Move Beyond Click Rate to Evaluate your Email Marketing Performance

If I had a dollar for every time somebody said “Email is dead”, I would have become as rich as Sheryl Sandberg. 

But alas, since the day she made this ninja prediction, the gap between our wealth only increased by a billion dollars more. 

Either way, nobody is complaining because when you are a Facebook executive, you are allowed to believe anything. Things like “Facebook is making the world a better place.” 

Regardless, email is alive and kicking, and for modern marketing teams, it is their lifeblood. We all are leveraging email as a channel in gazillion ways to engage users at different points in their lifecycle. 

However, measuring the impact of email marketing is still a grave challenge for marketers. There are two reasons for that:

  1. Every email marketing software comprehensively reports the performance of an email campaign in terms of clicks, opens, delivery, etc. But these metrics are just a cursory analysis of something (email) that is deeply embedded in our customer success, marketing, and support. Email marketing is way beyond opens and clicks.
  2. Another challenge is that there is a disparity between what folks who manage email in the org and people who manage these folks perceive as a success from email marketing.

    I can share my own experience while working for a SaaS product startup where I handled email and used to be lunatic about click and conversion rate for my campaigns. The idea used to be- “break the last best number that I got.”

    However, the only time I got praise from CEO was when a campaign I ran got some prospects talking on Twitter. 

Not everyone measures email marketing ROI to the same degree

Like I said, email is intrinsic to modern marketing today, so naturally, there are a lot of granularities in how its performance is being evaluated. Regardless of the fact that a vast majority of marketers are still not asking questions beyond open and clicks, there has been massive progress in how email marketing is measured across organizations.

For instance, Airbnb adds a poll in some of its emails to measure its effectiveness: 

In this post we are going to discuss the different levels to which email marketing is measured across organizations:

1. Engagement metrics 

It tells you how users are interacting with your email content and design. Currently, it is perfectly simple to trace how users are engaging with your email, so nearly all email marketing tools provide an array of engagement metrics upon campaign delivery. 

Listing down some of the popular engagement metrics in no particular order: 

Open ratenumber of opens/total delivered emails in a campaign
Click ratenumber of clicks/total delivered emails in a campaign
Delivery ratenumber of delivered emails/total number of emails sent in a campaign
Bounce ratenumber of bounced emails/total number of emails sent in a campaign
Spam ratenumber of emails marked as spam/total delivered emails in a campaign
Click through open ratenumber of clicks/total number of opened emails in a campaign
Unsubscribe ratenumber of unsubscribes in a campaign/total delivered emails


2. In-app conversion metrics 

Barring the announcement ones, all emails aim at influencing the user to perform some form of action on the app. It could be a purchase, sign-up, download or anything in between. For instance, when you send a reactivation email to churned users, the objective is to get the user sign- up again. 

In order to attribute that action to the email, it needs to be performed within a certain time period of that email being sent.  

However, in order to do this conversion tracking, the tool that sends the email should have the behavior tracking capability. As in, it should be able to track the targeted behavior on the website once the user opens the email. Until now this feature was beyond the purview of most email marketing tools and still is.  

Only rich teams with high marketing budgets had access to advanced tools that offered conversion tracking. This is why a majority of email marketers considered ‘clicks’ and ‘open’ as the only thing to worry about because all of them used to see a common array of metrics regardless of the tool they used.

Popular Email marketing software- Sendgrid’s Campaign Stats UI

It’s equivalent to how the king of vanity metric- “pageviews” became de facto metric among marketers, because Google Analytics was omnipresent and so were its page-level metrics. 


3. Subscriber level metrics 

These are the set of measurements that quantifies your relationship with the subscribers. Instead of evaluating the campaign it sheds light on your subscriber’s relationship with you.   

a. Subscriber click rate

I am unsure if other email marketers use this metric, but I had used it myself to identify the most engaged users. I asked around if anybody else has used it or not but didn’t find any company.

What is it?

Like I said, in my previous organization I used to be the “email dude”. There, our frequency used to be at least 4/month for any list. Although, we had lead scoring in place to identify the most engaged audience, once when we had faced leads crunch I figured another way to determine active subscribers aka potential prospect. 

Since our frequency was decent enough I tried finding out the subscribers who engaged most with our emails.

To figure that out, I took data of all campaigns ran in last 6 months and determined click rate of individual subscribers. This gave me a table like this:

SubscriberOpen rate

To prevent new subscribers, who would have received only a few emails, from skewing the data, I filtered the data for only those subscribers who had received greater than or equal to 10 emails. From this list, I sent the subscribers with a high click-rate to the SDR for personalized one-on-one engagement. 

b. Subscriber Recency 

Recency is a time-based metric that measures how recently subscriber has engaged with your email. It is not a conventional metric but rather a powerful determinant to suppress your list in order to avoid causing fatigue to your subscribers.

It gives insight into the length of the inactivity of the subscribers.

It is understood that sending emails at short intervals will utterly annoy your subscribers.

By determining the recency of each subscriber you could create recency-based segments and target them accordingly.

SubscriberLast Engaged (days ago)

The common use-case that most companies seem to have adopted is to use a recency-based segment to eliminate the degraded or inactive contacts. They create a recency based segment of subscribers who last engaged with their email 6+ months ago. Afterward, they send them a reminder email asking them to resubscribe if they wish to continue receiving emails. 

c. Subscriber RFM

RFM stands for Recency, Frequency, and monetary value and clearly the above mentioned metric ‘Recency’ is one component of it. 

RFM analysis is a very popular metric used in the retail business to rank customers based on how recently have they purchased (recency), how many have they purchased (frequency), and how much have they spent on the purchase. 

Obviously, this metric is meant for evaluating customers alone, but given the enormity of email in the marketing channel mix, modern teams are calculating this score even for subscribers. Basically, calculating the RFM score of customers whose email ID is there in the system as traditional RFM entails calculating RFM of all customers. 

So, the definition of each variable evolves as follows:

  • Recency- how recently subscriber has engaged with your email 
  • Frequency- how frequently does he interact with your email  
  • Monetary- lifetime value

If you wish to explore this metric for your subscribers there is a fantastic guide on Marketingland about the same. 

d. List churn rate 

This is the measurement of the number of subscribers who unsubscribe or are manually opted out from a list. 

List churn rate= (number of total opt-outs/list size)

You could opt out users from the list for any of the following reasons

  • They marked you as spam. 
  • They have been inactive beyond a threshold period.
  • They have requested to delete their contact. 
  • Your email hard bounced from their inbox. 


3. Monetary impact 

This is the set of measurements that evaluates the monetary impact of your overall email marketing or individual campaigns. It is strongly pursued, and should be pursued if not being done already, in the consumer businesses. 

a. Campaign revenue 

It is the measure of the amount of revenue that a campaign makes within a certain time period of its delivery. 

Again, even advanced email marketing tools don’t have a revenue attribution module in place. So if they have event tracking capability, they will tell you that the purchase happened due to this campaign (ref #2) but they won’t tell you the revenue associated with the purchase event.  

Some shrewd marketers rely on Google Analytics for tracking purchase events and the associated revenue, but then linking it with your email campaign is a difficult task. 

b. Subscriber lifetime value 

This is the extension of customer lifetime value (CLV) wherein we restrict calculating lifetime value for subscribers alone. The formula for calculating SLV is obviously similar to CLV. 

customer lifetime value clv full formula

This is the measure of the profit or loss that a company expects to make from its subscriber over the course of their relationship. It is mathematically complex to derive this number as evident from the formula above. Most email tools provide this number by default. However, if yours is not one of them then use this guide to calculate manually. 


4. Qualitative impact 

Qualitative impact measures the intangibles- things which do not strictly translate to revenue or conversion but measures the quality of your campaign or your overall brand. 

In the hindsight, it may not look as important as the metrics discussed above but if your objective is to evaluate how deeply your email impact your subscribers then these metrics present the real picture. 

a. Email forwarding rate

It tells you the number of subscribers who forwarded your email by updating the “forward-to-a-friend” form provided by the ESP. 

ESPs originally provide a link that marketers can incorporate in their emails. Clicking on this link takes subscribers to a form where they can populate the email ID of the people whom they want to forward.  

However, there is a direct way of forwarding too, wherein the subscriber enthusiastically forwards the email to his network using his inbox options. In this method, there is no way to track the number of forwards, and finding how many forwards your email actually garnered would remain a mystery till your grave.

b. Poll

So far, I have seen only Airbnb’s emails containing a pertinent question whose answer practically everyone who does email marketing wants to know. 

Airbnb’s email marketer in one of the interviews had shared the following insight with Really Good Emails

“We…have started to include a “Did you like this email” bar at the bottom of some of our emails. This helps us collect instant qualitative feedback on top of the quantitative.”

c. Twitter shares

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that despite my constant ingenuity to increase clicks and opens, the only time I got a pat on the back from my boss was when one of our emails got prospects talking on Twitter. 

Getting shares on Twitter is a massive validation that your email was good and its success depends on the following of the sharer. In the same interview with Really Good Email, Airbnb’s marketer shares how they look at Twitter for validation and also shared an example of one “You belong in Spain” email.


There is an insane development is how much you could measure today in marketing. Everything is trackable and more accessible than yesterday. The term “data-driven marketing” gets thrown around like a frisbee.  

I remember how until a few years ago it was almost impossible for me to tie a signup to an email. Today, it is on my fingertips. All marketing tools in our stack now are tracking data more comprehensively than before and best teams are even collating them in a single place for effective analysis. (read CDP)

As an email marketer, all we should do is ask more questions. Our effort in email is accomplishing more things than we are tracking, and we have every reason and resource to go deeper in our analysis. Happy measuring.