Email benchmarks?! Forget about them

MailerMailer recently published their 2013 email marketing metrics report. Among other things, it lists email benchmarks like click rates, open rates, click-to-open rates and bounce rates by industry. Compare yourself:

2013 email benchmarks

Benchmarks & my problem with them

I’ve always been ambivalent about benchmarks. On the one hand, I appreciate the work a publisher invests in order to provide senders with a perspective, and to track how metrics develop over time. And senders also appreciate this; it feels good to see that you are doing better than average. On the other hand however, I doubt that they are of any practical use.

Let us for example merge the MailerMailer data set with a similar study from MailChimp. I put both together in a 3d space – one dimension for click rates, one for open rates and one for bounce rates by (selected) industries:

The interactive box above basically contains five elements to compare both studies on three performance indicators (=axes) at the same time:

  1. New benchmark data from MailerMailer (red industry label).
  2. Past benchmark data from MailChimp (blue industry label).
  3. Differences between MailerMailer and MailChimp data points (red/blue line).
  4. Geometric centers (“averages”) of opens, clicks and bounces for each of the two email service providers (green cross).
  5. The ranges (= minimum to maximum) of opens, clicks and bounces for each email service provider (length of green line).

This visualization demonstrates clearly why I think it’s useless to pay attention to public email benchmarks. They just don’t compare – to anything. Look alone at the differences between MailerMailer and MailChimp:

  • Both email service provider’s response rates differ tremendously from one another. The ranges for open rates even overlap only marginally.
  • MailChimp reports that their clients tend to have significantly higher response rates:
    • On average, open rates are reported to be 23 percentage points higher than those of MailerMailer clients. (Note: An average open rate of 35% is in my opinion far too high, 12% is too low, but we leave it that way.)
    • Only in three sectors, MailerMailer reaches slightly higher click rates. That’s ‘Deals and Coupons’ (+0.3%), ‘Entertainment’ (+0.2%), ‘Marketing, Advertising, and PR’ (+0.2%).

Even if you normalize both data sets around a common center, which accounts for MailChimp outperforming MailerMailer in open rates, benchmarks still differ greatly:

Many industries are above average at MailChimp and below at MailerMailer. This is marked by red/blue lines crossing on of the three imaginary green planes. Only ‘Real Estate’ and perhaps ‘Nutrition and Pharmaceuticals’ campaigns perform rather similar in comparison to MailerMailer and MailChimp averages. The short linking lines between the labels suggest this.


The lesson is not that MailChimp is a better choice than MailerMailer for most industries. (No one could tell just by comparing benchmark reports.) It is to forget about all these benchmarks that circulate the web every now and then. There’s not much value in them for your business. Better spend the time that you save by not downloading and saving all those PDFs in making your own benchmarks. Base them on your past performance and on your future goals.

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3 Responses to Email benchmarks?! Forget about them

  1. I don’t know about MailerMailer, but MailChimp has a strict double opt-in policy. If MailerMailer allows users to also use single and confirmed opt-in, then that could help explain their overall lower results as the MailChimp lists would be more qualified.

  2. Pingback: Email Stats: Typefaces, Message Weights, Mobile Readiness & more

  3. Pingback: 1999 days of email blogging - time to thank 9 content marketing tools

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