Click-Through Rate vs. Click-to-Open Rate: What’s the Difference?

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January 09 2019

Given the well-documented potential for massive ROI, it’s no wonder so many companies prioritize email marketing. In fact, a large number make it their main focus, using few–if any–other channels to convert prospects. Whatever the case, succeeding with email marketing requires mastering a handful of central metrics in order to gauge the effectiveness of your email marketing strategy.

Two of the most important metrics are the click-through rate and the click-to-open rate.

Unfortunately, these two measurements are often confused. The truth is, though they share some similarities, they’re completely different metrics.

Once you understand what they mean, you can use them correctly to optimize your emails for much better results from your email marketing campaigns.

Click-through rate vs. click-to-open rate

The click-through rate (CTR) simply measures how many emails resulted in a recipient clicking your call-to-action link.

So, for example, if you send out 100,000 emails and later find that 1,000 people clicked on the link in your message, you’d have a CTR of 1%. In other words, for every 100 messages you sent out, 1 recipient clicked on the call-to-action you included.

Similarly, the click-to-open rate (CTOR) measures the percentage of recipients who opened the email and clicked on that link. To find the CTOR of the above example, we wouldn’t care about how many people actually received the email in their inboxes. Instead, we’d only want to know how many people opened it and then went on to click the CTA.

Out of 100,000, maybe 50,000 recipients clicked to open the message. Then, 1,000 went on to click the link, so your CTOR is 2%.

CTOR is, arguably, the best metric for measuring the effectiveness of your email campaign’s overall messaging. If you’re able to achieve a high CTOR, it means you’re connecting with the active members of your list.

Also, the click-to-open rate is not to be confused with open rate, which is just the percentage of recipients who opened the email out of the total. If 50,000 out of 100,000 recipients clicked the email in their inbox, that would be an open rate of 50%.

The difference between the click-through rate and the click-to-open rate is definitely subtle, but there’s a reason successful email marketers have been known to obsess over both.

An email could have an absolutely terrible click-through rate and yet have an extremely impressive click-to-open rate. Tracking both and understanding what they represent is essential for growing an email list that consistently contributes to your company’s bottom line.

3 ways to improve your click-through rate

According to our research, the average click-through rate is 3.57%, though that amount differs a lot by industry. For example, the average among sports teams and leagues is 7.49% while the average CTR among real estate is almost half that: 3.82%. For the legal industry, it’s just 1.04%.

Nonetheless, no matter what industry you’re in, it makes sense that you want to improve your company’s email click-through rate. Here are three proven ways to accomplish exactly that.

1. Write better subject lines

The best way to increase the number of people who click on your CTAs is to increase the number of people who first decide to open your emails. If only 1% of your recipients click to open your emails, your chances at a high CTR are limited to just 1%.

Like many things related to successful email marketing, this will take some testing and the most effective subject lines are crafted with a specific segment of subscribers in mind.

However, here is some subject-line advice that applies across the board:

  • Include numbers and/or statistics (e.g. “9 Ways to…” or “90% of Companies…”)
  • Ask a question (e.g. “Is Your Company Making This Costly Marketing Mistake?”)
  • Describe the value (e.g. “Want to Cut Overhead by 50%?”)
  • Give a price, especially if it’s “free” (e.g. “Today’s Marketing Seminar Is 100% Free”)

Here’s a good example from Blinkist:

Click-through rate vs. click-to-open rate binkist

Image Credit: Sumo

It has a number (4) and describes a price reduction in one simple title, all while emphasizing the scarcity of the product. All of these tactics are proven to motivate your subscribers to open your emails.

2. Improve your list segmentation

Successful email marketing relies on successful segments among your email list.

For example, perhaps you have some subscribers who own small businesses and others who run large corporations.

Obviously, the first group is going to show a preference for subject lines and emails that emphasize value. They have smaller budgets, so sales and discounts are relevant to them. On the other hand, the CEO of a large corporation probably doesn’t care as much about maximizing every cent. With their busy schedules, they might be far more interested in available upgrades.

The last thing you want to do is send the same email to your entire list. No matter how niche of an industry you’re in, there’s always an opportunity to segment the list into different groups you can cater to with different emails.

3. Clean out recipients who don’t respond

Everyone wants to have a massive email list. It’s often a point of pride among email marketers. However, if your list is suffering from low open rates and you’ve already implemented the two above tips, it’s probably time to start getting rid of inactive recipients.

You might be sending emails to people who have no intention of ever opening them. You may assume that your low open rates are because your subject lines aren’t very good, so you continue testing new ones. Of course, your open rates never improve because certain people simply won’t open your emails no matter what.

Don’t get so focused on having a huge email list that your open rates suffer. It’s much better to chop that list down to size, so your open rates offer a much better reflection of how successful your campaigns are. Additionally, getting rid of inactive subscribers can save you money.

Keep in mind, you can always try a reengagement email before expelling people. Basically, you treat inactive recipients as a segment of their own and craft a message just for them, a last-ditch effort to show them your emails are worth opening.

Here’s a perfect example from Animoto:

Animoto engagement email click-through rate vs click-to-open rate

Source: Really Good Emails

This is a great reengagement email because it actually gives the recipient some freedom to decide how they want to be contacted in the future. That’s a big plus that probably netted an increase in active subscribers for the company.

3 ways to improve your click-to-open rate

The truth is that the best way to improve your CTOR is to improve your open rates. As we touched on above, the more people who actually open your emails, the more people who can then click or tap your CTAs.

Still, there is some advice that will help improve your CTOR even further. After all, a winning subject line is no guarantee that recipients will read the entire message and find the CTA appealing.

1. Deliver what your subject line promised

“Open this email and you’ll get a million dollars” may convince a lot of your recipients to open it. Unfortunately, if your message fails to deliver, don’t expect anyone to click on your CTA. This would be a good example of a high open rate but an abysmal CTOR.

Whatever you promise in the subject line, you better provide in the actual body of the email if you want your subscribers to keep reading.

2. Use a compelling call-to-action

Even if the body of the email follows through on your promise, you may still be disappointed by the clicks if your call-to-action is boring or ineffective. “Click here” isn’t quite the climax you want at the end of an inspiring message.

Instead, powerful email CTAs require:

  • One, clear instruction – tell the recipient exactly what you want them to do
  • value proposition that explains to the recipient why it’s worth clicking
  • A sense of urgency – the recipient needs to click now or risk losing the offer

Check out this example from Birchbox, which gives a simple instruction (“Subscribe Today”) and then shows a whole lot of value:

Birchbox click-through rate vs click-to-open rate

Image Credit: Campaign Monitor

Fine-tuning your CTAs will require testing. For example, Digital Doughnuts discovered that placing their CTA on the right of the message produced more clicks.

3. Avoid vague content

Your email can fulfill the promise you made in your subject line and still fail to motivate the recipient to the CTA if the body paragraphs are too vague to keep their attention.

Just like with a CTA, the body of your email should be focused on one clear message.

To clarify, you can promise to describe “3 Social Media Tips Every B2B Company Should Follow” in your subject line and that’s still one topic. What you want to avoid is finishing that list and then moving on to talk about recent company news or trends you predict for the upcoming year.

Readers will become confused about the connection and will probably move on to their next email without following through on your CTA.

Of course, even if you stay on topic, you can risk writing vague copy. Keep your message nice and tight and on topic. Don’t use any more words than you absolutely must to make your point.

Wrap up

CTR and CTOR are very similar email marketing metrics. Both are extremely important as well. So, if you’re looking to improve your efforts, they’re worth focusing on. While you now have three proven tips for increasing your CTR and CTOR, there’s one more tip you should always follow: constantly provide value to your subscribers.

If your company gains a reputation for doing this, recipients will be excited about seeing your emails in their inboxes and will even look forward to opening them and clicking the CTAs, improving both metrics as well as your customer retention and overall bottom line.