A woman clicking through. A woman clicking through.

The complete guide to click-thru rates for eCommerce email marketing

Click-thru rate (CTR) is one of the most commonly tracked (and studied) key performance indicators for email marketing. And the reason why is really simple: The marketing emails you send from your eCommerce store aren’t doing their job if no one’s clicking on them.

Here’s the basic formula for click-thru rate:

Total clicks / (emails sent – bounces)

For a more accurate picture, you may want to track unique clicks. That way your numbers wouldn’t be skewed by a customer who, for whatever reason, clicked on an email a dozen times.

Total unique clicks / (emails sent – bounces)

Either way, that’s all there is to CTR—it’s remarkably easy to calculate. But it’s not always easy to improve, which is why you need the right strategies.

In this article, we dig deep into click-thru rates for eCommerce email marketing:  How to establish a benchmark, why your CTR might be lower than industry averages (or lower than where you want it to be), and strategies to improve and increase your click-thru rates.

Establishing a click-thru rate benchmark

Here’s the good news: According to studies (and Jilt’s internal data, as well) the average click-thru rate for eCommerce email marketing is right around two percent. That number doesn’t sound particularly intimidating, and with the correct strategies, you should be able to achieve it.

But, odds are, you don’t just want to hit it, you want to surpass it. After all, a two percent CTR means only one in 50 people who open your emails click on something. Instead, it’s good to aim for a higher mark. One study determined that a “good” click-thru rate is in the five to six percent range. Another study asserts that email marketers should strive for 15 percent. 

According to our own internal studies at Jilt, the rates for some automated and transactional emails are much higher than the overall CTR. Welcome emails, cart abandonment recovery emails, review requests, and VIP reward automations all more than doubled that two percent benchmark; and transactional emails like shipping notifications and order receipts were 10 times higher. What do all of those emails have in common? They’re personalized to the customer. We’ll get more into that later in this article, as we discuss strategies for improving your CTR.

These figures are helpful for developing a general sense of how your email marketing stacks up within the eCommerce industry at-large. But your best bet for improving your own click-thru rate is to establish your own benchmark—one that comes from studying the habits and tendencies of your unique customer base. For example, maybe you have a list filled with passionate fans, many of whom eagerly click on every email you send—so your average CTR is 40 percent. That means an email that gets a 15 percent CTR vastly underperformed (even though your CTR is more than seven times the industry average). 

To get a sense of how your marketing emails are performing, you should track your click-thru rate data over time—that way, you can assess whether your CTR rates are solid or a cause for concern.

What’s holding back your click-thru rates?

If your click-thru rates are lower than you’d like, it’s time to diagnose why you’re struggling. Here’s a look at some common problems that might be holding you back.

Your value propositions might be lacking

With eCommerce marketing emails, the action you almost always want someone to take is “buy this product.” (That’s not the case for things like review requests but, in general, sales are the goal.) A strong value proposition accentuates the best aspects of a product, the product’s relevance to a specific customer, why a customer needs to buy it now, and the ways that owning and using the product will improve the customer’s life.

Here’s how an email from eBook seller Kobo ticks off the value proposition boxes. The subject line appeals to a reader’s passion for literary escape, and the imagery matches—the value proposition here is that buying a book allows you to immerse yourself in a great new adventure, even without leaving home. The email also promotes a large (“up to 75 percent off”) discount, which further pushes the customer toward clicking through to make a purchase.

Kobo's email value proposition.

In contrast, a weak value proposition fails to make the case for taking action. It doesn’t make it clear how the product will make the customer’s life better, nor does it give them a real incentive to purchase it. This may be because of a weak offer or weak supporting images and content. This may be because the email marketer has sent a mass email instead of targeting a specific group of relevant customers. Or this may be because the call-to-action fails to entice the customer to buy (or, at least, click through to learn more about) the product. 

Without a strong value proposition, your customers won’t feel a sense of urgency to purchase your product—as you haven’t made a proper case why they need to buy your product right now.

You may not be properly segmenting your email list

List segmentation is among the most valuable tools at an email marketer’s disposal. One study found segmented email campaigns have 100.95 percent higher click-thru rates than non-segmented campaigns (along with higher open and unique open rates and lower unsubscribe and bounce rates). 

Let’s say you run an eCommerce store that sells a variety of vintage-style furniture, handcrafted from reclaimed wood. Over time, you’ve developed a reliable core of customers who repeatedly purchase shelving units for vinyl records. You are about to release a brand new line of wall-mounted vinyl record shelves crafted from recycled lumber. Which of the following email campaigns would result in stronger click-thru rates? 

A) An email that specifically targets folks who’ve purchased vinyl record storage solutions in the past. 

B) A mass email to your entire list of subscribers.

Of course, the correct answer is A. The urge to cast the widest net possible is understandable, but sending emails that aren’t relevant to a customer’s interests will only hurt your click-thru rates—and even hurt your email deliverability over time.

You may have too many calls-to-action in your email campaigns

The last thing you want to do is compete against yourself. That’s why you should try to focus on one or two major goals for each email campaign and build your marketing emails around a specific call-to-action. The average email has 2.1 call-to-action buttons—but the most common number of call-to-action buttons is one.

You tend to muddy the waters when an email has more than two desired customer actions. This is not to say that an email shouldn’t promote more than one product, but ideally those products should be related, and should be relevant to each recipient’s interests. And you can run into trouble if your email promotes multiple products, asks customers to leave a review, encourages them to follow you on Instagram, and tells them to check out your newly updated “About Us” page. With too many calls-to-action, you risk creating decision fatigue—where too many choices decreases the likelihood of someone taking any action. 

For example, the vinyl shelving scenario we described above highlights how a customer’s previous behavior should inform what future marketing emails they receive from a company. If that same eCommerce furniture store is also promoting a new line of wicker armchairs, it wouldn’t be in their best interest to give those chairs equal promotional time in the email to customers in the vinyl shelving segment.

The ideal strategy for improving CTR is to send highly focused, relevant marketing emails to targeted customers. Earlier, we cited the email types that get the highest click-thru rates (cart abandonment recovery, welcome, shipping notifications, and so on). All of those have a strong focus on driving one desired action.

Your emails might not be delivering on what your subject lines are promising

If a customer opens your email expecting “the deepest discount on vinyl record shelving ever!” and finds a four percent off sale offer buried underneath lots of irrelevant content, they’re likely to become annoyed and may even report your email as spam. Your subject line should actively steer customers toward your call-to-action, either by highlighting the most attractive aspect of your pitch or by piquing a customer’s curiosity with a cleverly crafted mystery.

One tell-tale sign that your subject lines are mismatched with your email content is a low click-to-open rate. Your click-to-open rate (CTOR) is the number of unique clicks divided by the number of unique opens. In other words: CTOR is the click-thru rate among people who actually opened your email.

One study found that a good CTOR ranges between 20 and 30 percent for promotional emails. If you’re finding that your click-thru rates are lagging even when your open rates are strong, it’s very likely that your subject lines and email content aren’t working in harmony to drive people toward taking action.

Here’s an example of an email where the subject line works perfectly with the email content. The subject line is about as straightforward as it gets: “Runners On Sale.” But hey, if I’m in the market for a runner, that subject line is going to push me to open the email. And once I open it, the email content is directly aligned with the subject line. It reveals the percentage discount and discount code and has a clear call-to-action. This email isn’t trying to do anything but sell a runner to someone interested in a runner.

Ruggable's aligned subject and content.

What can eCommerce stores do to improve click-thru rates?

If your CTR is lower than industry benchmarks or your own benchmarks—or just below where you ideally want it to be—here are some strategies you can employ to improve it.

Send more automated emails

Broadcast emails, like newsletters and sales announcements, are an absolutely indispensable part of email marketing; it’s hard to imagine an eCommerce store not sending them to customers. However, they’re not the entirety of email marketing. Automated emails, like a welcome series and cart abandonment recovery emails, can and should be a major part of your email marketing arsenal. 

As we said earlier, at Jilt, we’ve found the CTR on automations is more than double that of the industry benchmark of two percent. 

Automations get clicks because they hit two of the most crucial elements of a marketing message: They’re highly personalized and deeply relevant. So if the only email you’re sending out is, say, a weekly sales announcement for your store and you’re not happy with your click-thru rates, try adding in one or two new automations. That should help get your numbers up.

Personalize your emails

The first thing that might jump to mind with “personalization” is merging customer data like their name and city into your emails. Those techniques can be useful, but they represent surface-level personalization. The most effective type of personalization for improving CTR is sending a customer relevant offers and content.

You can use the customer data you have available to you, like past purchases, demographic information, and previous engagement with email content, for segmenting and including personalized recommendations. 

This email from Sweetwater is simple and clever: it looks like a standard newsletter with links to 2019 wrap-up articles, but its subject line and first bits of content highlight products the email subscriber has purchased from Sweetwater in the past. This subtle approach to personalization appeals directly to the subscriber’s interests while avoiding anything that would feel overtly spammy or salesy.

Sweetwater's subtly personalized email.

Create a sense of urgency

One of the top psychological triggers that drives customers to make a purchase is a sense of urgency and scarcity—if they don’t buy now, they’ll miss out. So, you can improve your CTR by focusing on the urgency of your call-to-action. Maybe you’re offering a discount code that expires at a specific time, or maybe you want to highlight that the products you’re offering are almost out of stock. Whatever the case, there are numerous ways to emphasize the urgency of your pitch, from time-oriented language to attention-grabbing graphics and CTA buttons.

Here’s an email that is unambiguously utilizing urgency as a sales strategy. Bold, red text warns customers to “Be quick – selling very fast!” The copy then mentions it’s a “limited edition,” and offers a free mug to customers to buy at launch. Finally, just above the call-to-action button, the email says, “Don’t miss out!”

Zavvi's sense of urgency email.
Via: Milled.

Stay focused with your call-to-action

One key to a successful call-to-action and higher click-thru rates is focus—if your email jumps from one CTA to another, your customer may become overwhelmed and much less likely to take action. Additionally, your standard email template should minimize distractions like website navigation headers and sidebar menus, as those can pull a customer’s attention from what really matters.

A focused call-to-action tends to be prominently positioned toward the top of an email. Additionally, the call-to-action is emphasized and repeated in the email’s copy and supported by relevant details like deadlines, exclusive offers, and product details.

This example from L.L. Bean includes a website navigation bar (the giant retailers often do), but the user’s attention is immediately drawn to the email’s content: big, bold text that clearly states the discount being offered, accompanied by an on-brand, seasonally-appropriate image. The remainder of the email highlights products that are perfect for winter and included in the sale.

L.L. Bean's prominent CTA.
Via: L.L. Bean.

On a related note, a strong call-to-action should be optimized for mobile. That means positioning a CTA button or graphic near the top of the email, so it’s visible to most mobile users without any scrolling. With smartphones accounting for nearly half of email-driven orders (and, as we found on BFCM 2019 at Jilt, sometimes more than half), optimizing your primary CTA for mobile is absolutely essential.

Improve your click-to-open rates

As we previously explored, click-to-open rate is the percentage of unique clicks among unique users who’ve opened your email. It may seem obvious, but boosting your CTOR will have a direct, positive impact on your overall click-thru rate. The key to boosting CTOR is to improve your email’s content to ensure that it aligns closely with your subject line. Think of your subject line and email content as a miniature sales funnel—the subject line is the top of the funnel, and every aspect of your email content should be moving the customer towards conversion once they’ve entered it.

Here’s an example of a marketing email from Williams Sonoma that misaligns the subject line and primary call-to-action. The subject line highlights a 45 percent discount on Breville juicers, but the email content is top-loaded with a different offer—one that actually excludes Breville products.

William Sonoma's subject line versus offer.

The email then features two additional discounts before it offers any detail regarding the Breville deal:

Williams Sonoma offers the real.

It would take quite a bit of scrolling to find the information that’s relevant to this email’s subject line. In theory, that could be a sales strategy—like how brick-and-mortar stores put their sale items in the back so you have to walk past all the full-priced merchandise to get to them. But in the competitive email marketing space, where you generally have just a few seconds to get a customer’s attention before they move on, it seems like a strategy that’s risky at best.

It’s worth doing some experimenting with your emails to see if you can improve your CTR (and CTOR) with different types of subject lines and content. Perhaps your email marketing has been straightforward for years and you want to explore what will happen if you use a more informal vibe. You can create a small segment of long-time customers and split them into two equal groups. One group would receive a conventional sales pitch that follows your usual playbook, while the other group would receive the new, informal style. Within a matter of days, you should have a sense of how each email is performing—and whether it’s worth trying your new strategy going forward.

Whichever path you choose, it’s essential that your calls-to-action are clear, concise, and relevant to your customer’s interests, or else your CTOR (and CTR) may suffer.

Key takeaways

Click-thru rate is among the most tracked analytical metrics for email marketing, with good reason: CTR is a clear measure of how your campaigns are performing and a good CTR is essential for your ultimate goal of conversions. If your click-thru rates are struggling, your first task is to figure out why.

The industry average for CTR is around two percent, however, the CTR for your store can vary wildly from that level.  Examine your history and use analytics reports to see how your emails have been performing.

If you find your emails aren’t getting the CTR you’d like, the next step is diagnosing the problem.

  • Weak value propositions. Are your emails making it clear why a customer needs your product in their life and why they need to click through to buy it immediately?
  • Not utilizing segmentation. By segmenting your list, you can send emails that are relevant and targeted—this isn’t a groundbreaking statement, but customers are more likely to click on offers for things they actually want.
  • Too many calls-to-action. Are your emails focused on getting customers to take a specific action, or are you trying to get them to do too many things—which can result in them doing nothing?
  • Subject line and content misalignment. If you’re getting lots of people to open your emails but not a lot of clicks, you have a low click-to-open rate—a sign that your subject lines are good, but your emails aren’t delivering on what those subject lines are promising.

Fortunately, there are several strategies you can employ to improve your email click-thru rates.

  • Send more automated emails. Automated emails, like a welcome series and cart abandonment recovery emails, are personal and relevant—and tend to deliver strong click-thru rates.
  • Personalize your emails. Email marketing success hinges on your ability to send relevant content to your subscribers and tap into their interests. Use readily available data to segment your email list, including past purchases, demographics, and previous email engagement. 
  • Create a sense of urgency. Make it clear to customers why it’s important for them to click through now to avoid missing out on a product or sale.
  • Stay focused with your calls-to-action. If your messaging shifts excessively from one call-to-action to another, your customer is less likely to take any desired action.
  • Improve your click-to-open rates. You can improve your click-to-open rate by delivering on the promise of your subject line. Your subject line convinces the customer to open the email; if the email’s content moves in a different or unexpected direction, they’re less likely to click through.
Matt Maggiacomo
Matt Maggiacomo is a writer, digital fundraiser, and musician with over four years of executive-level experience in nonprofit management. He has been utilizing digital technology to promote his creative projects since 2001 and is the founder of the creative consultancy Pitch & Prose.

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