Here’s How Marketers Fared Last Year in the Metrics That Impact Email Deliverability

March 15, 2017

Close to one-third of US marketing emails fail to reach the inbox, according to an analysis released last year by Return Path. With deliverability having such an impact on email marketing success, Return Path has dug into its data [download page] and provided a host of new benchmarks across several metrics that can act as indicators for sender reputation.

Positive indicators include metrics such as read and forwarded messages, along with messages replied to and those marked as “not spam”. Such actions act as indicators of subscriber engagement, with these tracked by several mailbox providers. Negative indicators include messages marked as spam along with messages deleted before reading.

Below, some highlights across these indicators, based on Return Path’s analysis of global consumer data comprising more than 17,000 commercial senders, 2.5 million consumer panelists and more than 5 billion commercial email messages received throughout 2016.

Spam Placement Rate

The analysts note that this metric is key to knowing what type of trust is placed in senders, with factors affecting results including the content, sender reputation and subscriber engagement.

On average, 13% of emails sent last year were delivered to the spam folder, just a slight increase from the previous year (12%). However, that average masked some significant variances across industries.

The verticals with the best spam placement rate (i.e., the lowest), included distribution & manufacturing (6%), banking & finance (6%), utilities (7%), travel (8%) and general merchandise (8%).

By comparison, senders in the automotive (24%), telecommunication (22%), and education/non-profit/government (20%) had rates 3 or 4 times higher than the most trusted senders.

In terms of year-over-year trends, the insurance industry fared best, with its spam placement rate plummeting from 26% in 2015 to 11% last year. Sporting goods (16%, up from 8%), apparel & accessories (13%, up from 6%), pets (11%, up from 4%) and utilities (7%, up from 2%) were among those seeing sizable increases.

This Is Not Spam Rate

This is a significant metric as it could “indicate a false positive with the spam filter”. It can be difficult to ascertain what constitutes a good metric here, as a higher “this is not spam” rate could be the result of more emails being placed in the spam folder.

With that said, industries with a high spam placement rate and low “this is not spam” rate should be concerned as this could reflect a lack of interest or awareness from recipients.

Industries combining above-average spam placement rates with below-average “this is not spam” rates this past year included business & marketing and telecommunication.

(The overall rate was 1.04% across industries, a huge jump from 0.03% in 2015.)

Read Rate

Return Path argues that read rate (% of messages sent that are read) is more accurate than open rate, because it looks at all emails that are viewed regardless of whether or not images are rendered.

Email marketers saw positive results on this end last year, with the average read rate jumping to 22% from 14% in 2015.

The distribution & manufacturing (58%) and utilities (57%) sectors were the most impressive performers in 2016, with more than half of all emails sent being read. Insurance (38%) and banking & finance (37%) also enjoyed read rates well above the average, perhaps owing to a greater incidence of transactional emails, which enjoy above-average response rates.

Business & marketing (15%), education/non-profit/government (17%), social & dating (17%), and deals & rewards (18%) emails were the least enticing to recipients.

It’s worth noting that each of the 28 industries tracked experienced an increase in read rates year-over-year in 2016, with the distribution & manufacturing sector (up from 26% to 58%) having the biggest gain.

Delete Before Reading Rate

In 2015, close to 1 in 10 (9%) of emails sent were deleted without being read, according to previous Return Path research. Unfortunately for marketers, that rate increased rather significantly in 2016, climbing to 13%.

Return Path indicates that consistently high rates in this area may signal dissatisfaction with an overall email marketing campaign, and that this metric can reflect “inbox desirability”. A rate that is too high could result in more future emails being directed to the spam folder.

That could be worrisome for senders in the flowers & gifts (16%), household & home improvement (16%), office supplies (16%) and pets (16%) verticals, each of which had the highest delete-before-reading rate. It could be that recipients of these emails had signed on to a list for a one-off purchase, and were not interested in future emails.

By contrast, more account-focused industries such as distribution & manufacturing (7%) and utilities (8%) had the lowest rates. It’s interesting to see that the social & dating (9%) vertical also had a below-average rate given that it was one of the worst performers in terms of read rate.

Reply Rate

It stands to reason that few marketing emails would generate replies, and Return Path does mention that there’s no target rate here as a high reply rate could signal either a positive (engaged list) or negative (subscribers trying to unsubscribe) reaction to email.

Overall, just 0.13% of emails were replied to last year, though that marked a large relative increase from only 0.05% the year prior.

Once again, the more account-based industries, such as telecommunications (2.1%) insurance (1.97%) and utilities (1.54%) had the highest reply rates, whereas verticals such as toys/hobbies/crafts (0.02%) and deals & rewards (0.02%) generated virtually no replies at all.

Forward Rate

Reply rates might be low, but forward rates are even lower. This is an area that could be important for marketers in growing their lists, and is a strong indicator of an engaged list.

Still, just 0.03% of emails sent last year on average were forwarded by recipients. The same industries leading the way in reply rate topped the list in forward rates: utilities (0.33%); distribution & manufacturing (0.18%); insurance (0.18%); and telecommunication (0.16%).

Complaint Rate

This is perhaps the most negative of all metrics, as it demonstrates a direct action by the recipient that the email is not desired.

Luckily for marketers, this rate remained fairly steady in 2016 (0.19%) in comparison to the year before (0.18%).

The worst offenders in 2016 were flowers & gifts (0.41%), health & beauty (0.4%), office supplies (0.38%), media & entertainment (0.37%) and business & marketing (0.32%).

By comparison, recipients of emails in the real estate (0.07%), pets (0.07%) and general merchandise (0.08%) verticals seemed the most receptive.

Finally, the most improved verticals in 2016 were telecommunication (down from 0.98% to 0.22%) and distribution & manufacturing (down from 0.64% to 0.19%).

The full report is available for download here.

About the Data: Return Path describes its methodology as follows:

“Return Path conducted this study using global consumer data consisting of over 17,000 commercial senders, 2.5 million consumer panelists, and over 5 billion commercial email messages received between January 1 and December 31, 2016.

Consumer data is defined as information captured from monitored email accounts controlled by real subscribers to sample user initiated and engagement based filtering decisions by mailbox providers. Consumer data can uncover behavior based factors and thresholds that influence inbox placement at large mailbox providers, and can’t be identified by non-interactive seeds.”

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