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How does frequency of e-mails affect open, click and conversion rates?

E-mails are so inexpensive to send that most marketers are pushed to mail more than they should.  We are seeing rates of e-mails sent to each subscriber per month go up and up, month after month. When they go up, what happens?  To get the answer, I studied 181 company e-mails to check their monthly e-mails delivered per subscriber with their open and click rates. The answers were not dramatic. But they did show a general trend.  In general, the more you mail, the lower your subscriber open and click rate. Here are the open results:

There are always exceptions, of course, but the trend is quite visible. The more e-mails that your subscribers receive per month, the lower their HTML open rate.  The only exceptions are e-mailers who send less than one e-mail per month.  Their low open rates could be because the subscribers had forgotten about them due to the low frequency.

It is important to recognize that none of these e-mailers had open rates of over 20%. This means that 80% or more of their e-mails were never opened. The average open rate of all these 181 companies was 14.1% opens – meaning that 85% were never opened.

Actually, the open rates were even lower than this chart appears to indicate.  Because many subscribers use a reading pane, many of these opens are not really opened at all. As the subscriber moves down her e-mail inbox with her mouse, a portion of each e-mail shows up in a reading pane to the right of her screen.


As you can see, the start of an article from the Wall Street Journal is visible.  When this happens, a packet is sent back to the Wall Street Journal that says in effect, “Arthur Hughes has just opened the e-mail that we sent to him.”  Actually, I just moved down my inbox. I really did not open this e-mail at all. I went on to the next e-mail on my list. It counts as an open, however.  So we have to discount these open rates by a significant percentage. No one knows how much.

The real test of an open is the click rate.  When an e-mail is actually opened, the subscriber starts reading it. As he reads, it he may click with his mouse on something interesting.  That is a real open. In the case of the Wall Street Journal article, there is a link for the article about Apple.  Here is what happened when I click on this link:

This page showed up because when I clicked on the link for the article, a packet went to WSJ saying “Arthur Hughes wants to see the article about the Apple iPhone”. WSJ sent me the article so I could read it. That is a real open.

How many e-mails are clicked on? This is another convoluted story. We looked at a similar large number of companies to track their unique clicks as a percentage of their opens. Here are the results:


These numbers are fairly consistent. Between 15% and 25% of opened e-mails are clicked on.  If we can count a click as a real open, then the number of real opens is 22.52% of 14.1% or 3.175%. That is the average number of truly opened e-mails.  This means, of course, that more than 96% of all e-mails, on average, are not opened.

Comparing this 3.175% opened with the average number of conversions provides a really interesting story. I have conversion rates on only about 83 companies.  Here are the results:

This chart tells us that the 0.12% of the average delivered e-mail produced a sale.  These same e-mails have an open (clicked on) rate of 3.175%. Putting these two numbers together, on the average, 3.78% of clicked on e-mails produce a sale.  That is a terrific number.  It means that e-mailers should concentrate not on mailing so many, but on getting their e-mails opened and clicked on more.


Arthur Middleton Hughes, vice president of The Database Marketing Institute, has presented 28 seminars on database and email marketing.  Arthur has also authored several books includingStrategic Database Marketing 4th Edition (McGraw-Hill 2012). He and Andrew Kordek, chief strategist and co-founder of Trendline Interactive, are hosting a two-day Email Strategy Study Group in Fort Lauderdale  March 26-27, 2013, featuring group competition for email marketers responsible for subscriber acquisition, lifetime value, ratings and reviews, boosting their email budget, and doubling their ROI.  To learn how to attend the Study Group,click here.

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About Arthur

Arthur Middleton Hughes has published over 200 articles on Database and E-mail Marketing. Click Here to read them.

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