Friday, December 08, 2017

Forget Open Rates; Focus on CTOR

Everyone’s focused on metrics this time of year. Budget battles for 2018 are in full swing as bean-counters and jealous colleagues scrutinize how your precious marketing dollars are spent (or wasted) online. Social media gets all the headlines today, but good old email marketing is still very effective for financial professionals—if done well.

Katrina Manning, author of the Email on Acid blog recently shared seven reasons that Email Marketing Still Works. “Many business professionals are checking their email at work regularly, not going onto all the social media sites,” explained Manning. “Reach out to them directly where they prefer communication for their business transactions and informational needs. Heck, 40 percent of Americans read emails while in bed. That means you already have their attention in their inbox, so use it!”


Sure, it’s important to track opens, clicks, unsubscribes and forward, etc., but you can artificially inflate your open rates with provocative email openers such as: “Salary Survey,” or “New Sex Position” or “Celebrity Slips” or “Top-10 Overrated Colleges” or “Do this now to get a raise!”

That’s just Kardashian-esque click bait.

If there’s no meat on the bones when people take time out of their busy day to open it, then you’ll be punished in several ways: low click rates and possibly and unsubscribe.
That’s why open rates are essentially a McMetric—easy to measure, but low on substance, as my colleague Rick Telberg and I addressed in a podcast. There’s another more meaningful metric, the Click-to-Open Rate (CTOR), that I’ll explain in a minute.

First of all, open rates are deceptive. An open is recorded when images are downloaded, even if the recipient didn’t click or take action. Or, the recipient may have the “auto preview” feature turned on (which automatically registers an open). Recipients may have inadvertently clicked on your email when they really wanted to open the one just above or below it in their inbox….i.e. they bailed just a split second after reading yours.

CTOR levels the playing field

What you really want to know how many of the people who opened your email actually clicked on at least one of your content element?
  CTOR measures the relevancy and context of an email by taking the number of unique clicks divided by the number of unique opens, and then multiplying by 100 to show it as a percentage.

Email A: Let’s say you sent a mailing to 1,027 clients, past clients and prospects. Of those 1,027, let’s say 27 bounced or were out of office replies, giving you 1,000 sent. Of those 1,000 delivered, let’s say 260 opened your email, i.e. 26% open rate. Not bad, but suppose only 10 of those 260 people actually clicked on something giving you a 4% click-through rate.  Therefore, your click-to-open rate (CTOR) would be 15.4% (i.e. 4% ÷ 26%).

Email B: Let’s say the following week you send a new email to the same list of 1,027 and the same 27 bounced or were out of office, giving you 1,000 successfully sent (same as last week). Of those 1,000 delivered, let’s say only 190 opened your email, i.e. 19% open rate—7 percentage points worse than last week. But of those 190, a 20 individuals clicked on something giving you a click-through rate of 10.5%. Therefore, your click-to-open rate (CTOR) would be 55.2% (i.e. 10.5% ÷ 19%)…..significantly higher engagement than last week’s mailing despite a lower open rate.

Even though Email A had a much higher open rate than email B, which do you think had a higher engagement rate and was ultimately more successful?


Email A
Email B
20 (10.5%
Source: HB Publishing & Marketing Company, LLC 2017

Improving click-through

The best way to improve your CTOR is to improve the nominator; your click through rate. Here are some time-tested techniques. No magic, here. Just basic blocking and tackling.

1. Relevant content.
The easiest step is to make sure you have content that’s entirely relevant to your audience. Don’t try to send a one-size-fits all email to your entire list. Take the time to segment your list and send highly relevant campaigns to each.

2. Don’t be a click baiter. There’s nothing more annoying to a busy reader than opening an eBlast or enewsletter and finding nothing inside that relates to the provocative subject line. Again, you’ll be ignored and possibly unsubscribed to.

3. Design issues. When reviewing the content and creative of the campaign, you might see that an email with a poor performing click-to-open rate did not include enough links, or possibly the clickable areas were unclear to the subscribers, causing the low level of engagement.

4. Too many “asks.” Another mistake we see in this era of “do more with less” is asking the recipient to do too many things in a single email (i.e. sign up for a webinar, check out a video and register for a conference).

It’s great to have multiple links to helpful content and resources, but NEVER include more than one call-to-action (CTA) within each email.

So, what’s a good CTOR? According to digital market consultant, Cara Olson, it depends on many variables including industry, type of email, segmentation, number of links in an email, etc. She said, a good CTOR can vary from 20% to 30%. But, rather than benchmarking against your peers, benchmark against yourself. Establish the CTOR for your own newsletters, triggered campaigns, promotional campaigns, transactional emails, for each email in a series, and then compare your improvement (or lack thereof) over time. Measure often, tweak, and re-assess.

Drilling down into industry specific email benchmarks, MailChimp says the CTOR for the Business & Finance category is 13% (21.0% open / 2.7% click through). GetResponse says CTOR for the Financial Services category is about 24% (i.e. 22.0% open/ 5.3% click through).


Business email is something that your client chooses to open and read; they are not being forced to do so. You work hard to build client and prospect relationships. Respect their privacy and how busy their schedules are. If you do, and consistently offer valuable content and insights, readers will refer you without hesitation to like-minded peers.

*** Are you a Finder, Minder or Grinder? Take our Insta-Poll and see how you stack up to your peers.

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