What Do My Email Metrics Really Mean?

How to Interpret Important Email Metrics

You built your list of subscribers, you sent some creative email campaigns, and now you have started to measure your results. Email metrics are self-explanatory, right?

OR, CTR, clicks, and unsubscribes are all seemingly easy to understand. Numbers like OR and CTR should be higher, and unsubs should be lower. Basic logic aside, there is actually some deeper meaning behind the numbers that’s easy to overlook.

Read on to learn more about analyzing your email results, how different metrics relate to each other, and examples of successes and failures.

Open Rate

Open Rate (OR) means the number of times an email is opened divided by the number of emails delivered. Measuring how many opens usually tells you how well your subject line is performing. If the subject was appealing to your target audience, the OR should be higher. The OR could also tell you if you are targeting the correct audience; for an outbound campaign, a low open rate may mean your product or offering could more appealing to someone else.

However, achieving a high OR is not always a good thing because it’s only a piece of the entire campaign. This is why it’s important to tie the OR to other metrics. For example, this subject line could get a high OR for the wrong reasons:

Subject: Build Your Dream Home on a Budget


Try the newest game in your app store!Build your dream home start to finish, and design each room to reflect your taste. Download the app now for free!

Although the subject line was interesting, it was actually about a new app where you can build your imaginary fantasy home. This subject line’s performance is at the expense of losing clicks. This email also puts the company at risk of damaging their brand credibility, and it would likely drive people to unsubscribe from the list or report as spam.

Some reasons behind an increasing Open Rate:

  • (The obvious) Your subject lines are catchy, funny, or interesting; and they inspire further reading.
  • You are building an increasingly engaged list, and you are reaching your target market.
  • You are removing unengaged people from your list.
  • Unengaged people are unsubscribing, and it’s easy for them to access this option.

Some reasons behind a declining Open Rate:

  • Your subject lines aren’t interesting enough, or they seem spammy.
  • Your emails are getting labeled as spam, or people are filtering them out.
  • You are sending too many emails.
  • You are sending emails on an irregular schedule. Emails sent on certain days of the week at certain times will perform better than others.
  • You are adding unengaged people to your email list.

Click-Through Rate

The Click-Through Rate (CTR) is the number of clicks divided by the number of emails delivered. Because it takes a strong OR to get a good CTR, the CTR is takes into account: the strength of the subject line, the strength of the email itself, and the relevance between the subject line and email contents. Therefore, to understand what’s causing the high or low CTR, you have to break it down by looking at the Open Rate and the Click-Through Open Rate (CTOR).

Click-Through Open Rate

The CTOR is the number of clicks divided by the number of opens. Unlike the CTR that is based on multiple metrics, the CTOR is more straightforward. Assuming the subject line is relevant to the copy, the CTOR takes the subject line’s catchiness out of the equation and solely measures the effectiveness of the email itself. However, an irrelevant subject line could “bait and switch” and damage the clicks.

A high CTOR could mean:

  • Strong email copy: an appealing offer, clever copy, or interesting / useful content
  • Strong email design: visually appealing graphics, eye-catching design, and colors and details that match the target market’s preferences
  • Mobile-friendly: a Litmus test can help you see how your email looks across various devices and email clients
  • Plenty of opportunities to click: the email should include both text links and buttons as the reader scrolls

A low CTOR could mean:

  • Poor copy: unclear benefit, typos and grammar errors, not enough copy to give the reader grounds to make the decision to click
  • Poor email design: too image-heavy, graphics that make the text hard-to-read, or an outdated look with poor aesthetics
  • Poor mobile experience: a bad mobile experience could mean the images and text don’t resize, or certain pieces of the email don’t show up
  • Not enough click opportunities: if there is only one button or one link, it is more likely someone will scroll past it or not scroll down far enough

Number of Clicks

The main point of your email is likely to get clicks. Depending on the link, clicks could: drive traffic to a web page, lead to purchases of a product, get downloads on an e-book, or get someone to subscribe to another email list. Unless your goal is general awareness, clicks are probably the ultimate goal in your email campaign.


Some reasons behind increasing email clicks:

  • A growing email list
  • Increased engagement in a stagnant email list: this could be due to increased value in the offer, or improved email design and copy
  • Increasing Open Rate: refer back to causes of an increasing OR above

Some reasons behind decreasing email clicks:

  • A shrinking email list (due to unsubscribes or cleaning the list)
  • Decreased engagement in an email list: this could be due to repetitive offers, or poor email user experience
  • Decreasing Open Rate: refer back to causes of a decreasing OR above

Other Metrics & Final Notes

Please note, I only picked a few metrics that help me best measure email performance (CTR, OR, clicks, and CTOR). There are plenty of other metrics that are useful! For example, the deliverability of your emails is a very important factor that your technical team should be measuring. Your email list size does not equal the number of emails delivered to an inbox! The number of emails sent does not equal delivered either!

Also note: The reason behind using rates / percentages is to standardize email performance across varying list sizes. If you are comparing different emails sent to the exact same list, raw numbers (like opens and clicks) will be equally effective.

Thanks for reading! Here’s a tip for you: my favorite place for email inspiration is Really Good Emails, and my favorite tool for coding emails in HTML is Brackets. Happy email campaigning 🙂


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