Meaningful metrics: Going beyond open rates

Deliverability Podcasts
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In episode 7 of the Deliverability Defined podcast, my co-host Melissa Lambert and I talk about the benefits and challenges of open rates, as well as other important metrics you should be measuring to fully understand your email performance.

In this episode we discuss:

  • The metrics that matter when it comes to email deliverability
  • Healthy ranges for each metric
  • Risky levels for each metric that indicate a potential issue
  • Why open rates aren't always reliable

Meaningful metrics: Going beyond open rates

Meaningful metrics

Bounce rate

A bounce happens when the message is not successfully delivered. This can happen for many, many different reasons and there are soft bounces and hard bounces.

A soft bounce is a bounce that's temporary in nature, such as a full mailbox or the message being flagged by the subscriber's spam filter. A hard bounce is a bounce that's more permanent in nature, such as a non-existent email address, an invalid MX record, etc.

Senders should aim to keep their bounce rates below 2%. If bounce rates are between 2-5%, it's a warning sign that something should be improved. If bounce rates are above 5%, it’s a sign that there's a larger issue at play.

Potential reasons for elevated bounces are

Complaint rate

A complaint is when a subscriber marks your message as spam. Many mailbox providers operate a feedback loop where they will let the sender know if a subscriber marks your message as spam. This is why you're able to find complained subscribers within your ConvertKit account.

Note: Gmail does not operate a traditional feedback loop, which means you won't see data about Gmail complaints within your ESP.

Complaints are a very negative signal and you'll want to keep them as low as possible. Senders should keep their complaint rates below 0.1% (or 1 subscriber complaining out of every 1,000). Complaint rates above 0.1% are elevated and indicate an issue.

Potential reasons for elevated complaints:

  • Poor list collection
  • Poor list health
  • Unrecognizable sending domain/name
  • Unhelpful content
  • Sending too frequently or too infrequently
  • Listbombing

Click rate

Your click rate is one of the most valuable metrics when you're trying to determine the success of your email marketing. If you have a very specific call-to-action in your email, tracking the click rate on that call-to-action helps you determine how many subscribers actually took the step you were wanting them to take. The average click rate is between 2-3%, but this varies greatly between senders and content.

Best practices for higher click rates:

  • Have a single, clear CTA
  • Provide value to subscribers
  • Send targeted, relevant content (segment!)
  • Clean your list regularly

Conversion rate

Conversion rates should be the most highly valued and tracked metric of them all. A conversion lets you know that a subscriber opened your email, read it, clicked the CTA, and actually did the thing you wanted them to do.

A conversion could be a purchase, a download, filling out a form, whatever it is you were hoping subscribers would do when you sent them the email. It's common for senders to focus heavily on opens, bounces, etc., but not focus enough on conversions and track conversions over time to measure performance.

The best conversion rates happen through a combination of all of the best practices we’ve outlined so far, and the quality of your content, offering, or service.

Open rate

Open rates tend to be the metric senders focus on most to determine the success of their email marketing. Unfortunately, though, opens are not always very accurate.

An email open is tracked using a tiny, invisible pixel at the bottom of the email. If an email gets opened, the pixel will be loaded, and an open will be tracked. However, it's possible for the pixel to be loaded, but the message wasn't actually opened. It's also possible for the message to be opened, but the pixel was never loaded

Reasons for automatic opens

  • Some mailbox providers will preload images to give subscribers a better email viewing experience. This causes the open pixel to be loaded even if the subscriber hasn't opened.
  • Some subscribers have strict spam filters that will automatically load images (and click links as well), which results in opens and clicks being logged automatically.

Reasons for legit opens not being tracked

  • If a subscriber's mailbox provider doesn't automatically load the images in an email, the open tracking pixel might not be loaded.
  • If your message is clipped, the open tracking pixel is clipped as well and an open won't be recorded.
  • Some mailbox providers, like the new, will block all tracking pixels

Setting aside the shortcomings of opens, here are the ranges of open rates and what they indicate about your performance:

Meaningful metrics: Going beyond open rates


The average open rate across all ConvertKit accounts is currently 32%.


There are many metrics to measure in email marketing. They aren't all equal, but they can all be useful for determining if you have a deliverability issue. However, it's best to focus on metrics that actually indicate subscribers are taking the action you hope they do: click rates and conversion rates.


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Alyssa Dulin

Alyssa is a Deliverability Lead located in Nashville, TN. She loves helping senders reach the inbox of their subscribers. Outside of work, Alyssa enjoys traveling, indoor cycling, and spending time with family.

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