Here’s How Marketers Fared in 2018 in the Metrics That Impact Email Deliverability

March 13, 2019

Some 15% of US marketing emails fail to reach the inbox, according to an analysis released last year by Return Path. Although this figure is an improvement from 2017’s rate of 23%, marketers can’t afford to rest on their laurels – more so in particular verticals with poorer performance. To address this, Return Path has once again benchmarked its data [download page] to provide a host of updated yardsticks across several metrics that can act as indicators for sender reputation.

Positive indicators include metrics such as read and forwarded messages, along with messages replied to and those marked as “not spam”. Such actions act as indicators of subscriber engagement, with these tracked by several mailbox providers. Negative indicators include messages marked as spam along with messages deleted before reading.

Below, some highlights across these indicators, based on Return Path’s analysis of global consumer data comprising more than 17,000 commercial senders, 2 million consumer panelists and more than 6.9 billion commercial email messages sent to Microsoft, Gmail, Yahoo and AOL users throughout 2018.

Spam Placement Rate

This metric is key to knowing what type of trust is placed in senders, with spam placement affected by factors including the content, sender reputation and subscriber engagement.

On average, 9% of emails sent last year were delivered to the spam folder, representing a significant decrease from 2017 (13.5%).

That average masked some significant variances across industries.

The verticals with the best spam placement rate (i.e., the lowest) included Distribution & Manufacturing (4%, static compared to 2017), Banking & Finance (4%, down from 6%), and Insurance (4%, down from 8%).

By comparison, senders in the Education/Non-Profit/Government (19%, down from 24%), Social & Dating (16%, down from 21%) and Business & Marketing (14%, down from 15%) sectors had rates several times higher than the most trusted senders.

In terms of year-over-year trends, the Office Supplies category fared best, with its spam placement rate plummeting from 17% in 2017 to 8% last year. Overall, all categories experienced falls in spam placement rates, with the exception of Jobs and Distribution & Manufacturing. Their spam placements stayed mostly flat year-over-year.

This Is Not Spam Rate

This is a significant metric as it could “indicate a false positive with the spam filter”. It can be difficult to ascertain what constitutes a good metric here, though, as a higher “this is not spam” rate could be the result of more emails being placed in the spam folder. Yet generally speaking this can be seen as a positive indicator as a selection suggests that subscribers are willing to search through a spam folder to rescue an email.

With that said, industries with a high spam placement rate and low “this is not spam” rate should be concerned as this could reflect a lack of interest or awareness from recipients.

Distribution & Manufacturing and Telecommunications were rescued from the spam folder the most, at 0.08% and 0.05% of all messages sent, respectively. Education/Non-Profit/Government, Kids & Babies, and Real Estate saw the least rescues with “this is not spam” rates of 0.01%.

The overall rate was 0.02% across industries, down from 1.77% in 2017 and 1.04% in 2016. This figure is similar to that seen in 2015, when the “this is not spam” rate was 0.03%.

Read Rate

Return Path argues that read rate (% of messages sent that are read) is a more accurate metric than open rate, because it looks at all emails that are viewed regardless of whether or not images are rendered.

Email marketers saw an increase in the overall read rate last year, up to 24%. Read rates in previous years were 21.5% in 2017, 22.2% in 2016 and a low of 14% in 2015.

The Distribution & Manufacturing (60%) sector was the most impressive performer again in 2018, as it was the year earlier. Insurance (43%) and Banking & Finance (39%) also enjoyed read rates well above the average, likely due to many emails in these sectors being of a transactional nature.

Meanwhile, Business & Marketing (17%) and Education/Non-Profit/Government (16%) emails were the least enticing to recipients, as they were in 2017 and 2016.

In terms of year-over-year trends, the Telecommunications sector had the biggest improvement, up to 39% from 33% in 2017.

Delete Before Reading Rate

2018 saw an increase in the percentage of emails that were deleted before being read, reaching 16% of the total. This compares to around 12% of emails suffering the same fate in 2017 and 2016.

Return Path indicates that consistently high rates in this area may signal dissatisfaction with an overall email marketing campaign, and that this metric can reflect inbox (lack of) desirability. A rate that is too high could result in more future emails being directed to the spam folder.

That could be worrisome for senders in the Pets (20%) category, which had the highest delete-before-reading rate. This was followed closely by Flowers & Gifts, Household & Home Improvement, Office Suppliers and Sporting Goods, each of which saw 19% of their emails deleted prior to reading on average. It could be that recipients of these emails had signed on to a list for a one-off purchase, and were not interested in future emails.

Matching its lead in reads, Distribution & Manufacturing was the least ignored sector with a deleted before reading rate of 9%.

Reply Rate

Very few marketing emails generate replies, and Return Path does mention that there’s no target rate here, as a high reply rate could signal either a positive (engaged list) or negative (subscribers trying to unsubscribe) reaction to email. Even so, a reply is a sign of engagement, and the analysts recommend switching from a “noreply@” address to a managed address.

Overall, just 0.06% of emails were replied to last year, down from 0.11% in 2017.

Once again, the more account-based industries, such as Telecommunications (1.09%) and Insurance (1.03%), had the highest reply rates whereas the Toys/Hobbies/Crafts (0.01%) and Deals & Rewards (0.01%) verticals generated virtually no replies at all.

Forward Rate

Reply rates might be low, but forward rates are even lower. This is an area that could be important for marketers in growing their lists. It is a strong indicator of an engaged list, and shows that the content being sent is relevant not only to the recipient but also to the recipient’s network.

Still, just 0.02% of emails sent last year on average were forwarded by recipients – the same figure as in 2017. Those industries leading the way (all at 0.13% of messages forwarded) were Insurance, Telecommunications and Distribution & Manufacturing.

By contrast, the Social & Dating and Deals & Rewards verticals saw a 0.00% forward rate, as was the case last year.

Complaint Rate

This is perhaps the most negative of all metrics, as it demonstrates a direct action by the recipient demonstrating that the email is not desired. As such, it is heavily factored by mailbox providers into filtering decisions.

Unfortunately for marketers, this rate rocketed in 2018 to 0.39%, more than double 2017’s figure of 0.17%.

The worst offenders in 2018 were Business & Marketing (1.42%), followed by Jobs (0.77%) and Office Supplies (0.73%). The Office Supplies category was the only vertical to see a decrease in complaints from last year, although it was very slight.

General Merchandise (0.12%), Distribution & Manufacturing (0.17%) and Toys/Hobbies/Crafts (0.19%) were the only areas to achieve averages below the recommended 0.2%.

The full report is available for download here.

About the Data: Return Path describes its methodology as follows:

“Return Path conducted this study using global consumer data consisting of over 17,000 commercial senders, 2 million consumer panelists, and over 6.9 billion commercial email messages sent to Microsoft, Gmail, Yahoo, and AOL users between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2018.

Consumer data is Information captured from monitored email accounts controlled by real subscribers to sample user initiated and engagement based filtering decisions by mailbox providers. Consumer data can uncover behavior based factors and thresholds that influence inbox placement at large mailbox providers, and can’t be identified by non-interactive seeds.”

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