The Exact Email Marketing KPIs You Should Focus On (and Why)

Email Marketing KPIs

KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator.

It's a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively your business is achieving key objectives. As with any other department, your marketing team's KPIs are only as effective as the actions of improvement they inspire.

Unfortunately, many organizations waste significant time tracking KPIs that make very little difference to their immediate goals. They read statistics like this, "Marketers who check their metrics 3 x per week are 20 percent more likely to achieve a positive ROI, according to Hubspot's 2015 State of Inbound Report", and assume more is better.

Really, focusing on those metrics that most significantly impact YOUR goals is better. So stop and ask yourself: What are the primary goals of my email marketing campaign? And then identify the KPIs that can best inform those goals.

The most common email marketing goals are: Growing existing subscriber bases, generating more leads, and converting more of those leads into customers. You could be targeting any one of these or all of these at the same time. Whatever the goal(s), you'll want to track gains on a daily, weekly, and/or monthly basis.

For example, Company X's goal is increasing its subscriber base. Therefore, they're going to be focused on building brand awareness, heavy content promotion, and CTAs with an emphasis on signing up for their newsletter. Each month, they'll evaluate how much they've increased their list (i.e. we grew our subscriber list by 17 percent in March). They'll also analyze where those subscribers came from and tweak their marketing plans to do more of what works and less of what doesn't.

In this article, we'll be outlining the 6 email metrics EVERY marketer should be tracking, while emphasizing their overall importance relative to more specific goals.

The 6 Email Marketing KPIs You Should Be Tracking


1. Click-through Rates

What: The percentage of email recipients who clicked on one or more links contained in a given email.

How: Total clicks ÷ emails sent * 100

Example: 20 clicks ÷ 100 emails * 100 = 20 percent clickthrough rate

Most Important For: EVERYONE. No matter what stage of the funnel you're working on, clickthrough rates directly correlate with ongoing interest and engagement.

Click-through rate (CTR) is the baseline metric every email marketer should be tracking. If every email shares the goal of driving traffic toward a specified action—whether it's clicking through to an article on the blog, clicking through to a sales page, or clicking through to book a consultation—then every email also shares the goal of generating as many clicks as possible.

Put simply, clickthroughs = interaction.

Interaction means someone liked what you had to say enough to take the next step! And that's pretty great. CTRs are also frequently used for informing the results of A/B tests. Also called split testing, A/B testing is essentially comparing the results achieved by two different versions of the same marketing material. Email subject lines, content, and design can all be A/B tested. Most email marketing software allows for this feature.

2. Conversion Rates

What: The percentage of email recipients who NOT only clicked through, but also went on to complete a desired action (i.e. filling out a form, signing up for an event, or purchasing a product/service).

How: People who completed the desired action ÷ Total emails sent * 100

Example: 500 desired actions taken ÷ 5,000 emails * 100 = 10 percent conversion rate

Most Important For: Those with a primary goal of Lead Generation or Customer Acquisition

After an email recipient has clicked through on your email, the next goal is typically converting them on your offer. For example, say you're a Web design agency offering a limited number of free Facebook page banner designs. The email contains a link to a questionnaire to take advantage of that offer. Anyone who follows through and submits the questionnaire is considered a "conversion".

If you're selling products or services directly on your site, such purchases can also be considered conversions. Conversion rates are a telling metric for determining whether or not your offers are on target. What's a good conversion rate? Well, it depends (we know, you don't like hearing that answer). It depends on your industry, target audience, and the "warmth" of your leads.

As a general rule of thumb, a good conversion rate for a warm list is around 10 percent.

You can begin measuring conversion rates by integrating your email platform with your Web analytics. Here's an article on how to do that.

3. Bounce Rates

What: The percentage of total emails sent that were NOT successfully delivered to the recipient's inbox.

How: Bounced emails ÷ Emails sent * 100

Example: 100 bounced emails ÷ 10,000 emails sent * 100 = 1 percent bounce rate

Most Important For: EVERYONE. Make it a practice to regularly remove unengaged subscribers from your list.

Bounced emails can be a problem. Too many signify an outdated email list that needs to be purged. There are two kinds of bounces worth tracking: hard and soft.

Hard bounces are caused by invalid, closed or nonexistent email accounts. Purging these "vacant email addresses" from your list is crucial because Internet Service Providers use bounce rates as a key factor in determining your authenticity and reputation. In other words, you don't want to look like a spammer!

Soft bounces are caused by a temporary problem with a valid email address (i.e. a full inbox or a server issue). In such instances, the recipient’s server may hold the email for later delivery, but your best bet is resending.

4. List Growth Rates

What: The rate at which your email list is growing.

How: (Number of new subscribers – (Number of unsubscribes + email/spam complaints) ÷ Total number of subscribers) * 100

Example: (50 new subscribers - (15 unsubscribes and email/spam complaints) ÷ 500 Total subscribers) * 100 = 7 percent list growth rate

Most Important For: Those with the primary goal of GROWING A SUBSCRIBER BASE

Remember how we talked about wanting to minimize those unsubscribes as much as possible? Well, the reality is, unsubscribes will happen. Whether someone realizes they are no longer a match for your services or has even already benefited from them as much as possible, unsubscribes are completely necessary and normal.

Understanding the inevitability of the unsubscribe cycle can help businesses have a more realistic picture of what is required to maintain a consistent stream of leads. According to Marketing Sherpa's research, email marketing databases naturally degrade 22.5 percent per year. As you can see, planning to continually grow your subscriber base is vital—don't rest on your laurels!

5. Email Sharing/Forwarding Rates

What: The percentage of email recipients who shared your content via a "social share" or "forward" button.

How: Number of share clicks ÷ Number of delivered emails * 100

Example: 100 share clicks ÷ 5,000 delivered emails * 100 = 0.5 percent email sharing rate

Most Important For: EVERYONE. This metric directly contributes to all phases of the sales funnel.

This KPI is useful for determining how valuable your email content is perceived to be. People only share content they feel is exceptional in one way or another, which means email sharing rates are a big deal!

Not only does a high rate indicate you're producing on-target content, it also shows you're doing a great job of generating new, qualified leads. Additionally, paying attention to this metric will help you determine which types of content are most popular. Then, you can do more of what's working "topic-wise" and less of what isn't.

6. Overall ROI

What: The overall return on investment for your email campaigns (e.g. Total revenue ÷ Total spent)

How: (Email generated sales – Campaign investment) ÷ Campaign investment

Example: ($1,000 in email generated sales - $100 campaign investment) ÷ $100 campaign investment * 100 = 900 percent return on investment

Most Important For: EVERYONE! If you're not seeing an overall ROI, you're doing something wrong.

As with every marketing channel, determining the overall ROI of your email marketing campaign is important. If you haven't already, consider setting up an SLA system, assigning different values to various types of leads based on their likelihood to generate revenue.

Other questions to ask yourself:

  • How many of each of these types of leads did we generate via email marketing?
  • How many of these leads translated to potential revenue?
  • How many of these leads translated to actual revenue?

OK, those were the basic KPIs every email marketer would do well to track. Now, let's discuss what else you should be monitoring according to your specific goals: 

Common KPIs That Don't Always Matter

Well, it's not that "they don't matter"—they just don't matter as much as you'd think.

Open Rates

An open rate is considered to be the percentage of subscribers who open your email. While we do recommend optimizing subject lines to "grab attention," we caution against basing success on open rates


First off, most email service providers only count messages as "opened" if the recipient also receives any accompanying embedded images. It's extremely likely that a large percentage of your email users have an image-blocking setting on default. Meaning, even if your subscriber opens the email, they won’t be included in your "open rate!" Annoying, huh?

Open rates can, however, be considered useful if used as a comparative measure (i.e. your open rate increased from 65 to 85 percent from the previous week). So if you have low KPI performance, the first place to start is to see if you can increase the open rate, especially if it's really low. If open rate is high but click-through-rate is low, the calls-to-action in your email could probably use a little work.

Unsubscribe Rates

If you find yourself a little teary-eyed someone unsubscribes, stop. As previously mentioned, you WANT people to disqualify themselves. Especially when many readers will simply just stop opening your messages when they lose interest, thus helping maintain a "false picture" of how many engaged subscribers you really have. Which is why it's much more useful to measure effectiveness through the aforementioned clickthrough and conversion rates.

As you can see, tracking KPIs isn't rocket science. Success can be achieved with a clear understanding of goals, measuring the right metrics and consistently acting upon the information you receive.

What KPI's do you track? Let us know in the comments!

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