rate

Your conversion rate is the percentage of people who not only opened your email and clicked through to the next step, but also performed the desired end result. That end result might be filling in a form to enroll for a free webinar or demo, or outright purchasing the product. If the subscriber ultimately performs the action the email was intended to inspire, then that’s considered a conversion.

Obviously, then, part of optimizing your emails is making sure that every single one has a clear call to action and specific desired end result. Tracking conversation rates isn’t as straightforward as open or click-through rates. That’s because what constitutes a conversion depends on the goals you assigned to each campaign.

The conversion rate is calculated with this formula:

Conversion rate = number of people who performed the desired action ÷ (total number of emails sent - total number of bounced emails) * 100

In the example from above, our fake online ecommerce business sent a February email chain promoting its Valentine’s Day live virtual event. We already determined that 50 people clicked through and opened the enrollment form. Of those 50 who opened it, 30 filled it in. So now, the conversion rate formula looks like this:

Conversation rate = 30 ÷ (1,600 - 375) * 100

The conversion rate is 2.4%. As the owner continues running marketing campaigns for similar events in the future, tracking conversion rate metrics will give a good indication of how well their subscribers are responding to the actual content being offered.

If people are clicking through but ultimately not biting, it might mean that there’s not enough value in the offer. Or it isn’t what they thought it was when they read the email.

Email growth list

This is a simple metric measuring the growth of your subscriber list. You should always be working to expand your email list. Especially since some email addresses are going to drop off, bounce back, and be reported to spam. That means your list will shrink if you aren’t constantly adding to it.

As our online business continues optimizing its email content to increase click-through and conversion rates, they’re also busy using their small business CRM’s lead generation feature to automatically capture new email subscribers. They’ve embedded web forms onto their site, increased postings on social media, and even done some in-person networking at local markets.

To calculate the business’s email growth list, they’ll use this formula:

Email growth list rate = [(number of new emails) - (number of unsubscribed emails/sent to spam)] ÷ total number of emails on the list * 100

Over the three-month quarter, the online business added 450 new emails, and lost about 150 to spam and unsubscribes.

Email growth list rate = (450 - 150) ÷ 1800 * 100

After the three months, they were left with an email growth list rate of just over 16%.

Overall ROI

The quarter has come to a close, and the business owner wants to know the ROI on their marketing investments. They can measure the overall ROI of the entire quarter, or of individual campaigns. In this instance, the business owner is interested in doing more virtual events like the one they did for Valentine’s Day. So they calculate the ROI of that particular campaign with this formula:

[(money in sales - money invested in the campaign) ÷ money invested in the campaign * 100

Of the 30 people who submitted forms to enroll in the Valentine’s Day event, 21 couples attended—and the 9 others forfeited their $10 deposit. At $35 per couple, the total revenue generated from that one email campaign is: ($35 * 21) + ($10 * 9) = $825. As for the investment, the owner paid a combined rate of $150 to the freelance copywriter and graphic artist, to create the eye-grabbing email in the first place.

Using this formula, we can calculate the ROI of that one email campaign:

[(money in sales - money invested in the campaign) ÷ money invested in the campaign * 100

($850 - $150) ÷ $150 * 100 = ROI

In this case, the return on investment for one campaign was over 466%. Not bad at all for a fake ecommerce business.

Unsubscribe rate

This metric reveals the number of recipients who decided to unsubscribe from your list after opening a particular email. As you might have noticed from the chart of email KPI benchmarks from earlier in this article, the subscribe rate is fairly low across all industries.

If someone chooses to unsubscribe to your list, it’s to your advantage to examine that email campaign. Try to see if there’s any glaring reason that might have inspired that subscriber to leave.

While it is good to know how many people have unsubscribed from your list, in the end, the unsubscribe rate isn’t exactly one of the top email KPIs to monitor. Many subscribers simply don’t bother to unsubscribe. But they might as well be off your list, anyway.

Still, it’s important to check in with your unsubscribe rate every time you make a big changeup in your email marketing strategy. Just to make sure you haven’t started a negative trend.

The best email analytics strategies

Here are some useful strategies for approaching and using email analysis to optimize your messaging. Keep in mind as you read these strategies that every subscriber base is different, and therefore some approaches may ring more true for some populations than for others. Consider your company’s unique buyer persona and ask yourself how well each strategy would apply to your process.

  • Accept that one size does not fit all
    Your customer base isn’t a monolith. If your messaging is vaguely worded and general in its address, no one is going to bother reading it. Much less click through to whatever the next step is.
    Organizations that send personalized, segmented and targeted email campaigns see 17% more revenue than marketers who don’t. This means you should be doing everything in your power to tailor your emails with names, titles, relevant interests, and other data that will say, “Hey! You know me!”
    Think of your subscriber’s email inbox as a big party. You and all the other businesses stand in a corner trying to get the subscriber’s attention, which creates a whole lot of noise. Even something as simple as calling out the right name will help you stick out from the crowd. Using a good CRM will help you collect and access the kind of information you can use to personalize messaging. That way your emails can land in inboxes one step ahead of the others.
  • Don’t ignore mobile access
    Whatever call to action you include in your emails, make sure the next step can be performed on a mobile device. Plus, make sure that the format and copy you’re using in your emails looks neat and well organized on a mobile device screen.
    The physical layout of an email is different on a mobile screen than it is on a desktop computer. You don’t want to lose interested leads just because your emails look sloppy when opened on a phone.
    Additionally, when tracking your email analytics metrics, make sure to monitor engagement on mobile devices vs. engagement on computers. People spend a lot of time on their mobile devices, and if your marketing efforts aren’t including mobile usage, you could be missing out on clicks simply because you aren’t expanding your messaging to the right platforms.
  • Have a diversity of content.
    Depending on your industry, there are different kinds of content you should add to your marketing campaigns to inspire higher email engagement metrics. You can have blogs, video tutorials, ebooks, podcasts, special offers, and more - all to entice your recipients to take some kind of action.
    The more content you have, the more you can offer to your subscriber list and see which ones get the most interaction. You can then gauge the effectiveness of your content by running A/B tests and offering different kinds of content.
    Here are some types of content that recipients like to receive in their emails:
    • Alerts of exclusive sales
    • Discount codes
    • Behind-the-scenes views into the company
    • New product announcements
    • Video content
    • Pleasing visuals
  • Don’t overwhelm your audience.
    Even if you have a wealth of fascinating content, resist the temptation to throw it all out at once. The more data you have on how well your emails are performing, the better. But that doesn’t mean you should start cranking emails out just for the sake of collecting information to use for optimizing your emails.
    Even if you’re “testing” your subscriber list by trying out new approaches, keep in mind that your leads aren’t guinea pigs. They can decide to drop out of the testing pool if you prod too vigorously.
    If you go too far with sending out campaigns, you easily risk annoying your subscribers. Test out different intervals of sending emails, and take note of how often seems to be too often. Currently, one to two emails per week seems to be the goldilocks region. Fewer than that, and you could miss out on potential sales. More, and you risk ending up in the spam folder or unsubscribe list.
  • Segment your subscribers
    One of the best things you can do to boost optimization using analytics is to segment your subscribers. However you generate leads, you should be using your CRM to capture and store critical points of information about every contact. Then, you can use this data to segment lead populations according to things like interests, demographics, and locations. This lets you create even more targeting marketing campaigns, so that every communication you send resonates with the person it’s intended for.
    Traditionally, grouping contacts by type used to be a time-consuming task. But today, with the right software, it can be done by adding a few simple tags and allowing email automations to take over.

Zendesk Sell Email Intelligence

Zendesk Sell is a modern CRM that helps accelerate revenue for sales teams. And now with the Act-On integration, marketing and sales teams get unified access to multichannel marketing activities, buyer behavioral data and scoring, and an accelerated buyer pipeline.

When you integrate Zendesk Sell with Act-On, you get access to email metrics tracking features, as well as more advanced metrics like revenue rate, bounce rate, and forwarding rate.

Particularly, as a Sell user, the ease of access to Act-On reporting and marketing activities is built into their experience. Not only can Sell users see aggregate marketing activity scores for each prospective buyer, they can effortlessly link to score sheets in Act-On that grant them visibility into the specific actions and engagements that drew in and have nurtured the buyer relationship.

These data points include website visits, landing page and form fills, email and SMS interactions, events and social media activity. Everything the prospect did along their buying journey. All of this helps marketing and sales teams better understand what campaigns, promotions, events and other activities attracted the buyer, and what has moved them into the funnel.

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