Email marketing may be decades old, but it’s possibly never been more popular or effective. With three quarters of Americans using email and over two and a half billion total users worldwide, it’s the messaging tool with unbeatable reach.

“Click-through rates are the single best performance indicator of the effectiveness of an email campaign.”

And, because it’s such a mature technology, campaign costs are incredibly low, which is why the return on investment for email beats just about every other marketing format today.

In a previous blog post, we discussed how to improve email open rates, which is the proportion of recipients who opened your message compared to the overall number of messages sent. In this article we’ll give you insight into an even more crucial metric: click-through rates.

Action Indicates Engagement

Getting your audience to open your message is just the beginning. The real trick is nudging them into action. Click-through rates are determined by dividing the number of people that clicked a link in your email by the number of emails delivered.

Convincing your audience to open an email may be difficult, but getting them to click a link is even harder. Click-through rates vary by industry, but according to marketing automation company GetResponse, the average rate across all industries is just 3.6%.

B2B emails trend higher at around 5%, and B2C has some of the lowest rates, at around half that. Transactional emails have higher rates than non-transactional ones, reaching as high as 9%, but that’s pretty much the ceiling.

The Most Important Metric in Email Marketing

Open rates are a good indicator that your email is worth your recipient’s attention, but click-through rates are more desirable because they measure your audience’s engagement.

According to a report by the Data & Marketing Association, click-through rates are the single best performance indicator of the effectiveness of an email campaign.

Even conversions, actions that can directly generate revenue, are considered inferior measures of success. That might seem counter-intuitive. After all, isn’t the whole point of a campaign to get to a conversion?

Perhaps, but whether or not the recipient of an email ultimately transacts with you is the result of many other variables such as the quality of the proposition and how friction-free the purchase process is.

“The return on investment for email beats just about every other marketing format today.”

An extremely well designed and implemented email campaign will still fail to produce conversions if the online store is on the fritz or the price is too high.

That’s why marketers put so much emphasis on click-throughs. We want to know how well we’re accomplishing our goal of moving email recipients from the email to a website. Once a user makes that decision, it’s up to the site to close the deal.

If the click-through rate is good it means the content is relevant to your audience, they are engaged with it, and you have given them enough reason to take another step, which is the best you can do.

So, with all that in mind, here are ten major factors that affect your click-through rates:

1. Open Rates

Your recipients can’t click what they don’t open. Raising your open rate is the fastest way to improve click-throughs.

2. Call-to-Action

The name of the game in calls-to-action for emails is making a compelling pitch that lets the audience knows what you want them to do, how they will benefit, and how to do it. Avoid generic phrases like “click here.” They are ambiguous and unimaginative. Use a call-to-action that clearly indicates where the link will take them.

Also, don’t overload the email with several calls-to-action. This can cause ‘analysis paralysis’ where too many options leads to no action being taken. Your email should have one, straightforward goal that is served by one concise and specific call-to-action.

3. Copy Quality

Your copy should be clear, engaging, and relevant to the audience. But, it should also be consistent with the brand or website being linked to. Marketing emails should read like an extension of the brand, not an unconnected one-off.

Another tip to consider is the use of a postscript. Readers are innately drawn to a P.S. and it’s a great opportunity to reiterate your offer and make one last pitch.

4. Social Sharing

It’s generally frowned upon to add too many distractions to your email. Ideally, it should be highly focused like a landing page, without navigational markers or other menu items to draw attention away from your main point.

However, one exception to this rule is social sharing links. Research from Get Response shows that emails that include social sharing buttons record a 4% higher click-through rate.

5. Link Position

There have been a lot of studies analyzing human visual perception and reading behavior to determine the optimal placement of links. One recent study in the Journal of Marketing Communications indicates that emails are read in a U-shaped pattern, so links placed in the upper left region of an email should have more interaction.

6. Link Quantity

While there should only be one strong call-to-action, feel free to include several links. Even if they all point to the same website, studies have shown that adding a single extra link increases click-through-rates by as much as 25%.

7. Timing

Like link position, timing is another factor that has been extensively studied, but where a definitive answer is still lacking. Infusion Soft ran a test that showed click-through rates peak around normal business hours (9AM to 4PM), but others argue that off hours are actually better.

As for the best day of the week for click-throughs, social media analyst Dan Zarella argues that weekends are optimal, with engagement highest on Saturday and Sunday when people have time to read emails they may have skipped during the workweek.

Ultimately, the best bet is to test out several different time frames and analyze the results to find one that works best for your brand and the purpose of your email.

8. Targeting

Just like with open rate optimization, click-throughs are bolstered by properly targeting your emails. Sending a mass email to every address on your list is a surefire way to get a huge bounce rate and low engagement.

Segment your lists by key demographics like age, geographic location, income, and crucially, past interaction. An email that is tailored to a specific audience is always more relevant and elicits greater engagement.

Furthermore, true personalization like using the recipient’s actual name can increase click-through rates by nearly 40%.

9. Frequency

When you’re deciding how often to send out messages you may be leaning towards putting your email client on auto and blasting out as many as possible. That’s a good way to stay top-of-mind, but it also leads to email fatigue and unhappy recipients that unsubscribe.

According to the Data & Marketing Association, 75% of marketers send 1-5 messages a month, but that might actually be less than optimal. HubSpot found that click-through rates can be increased by sending several times that amount, with a 50% increase for companies sending between 15 and 30 emails per month.

10. Images

The use of images can be a tricky proposition in emails. On the one hand, a splash of color or a useful chart or graphic can be visually appealing and help transmit your message. On the other, they can be distracting and some email clients automatically strip them from messages.

But, at least one study by Vero found that email campaigns with images scored 42% higher click-through rates than those without them, so consider adding something, even if it’s just your logo.

Well, there you have it. Everything you need to make your next email campaign impossible not to click. Use these tips to start crafting messages that engage your audience and spur them into action.