Time To Retire The Click-Through Rate?

The pace of change when it comes to consumer technology adoption almost never ceases to amaze. Just four short years ago, only 9% of email marketing messages were opened on mobile devices (source: Unica, slide 21 here) -- and “mobile” at that time meant smartphones; the iPad was first released in April of 2010. Fast-forward to Q1 of 2014, and according to research from my company, now 66% of email marketing messages are opened on mobile (47% smartphone, 19% tablet).

Two more tidbits from our study: First, in Q2 of last year, desktops were the primary devices used to open emails in 24 of the 50 U.S states. Just three quarters later, and now there are only 13 states left where this is the case. Second, while smartphone opens have been relatively level over the past year, tablet opens have grown by 31%, and these devices are poised to overtake desktops as the household “PC of record” that people use when they get home from work.



We’ve all known this sea change has been coming -- and yet, so many marketers still seem to struggle (or maybe not even care) about optimizing their campaigns for mobile. A recent study from Yesmail found that only 1% of email marketers always use responsive design, and 31% of marketers never use it at all. And that’s just from the design perspective, not taking into account the end-to-end mobile marketing and shopping experience.

The time has come for email marketers to understand that they are optimizing for a metric that is no longer the be-all and end-all that it once was: the click-through rate. Consumers aren’t clicking on images and links in email the way they used to. Now, they are tapping, scanning, and glancing. As such, these are the new metrics that marketers should be optimizing for, and some ways they can do so:

  • The tap-through rate. Leverage analytics tools to distinguish between mobile and desktop openers to see how “click-through rates” vary across devices. This will give you a sense of your mobile tap-through rate compared to your desktop click-through rate. To optimize tap-through rates, make sure buttons and images are large enough to tap on, and make the tap-through lead users to a “next-best step” through tactics like taking users to an m-site, deep linking to installed mobile apps, or even presenting a one tap click-to-call option for ordering your productswhile consumers are on the go.
  • The scan-through rate. Some studies have found that as much as two-thirds of mobile shoppers complete their transactions offline. Capture mobile, email-driven, point-of-sale conversions at brick-and-mortar stores by using single column layouts when emails are opened on smartphones. Include bar codes that take up the width of the screen for easy scanning at the register.
  • The glance-through rate. In a multi-device world, expect to see more and more consumers open email on one device, and then convert on another. New email-conversion-tracking technology will allow you to capture this information, and give you an understanding of how many initial impressions made on a smartphone result in a conversion on desktops or tablets (and vice versa). First impressions are important, and can make the difference between getting that second open and conversion, or being deleted or forgotten.

Mobile email opens keep rising as a percentage of total opens each quarter, and aren't showing any signs of relenting. Of course, it’s not literally time to “retire” the click-through rate -- at least not just yet. But the time to optimize for “next steps” other than clicks is now.

5 comments about "Time To Retire The Click-Through Rate?".
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  1. George DiGuido from, June 18, 2014 at 12:42 p.m.

    Booo. Click-through rate will always be relevant...if not the best in-email supporting metric as which to measure performance. Tap-through rate? Really? Isn't a tap still a click? Do we really need to call it something different?

  2. Kevin Kao from The New York Times, June 18, 2014 at 1:20 p.m.

    I've always thought of click-through rates as a measure of engagement and how compelling the content of the email was to the recipient. Every subsequent action past an open means you are continuing to hold that customer's attention more firmly.

    To that end, click-through rates are still extremely relevant because they help show how effective your email design is. With the rise of mobile, if you had a traditionally text heavy, wide creatives, you probably saw click-throughs decrease. If you tested responsive design, I would hope that in an A/B test, the one metric that shows increase would be click-throughs; validating your efforts of mobile optimizing.

    Jordan, as you mention first impressions are important. But with a poor email design, no impression will be made. In my opinion one of the best and easily testable ways of understanding impressions is with click-throughs.

  3. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, June 18, 2014 at 2:11 p.m.

    You are missing a couple of categories and don't tell the whole story. First is why is the ad being clicked on? Was there a promotion, sweepstakes, contest or coupon offer as a incentive to click? The numbers between promotional and non-promotional clicks are staggering. Second was there a was there a influencing factor for the click. Meaning did the clicker see the ad on TV or in print and not always from online? I have seen sweepstakes ads clicks go through the roof after Ford was giving away a new truck and was on a TV ad. Last, getting a sign up for a company's promotion is most important and is the goal. You can not get to this point without the click-through.

  4. Andrew Kordek from Trendline Interactive, June 19, 2014 at 12:41 a.m.

    CTR retire? Never. Looking at clicks in a different way yes. There are so many factors when we talk about email metrics that vary from org to org its hard to ever say any engagement metric should ever retire. Some organizations covet the CTOR while others look at CTCR. I am with George on this one...a tap is a click and a click is a tap. What I have been fascinated with lately is the ability to track persistent mobile footer engagement. This to me tells me that if your audience is mobile are they will to look and interact with something that is exclusive for mobile or are they simply engaging in the responsive design elements that are put into the template. This whole responsive design should be a no-brainer for all companies who value the subscriber experience.

  5. Jordan Cohen from Fluent, June 19, 2014 at 10:43 a.m.

    Hi all thanks for commenting... @george & @andrew - as I mentioned at the conclusion of the article, "of course it's not literally time to retire CTR"... my main point is that marketers should compare CTR on their mobile opens separate from desktop -- many will find their mobile CTR is lower b/c they're simply not optimizing for it, which is a mistake (as noted by Kevin). Language IS powerful though, and I think that getting email marketers into a "tap-through" mindset will help move the process of mobile optimization forward, faster.

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