Americans aren’t engaging with email at the same rate as citizens of other countries, according to a new study. U.S. residents open their email messages at a slightly lower rate (19.9%) than folks in Canada (20.7%) or Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), which recorded an average of 20.9%.
The lower open rates may be attributable to technology changes, according to Silverpop, which released the study. Email service providers use systems that block HTML imagery, and email sorting systems such as Gmail’s Priority Inbox might be keeping recipients from being exposed to their messages.
One fair question is whether open rate is the most valid metric to consider. “It’s kind of a leftover from how we thought about measuring emails [in the past],” says Dave Walters, product evangelist at Silverpop.
He prefers metrics that better reflect engagement, and therefore a recipient’s progression toward a desired result, whether a sale, donation or request for more information.
The good news is U.S. email recipients are more likely to click through links in opened emails (5.4%) than their Canadian neighbors (3.8%) or EMEA citizens (5.1%).
Walters believes the stronger clickthrough rates – they’re up from an average of 4.5% in 2009 – reflect marketers’ increasing use of testing tools and focused content.
“[Marketers] are spending more time thinking about the buying process, and trying to map their messaging to how customers are buying things,” he says.
Walters offers the examples of a business-to-business company that is conducting a lead generation campaign. “If [after] someone visits a site twice and then watches a video and downloads a white paper there is a high likelihood they will become a qualified lead, folks will deliver content around those gateways and milestones.”
Verticals Vary In Open Rates
Some verticals have inherently higher propensities for opens and clicks. Silverpop’s study found recipients were most likely to open financial services, nonprofits, travel and leisure, and real estate and construction messages. The healthcare, retail and education verticals were the least likely to have their messages opened.
“The silver bullets for open rates, in the grand scheme of things, are relevance and frequency,” says Walters. “Financial services, nonprofits, when you receive those messages chances are they are mission critical – and it’s likely they come a lot less frequently than your children’s retailer.”
Because these results don’t break out advertising messages from transactional and informational email, the results may be somewhat skewed. “Financial services being relatively high surprises me,” Walters admits. “It’s a very aggressive acquisition industry, but there are a ton of bill payment transactions and other things we click on daily.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that media and publishing emails led the pack in terms of clickthroughs, given that they likely represent information recipients want. Computer software-focused messages, too, scored high in terms of clickthroughs, reflecting two phenomena: First, that they are reaching a targeted, engaged audience as opposed to a general one, and second, that a higher percentage of them may be sent to business email addresses, which are more stable than consumer addresses.
What aren’t getting clicked on are real estate and travel messages. But this may reflect the event-focused nature of these communications: If someone signs up for travel or home-related information and doesn’t unsubscribe once the transaction is completed, chances are those delivered emails won’t generate clickthroughs.
Optimizing for Mobile
Silverpop’s report raises questions about the size of messages, especially as consumers increasingly use smartphones to read their email. The majority of companies surveyed keep their messages below 40 kilobytes, with average sizes running closer to 15KB. Regionally, messages sent within the U.S. tend to be smaller than those beamed in Canada or EMEA – a phenomenon Walters attributes to the U.S. being “the slowest and most expensive country in the world” when it comes to access.
Message size doesn’t matter when mail is accessed on desktops, but the report notes that when cell networks offer only two bars of coverage, “optimizing for message size becomes more important.”
For the most part, the verticals are well within these guidelines. Even retailers and nonprofits, which ranked highest among message sizes, were by and large within a 20-25KB range.
Walters feels this will become less and less of an issue, especially as network capabilities improve and marketers find that messages with great graphic elements double clickthrough rates.
The U.S. Leads – In Unsubscribes
The United States can claim global leadership in at least one area: Its citizens are quick on the trigger when it comes to opting out of messages. Granted, at 0.27% its lead is only 0.05% higher than neighbor Canada.
Analyzed by vertical, travel and leisure and real estate and construction marketers also sit atop the heap when it comes to recipients opting out. This makes sense, according to Walters: Just as consumers won’t click on these messages once their period of relevance is over, they are also more likely to opt out of receiving them entirely.
Which messages are consumers most likely to stick with? Those from nonprofits, as consumers are most likely to have an emotional bond with them. Similarly, healthcare-related messages arrive with a sense of relevance, if not urgency, and recipients are likely to want to continue receiving them. And retailers do well with this, too: If the content is varied (and the values are there) consumers will opt to continue receiving the messages.
In conducting its research Silverpop looked at messages sent by 1,124 brands from 20 countries sent during all of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012.