Email marketing metrics 101: Clickthrough rate

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During one of our recent webinars, more than a few people expressed surprise about how email marketing metrics are calculated, so it’s a good time to step back and review. Today, we’re looking at clickthrough rate (CTR).

Clickthrough rate would, on the surface, be the simplest of metrics to understand – how many people clicked on something in your email message? There are a few subtleties to it that are worth discussing, including two distinct versions of clickthrough rate, TCTR and UCTR.

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TCTR is total clickthrough rate, or the total number of clicks that an email message’s links received as a percentage of subscribers. This tells you how popular the content in your email message is. TCTR is subject to a certain amount of noise, however. Things that can influence TCTR include:

  • People opening the email and clicking through on more than one device.
  • People sharing a link socially from your email
  • Search engines indexing the view-in-browser version of your email and auto-clicking through all the links
  • Firewalls (especially for B2B subscribers) that automatically follow each link to verify that the email contains no spyware or malware
  • People clicking on lots of links in your message repeatedly

UCTR is unique clickthrough rate, or the number of unique clicks an email message’s links as a percentage of subscribers. If you opened an email on your phone, clicked a link, then opened it later on your desktop and clicked the same link, your contribution to the TCTR would be 2 but to the UCTR would be 1 because you’re one unique individual. If you opened the email later and clicked on the same link 3 more times, your contribution to the TCTR would be 5 but to the UCTR would still be 1.

Find out what your clickthrough rate is in the campaign details in WhatCounts.

Which one is most important? Neither. They both have their uses. TCTR can give you a sense of how popular the links are in your content – if TCTR matches UCTR 1:1 it can sometimes mean that no one is coming back to your newsletter later to re-click on things or sharing your content links with others. UCTR gives you a clean number of how many unique clicks were attained without all the noise and confusion of TCTR, which is why many ESPs including WhatCounts use UCTR to calculate click to open rates.

The final computation that matters when it comes to clickthrough rates is CTOR – Click to Open Rate. When we talk about clickthrough rates, we’re generally speaking about clicks as a percentage of all subscribers. This can be misleading, especially if there have been significant changes in the list’s composition since previous sends. CTOR gives us a rate of how many clicks there were as a percentage of opens. Let’s see how this helps us understand our content’s actionable items better.

Let’s say you have a list of 100,000 subscribers. You send them a message, and 10,000 subscribers open the message. Of that, 1,000 of the openers click on something. Your open rate is 10%. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll use UCTR for the clickthrough rate, which means that you have a UCTR of 1% (10% of 10%). Your CTOR is 10%. So far, so good.

Now let’s say you blow up your list. You run a massive Google Adwords campaign and attract 50,000 people to your list in a month, but they’re all barely-interested subscribers who were just subscribing for a coupon or a special offer or something. You send to your list and none of the new people bother opening your message, but your core of 10,000 from your original list keeps on opening. Your open rate now drops to 6.67%. Of those, the same 1,000 click on stuff in your message. Your UCTR is now an appallingly bad .667%. However, your CTOR remains the same – 10%.

If you just relied on open rate and UCTR, you might think your email marketing program is suddenly failing, losing 33% of its performance from one send to the next, when the reality is that the core of your list, your fans, are still behaving the same. Instead, you now know that your Adwords campaign was a colossal waste of money because those subscribers aren’t doing anything, but the heart and soul of your email marketing is still strong. That’s why it’s important to examine all of your clickthrough rate metrics in context, as part of the bigger picture of your email marketing program.

The final piece of advice I’ll leave you with is from our industry averages blog post: ignore industry averages. They’re worthless. Instead, focus on improving your clickthrough rates and click to open rates in very email you send, so that your email marketing program is constantly improving. That’s the only set of measurements that truly matter.

Tomorrow, we’ll tackle the tricky subject of email conversion rates.

Christopher S. Penn

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