Email Click Rates Continue to Decline. Is An Increase in Marketing’s Share of Emails to Blame?

Open rates continue to climb, but it has been more than 3 years since the last year-over-year increase in North American email click rates. That’s according to a review of quarterly email benchmark reports from Epsilon, including the latest covering Q3 2016 [download page]. Once again, open rates increased on a year-over-year basis (up from 31% to 34.1%), while click rates declined (from 3.5% to 3.1%).

Indeed, the last time click rates increased on a year-over-year basis was back in Q1 2013, when the average rate was 5.1%, almost 65% times higher than in Q3 2016. It also means that there have been 14 consecutive quarters where click rates have stayed put or declined.

Why might this be? An increase in the share of marketing emails sent by Epsilon’s clients might be to blame. Back in Q1 2013, for example, about 61% of the emails analyzed were characterized as marketing messages. Fast forward to Q3 2016, and almost 88% of the emails sent were marketing messages. Marketing emails have traditionally seen lower click rates than other types: in this latest analysis, average click rates were lower for marketing emails (1.6%) than for all other message types, at about half the overall average of 3.1%.

The drop in click rates probably can’t be entirely attributed to the increasing share of marketing emails, however. That’s because in some quarters, marketing emails have constituted a lower share of total emails sent, without this resulting in an increase in click rates.

Nevertheless, the decline in click rates also comes despite an increase in the volume of triggered messages, which typically boast higher response rates than their business-as-usual (BAU) counterparts. In Q3 2016, some 3.7% of emails were triggered, up from 3.4% during the year-earlier period.

However, click rates on triggered emails also suffered, per the Epsilon report. The average click rate for a triggered email plummeted to 7.6%, down substantially from 11.4% in Q3 2015. As such, they ended up being 143% higher than BAU emails, whereas they were 229% higher the previous year.

In other results from the Epsilon report:

  • The “financial services cc/banks” category enjoyed the highest average click rate on marketing emails, of 3.2%, followed by the “financial services general” category (2.9%) – with these categories also leading in average open rate for marketing emails; while
  • The “consumer services telecom” category had the lowest average click rate on marketing emails (1.2%) and the lowest average click-to-open rate on these emails (4.9%);
  • The “consumer products pharmaceutical” category enjoyed the highest average click-to-open (CTO) rate on marketing emails, of 12.8%, followed closely by the “retail general” category (12.5%); and
  • The “consumer products pharmaceutical” (18.2%) and “retail specialty” (17.3%) categories had the highest click rate on triggered emails, with “retail apparel” having the lowest (3.0%).

About the Data: Epsilon’s Q3 2016 email trends and benchmarks analyzed performance trends by industry and message type. The study was compiled from around 8.8 billion emails sent by Epsilon from July 2016 to September 2016 across multiple industries and approximately 150 clients.