Basic Email Metrics


If you’re running email marketing campaigns the chances are you want to know how well they are doing.

To do that you’ll need to understand some basic email metrics.

Email marketing can be an incredibly powerful tool and should form part of your marketing mix. It’s important to understand how well your campaigns are performing in order to make improvements and increase your overall ROI.

So what metrics should you be looking at? This article will explain what metrics you should be looking at and how you can improve each one to increase the effectiveness of your email campaigns.

If you’re using an email service provider (ESP) all of these metrics should be available in the reports section.

  • Emails sent – Total number of emails sent as part of the campaign
  • Emails delivered – normally reported as sent emails minus bounces
  • Hard and soft bounces – those emails that bounced. Hard bounce being a permanent problem, soft bounce being a temporary one.
  • Unsubscribes – the number of people who unsubscribed from your campaign/list.
  • Complaints – the number of people who reported your campaign as spam.
  • Open rate – the number of people who opened your campaign.
  • Click through rate – those people who clicked on a link in your email campaign.

Let’s look at some of the above metrics in a little more detail.

Emails Delivered

This is normally reported as the total number of emails sent minus bounces. While this is a good indication of list hygiene it is not a true reflection of emails delivered into the inbox. Some may end up in the users junk mail, or potentially not delivered at all. Services like Return Paths inbox monitor can give a greater insight into where your email ended up.

Hard and Soft bounces

A hard bounce is an email that cannot be delivered. It’s a permanent error.

It’s important to make sure that hard bounces are removed from your list as soon as possible. Generally most ESP software will stop sending campaigns to an email address after it bounces a certain number of times.

It’s worth checking what the threshold is with your ESP as these can often vary, generally this would be something like once or twice.

Internet and email service providers like Hotmail often keep old or dead email addresses open and use them as spam traps. Senders who continue to send to email addresses that return a hard bounce are often penalised.

A soft bounce is a temporary error, usually the recipients mailbox is full.


Monitoring the number of people who unsubscribe from your email newsletter can tell you whether your subscribers enjoy the content of your email campaigns.

Typically unsubscribe rates should be less than one percent of the total number of emails sent but ideally this needs to be as low as possible.

If you find your unsubscribe rate increasing analyse the messages that produced that increase. Adjust your content to provide more value and measure the unsubscribe rate on further campaigns.


Like unsubscribes, complaints should be kept to a minimum. This is users hitting the junk or spam button and can count towards your reputation as a sender (the higher the complaint rate the less your repuatation)

Good ESP’s will have technology like feed back loops set up so that if someone does complain they are removed from your list.

Make sure your unsubscribe process is clear and simple, this can often help reduce complaints. You can find out more about feedback loops here

Open rates

The number of emails that were opened by your subscribers. Normally presented as an actual number and a percentage.

It’s very difficult to say what ideal open rates should be because it varies depending on the list, the segmentation, subject line, delivery rate but from personal experience I have seen open rates of between 5 and 70% – that’s quite a difference I’m sure you’ll agree, but whatever your open rate there are a number of things you can do to improve it.

Test subject lines – so often neglected, the humble subject line can be one of the most important parts of your campaign. Experiment with personalising it, adding an offer or asking a question, something to raise the recipients curiosity.

Try varying the ‘from name’ of your campaigns. Experiment with just your company name vs an actual name. This can often have a positive effect on open rates.

A/B split testing is a good way to increase open rates. It allows you to test one subject line against another. If your list is big enough test a small segment and roll the winning subject out to the rest of the list.

Click through rates

Congratulations, you got your email delivered and opened, but what if no one took action?

Getting people to click through to your sales page, landing page or whatever you want them to do is key to the success of your campaigns.

Click through rates can vary depending on what you are asking your subscriber ‘click here to get a free report’ may produce a better click through rate than ‘click here to spend some money’

Experiment with the placement of links in your email. Have a link as close to the top of your email as you can and ideally ‘above the fold’

Be descriptive and compelling don’t just have the words ‘click here’. But do tell them what you want them to do, make sure links look like links and are easy to click on.

Test text links against graphics and see which one produces are better result.

All of the above metrics can be used to judge the effectiveness of your email campaign and while they can be viewed separately combing several or all of these basic email metrics can give you a valuable insight into how well your email campaigns are performing.

Phil Monk

I am a email marketing consultant with over 10 years experience running B2C, B2B and eCommerce campaigns. I’ve also run and managed SEO and PPC campaigns

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