Average Email Conversion Rates? They're Totally Terrible!

Is email conversion in trouble?

In the old days of direct mail, there came a point where so many businesses were mailing their customers and prospects willy-nilly that it earned the name ‘junk mail’. For everyone except the few who knew what they were doing, conversion rates plummeted. It ultimately became a real challenge to be heard amongst all the noise.
By the end of my time in DM we were getting around 0.3% conversion on financial services direct mail, which was just enough to cover the costs and make a small profit. Is the same happening to email? In my experience it might well be, and it’s no surprise when more than 120 billion emails are sent out every hour of every day.

Average email open rates, CTRs and more

Except for a drop in the average email open rate between 2013 and 2014, the rate since 2006 has always averaged around 25%. According to the experts, this year it’s just under 24.8%. Not too shabby. Across all sectors the average UK SME email marketing click-through rate for 2017 is 4.19%, with an average unsubscribe rate of 0.49%, a click-to-open rate of 11.88% and an unsubscribe-to-open rate of 2.59%.
Actual conversion rates were opaque, with very little information out there. In search of the truth, I asked people. And found that while some have experienced decent email open rates of 25% or more – sometimes a lot more – very few have experienced anything like a conversion rate worth having. And that’s the metric that matters. You can win all the click-throughs you like, achieve the best open rates on the planet and nail your click-to-open rates. If you don’t sell your stuff, at the end of the day it’s all academic.

How do today’s average email conversion figures pan out?

Looking for average email conversion stats, I found one bold source that claimed an average open rate of 20%, a CTR of 9.5% and a conversion rate of 1.1% for untargeted broadcast emails, and for user-triggered campaigns an open rate of 27%, a CTR of 9.3% and an average conversion rate of 2.3%.
Say you send out 1000 emails. If the numbers are right, in the first scenario – broadcast campaigns – you’d get:

  • 200 opens
  • 9.5% of the 200 will click through, giving you 19 click-throughs
  • 1.1% of the 19 convert, giving you 0.209 sales

For the second scenario – user-triggered emails – you’d get:

  • 270 opens
  • 25 click-throughs
  • 0.575 sales

Hm. Neither of these are exactly inspiring, with less than one sale per 1000 emails. It’s just as well email marketing is relatively cheap, or nobody would stand a chance of making a decent ROI. Maybe intelligently targeted messages sent to properly-segmented chunks of people do better… or maybe they don’t. Either way you’ll need a pretty large database to make email marketing worthwhile.

My own experience as an email consumer?

I get 30 or so unsolicited spam emails every day. That’s an awful lot of rubbish against which legitimate email campaigns need to stand out. The risk of downloading malware means I never open email messages from sources I don’t recognise. I might check a few out without opening them, then delete them. Official guidance concurs with my approach, advising punters that we should never open an email from an unrecognised source.
Now and again I inadvertently sign up to receive emails, mostly because there wasn’t an opt-out, or the opt-out was unclear. Even if I’ve consciously opted in and like the brand, I rarely read email marketing messages… simply because if I’m not in buying mode the instant the message arrives, it doesn’t hit the right mark. Apart from that, I am usually busy doing other, more enjoyable things to bother with sales messages. And while I know that my own personal experiences and preferences are not statistically valid in this context, they do give a hint that all isn’t well in email marketing land.

I’m deserting email marketing

I used to love writing to sell, love writing email campaigns. But life is too short to struggle. These days I’d rather focus on things like blog posts, articles, advertorials, ebooks, guides, white papers and web pages, where direct selling isn’t quite so imperative and things like informing, exciting and inspiring are the name of the game.

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