Boosting email conversion rates: Best practices and key metrics

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The stats about email marketing ROI seem almost too good to be true: $36 for every $1 spent is a heck of a return.

But results like those don’t happen simply by deciding to send a few sporadic marketing emails. They happen when you send the right emails to the right people at the right time, pushing them to the right outcomes.

Because of these potential outsized returns, agencies and digital marketing professionals are always on the lookout for the latest email conversion rate optimization strategies.

Looking for ways to boost email marketing conversion rates? Let’s start with the basics: how they work, what you should aim for, and how to calculate them. Then, we’ll show you seven best practices to optimize conversion rates. 

Understanding email conversion rate

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An email conversion rate measures the number of people who take a specific action against the number who successfully received the email. It’s a valuable metric to track and analyze because email conversion rates tell you how well an organization’s emails achieve their conversion goals. 

It’s one of the most significant overall marketing KPIs, and it’s especially important for agencies that want to track content marketing KPIs.

The direction over time can be helpful in identifying trends both in a subscriber base and in the quality of email campaigns. On a per-email basis, email conversion rate can help focus an organization’s email marketing strategy on the methods and tactics that are getting the best results. Monitoring the success of email marketing campaigns is essential for optimizing performance and engagement.

What is a good email conversion rate?

This is a common question but not an easy one to answer. It’s a little bit like asking, “What’s the ideal temperature?” or “What’s the best place to go?” You can’t really give good answers without first asking, “For what?”

The ideal temperature is 165°F degrees if you’re cooking chicken. But that’s not ideal at all if you want to enjoy the beach or go skiing!

A little ridiculous, we know — but email conversion rates are kind of like temperature. What’s good and bad depends on what you’re measuring, what you do, what your clients do, and at least a dozen other factors.

Generally, email open rates are higher than click-through rates, which are higher than sign-up or purchase rates. And what’s great in one industry might be terrible in another.

Email and SMS campaign management platform Klaviyo releases quarterly data on open rates, click rates, and more across numerous industries. Here are some of their recent average email conversion rate findings for email marketing campaigns:

  • Overall open rate: 38.71%

  • Click-through rate (CTR): 1.29%

  • Conversion rate (sign-up or purchase): 0.08%

In food and beverage, they identified higher open rates (39.59%) and significantly higher conversion rates (0.16%). (Not surprising in a low-ticket, high-impulse industry.)

But then, in jewelry (a high-ticket, high-desirability category), open rates and CTRs were near even with overall averages, while conversion rates were substantially lower (0.04%).

So, what’s a good conversion rate? It depends on the audience. Look for data in your industry or among competitors where available. And don’t miss the value of email conversion rate over time. Comparing against your own past performance is a great way to identify trends and keep improving.

Email conversion rate formula

Calculating your email conversion rate is straightforward. Here’s the formula:

Total number of conversions / total number of email recipients x 100 = conversion rate (as a percentage)

Here’s a quick example. Let’s say you sent an email to a list with 1,000 successful deliveries. Of those 1,000 recipients, 50 of them opened the email and clicked through to your or your client’s site. Calculating your conversion rate would look like this:

50 conversions / 1,000 recipients x 100 = 5, giving you a 5% conversion rate.

Best practices for improving conversion rates

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The thing about email conversion rates is that no matter how well you perform in this metric, higher conversion rates are always better.

Whether you’re doing well already or you’re looking to make some major improvements, follow these best practices and watch those conversion rates move in the right direction.

1. Segment your audience

First, be sure to divide your subscribers into specific segments. These could be based on behavior, interests, or demographics — whatever makes sense among your (or your client’s) subscriber base.

Why is segmentation so important? Think about how your agency approaches clients in real life. 

Your agency might work with serious business clients and small nonprofits, but you probably don’t use the same language in both types of client meetings. In person, it’s obvious — different audiences have different needs, so you don’t use the exact same approach on every client and prospect.

The same thing is true in email marketing. People and businesses don’t all have the same motivations or needs, so the message needs to adapt to the audience.

Just like in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, email marketing requires a good deal of customization based on the audience you’re reaching. 

2. Craft compelling subject lines

Competing for attention isn’t easy. And in email marketing, you win (or lose) that competition with your subject line. Because if a reader doesn’t even open the email, you certainly won’t convert them.

So it’s important to craft compelling subject lines that draw you in and make you want to keep reading.

Examples are everywhere. Pull up your personal Gmail account and switch over to the Promotions tab. Chances are it’s full of unread emails from brands you enjoy — or at least tolerate.

Yet it’s probably immediately obvious that some of these subject lines are more enticing than others. Some are vague. Some are informative but not interesting to you. Others are way over the top — borderline obnoxious

But then there are some real gems: clever, empathetic, driving, interesting, and enticing subject lines that draw you in.

It’s tough to make every single subject line a winner (remember that you’re going for an average conversion rate). And you’ll never have one that pushes all the right buttons for 100% of your audience. But still, whatever you can do to juice up those subject lines is worth the investment.

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3. Make sure emails are mobile-responsive

What kind of device are you reading this blog post on?

Statistically, you’re more likely to access web content from your phone than from a desktop or laptop. Around 56% of all web traffic in the past 12 months was from mobile devices

Now, this is a business blog post, so chances are that a higher percentage of you are reading from your work computer. But the point stands. Think about the last few marketing emails you (as a consumer) opened.

You opened some of them on your phone, right?

Now, take off your consumer hat and grab your creative marketing professional cap. The point here is that your readers — the people you need to read, click, and convert — are also reading emails on mobile.

If your emails look great on mobile, they stand a much better chance of being read and converting. 

If your emails are impossible to read on small devices, requiring tons of pinching and zooming, people will move on to easier content.

4. Make your CTA stand out

So far, you’ve already done important work:

  • You segmented your emails effectively.

  • You convinced your reader to click or tap on that compelling subject line.

  • You built an email that works on mobile and desktop alike.

Now, you need to make the reader do the thing you want them to do.

Your email copy matters here, of course. To make that final crucial step, you need to nudge your readers or call them to action.

It needs to be crystal clear to the reader what they should do next. And, of course, before your CTA can be crystal clear to the reader, you’ll need to agree internally what the desired action is!

CTAs don’t have to be complicated. “Shop now,” “learn more,” and “sign up” get used all the time because they’re effective and clear. 

You can certainly feel free to pump up the creativity. Just make sure whatever you choose, the next step is as clear as possible. 

5. A/B test regularly

A/B testing is a powerful tool for increasing email conversion rates. When you A/B test, you send two different versions of an email to similar sample sizes and then analyze the results. 

One will usually perform better than the other, and it’s typically safe to assume that you should use the better-performing version of whatever was different going forward.

You can A/B test many elements in a marketing email. For example, if you’re trying to gauge the effectiveness of your email subject lines, you could set up an A/B test where you send identical emails with differing subject lines.

If everything else in the email is identical, then the one that performs better likely does so because of the subject line.

You can do the same tests with all sorts of other elements, like the wording of your call to action, the placement of buttons and links, graphics selections and placement, formatting, length — you name it.

Just be careful not to overcomplicate your A/B tests. If you change too many variables, you won’t know which one or ones led to the improved outcome.

6. Offer content that’s genuinely valuable to your subscribers

Next, you need to make sure the content you’re cranking out to your subscribers is meaningful to them, delivering real value in some form. 

That’s because even if you succeed on all five of the previous points, your conversion rate will still suffer if you don’t have anything meaningful to say. 

Go back to your personal Gmail’s Promotions tab. Unless you’re much better at regularly unsubscribing than we are, it won’t take long to find a negative example.

In 10 seconds or less, you can probably find a brand or two whose emails you just never open because you’re no longer really using what they offer. Maybe you’ve aged out of a brand or quit a hobby. 

Whatever the reason, those brands’ emails don’t offer you genuine value anymore. (While you’re there, go ahead and unsubscribe! It just might save your sanity.)

Those brands don’t draw you in because they don’t have anything to offer you. They want to sell you stuff you don’t want, and they don’t offer any additional information of value.

So, how do you make sure you’re not one of those brands? Start by figuring out what (beyond your products and services themselves) your target audience values. Then write about that.

And make sure you’ve created a dedicated landing page. You want your email list members to land on a site page that also converts, so don’t end your marketing efforts at the bottom of the email.

7. Use automation wherever possible

Email marketing can get complicated in a hurry with segmentation, A/B testing, email sequences, email funnels, and more. But the good news is that, with the right email marketing tools, you can automate more of it than you think. 

Take the time to investigate all the options available in your email marketing platform. Anything you can automate is time you save — time you can spend on other high-priority marketing tasks.

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