Does A Click Really Represent Engagement?

The awesome part of being in the digital age is that every interaction leaves a trail of data exhaust.  This can be a double-edged sword, though. For example, there’s currently an ongoing debate happening in the field of journalism that applies to our efforts in marketing. The question is whether clicks prove the value and acceptance of content.

The issue is that clicks don’t necessarily mean the content is hitting the mark.  Are the clickers actually reading the content?  Are they doing what the journalist intended when spending countless hours working on the piece?

I can’t help but wonder if we as marketers are sometimes falling into the same trap of not reading the metrics in the right light and assuming a click means engagement — particularly positive engagement.

So, how are we to think about clicks? We start by looking at the most common click metrics that email marketers typically use to evaluate campaigns: 



1. What percentage of recipients clicked?

Unique Click Rate – (Clicks rolled up by email address/ delivered) This ratio tells us the percentage of total recipients who clicked any tracked link in the campaign. If a user clicks three times, he/she would be counted as a single unique click.

2. What percent of recipients clicked — maybe multiple times?

Total Clicks – (Total clicks regardless of individual / delivered) This ratio tells us the percentage of tracked links that were clicked by recipients. This count includes multiple clicks from individual recipients. If a user clicks three times, he/she would be counted as three total clicks.

3.Of the recipients that were counted as opens due to the images loading, how many also clicked?

Click-to-Open Rate – (Unique Clicks / Unique Opens) This is a great metric to use when evaluating creative imagery and its impact on driving clicks.

Notice that I didn’t mention anything at all about engagement.  I simply used the word “click.”

No, I’m not saying we just write off the idea that engagement drives clicks.  I simply caution that sometimes we’re not looking at the full story. 

Here are some additional ways to discover if your campaign clicks should truly be classified as driving engagement:

A) Were these clicks driven by high unsubscribes?

Did you know that most ESPs count unsubscribe clicks in your campaign clicks? In the case of a campaign that has high unsubscribe clicks, you could see a high unique click rate.  This clearly does not mean this is a campaign that should be repeated.  It means the clicks came from the mass amount of traffic to your unsubscribe link.  

Want to know if unsubscribes are driving a high click rate? Try out the engaged click-through rate I wrote about earlier.

B) Did these clicks lead to conversions?

At the end of the day, marketers are trying to close some sort of conversion event with emails, whether it is getting someone to read an article, sign up for an event, or buy something.  It’s important to look at the adjusted response rate, or click-to-conversion rate.

(Conversions / Unique Clicks) If your clicks drove a lot of site traffic, but failed to deliver on conversions, perhaps the email promised more than what you were actually selling.

C) Where was the location of a higher-clicked link?

I haven’t seen it often, but sometimes a small and hidden link toward the bottom of an email drives a tremendous amount of clicks. When this happens, it’s usually a piece with well-written content that many users skim all the way to the bottom before deciding to click.  This tells us that the content hierarchy was incorrectly placed and that there was content that users wanted so much that clicks rolled in regardless of the lowly placement.

As you can see, a click alone doesn’t always tell the full story.  What have you learned in the past by looking more closely at the data?  Tell me in the comments!

5 comments about "Does A Click Really Represent Engagement?".
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  1. Neil Mahoney from Mahoney/Marketing, December 17, 2015 at 3:49 p.m.

    As I mention in my newly written, yet unpublished book, a click is the equivalent of someone who looks ar an ad in a magazine but has no interest or does nothing about it.  If fact a click can be nothing more than a mistake.  Neil Mahoney

  2. April Mullen from SparkPost replied, December 17, 2015 at 3:55 p.m.

    Neil--you are so right! A click can simply be a mistake. 

  3. Dela Quist from Alchemy Worx Ltd, December 18, 2015 at 12:11 p.m.

    Hi April

    To truly understand engagement you have to do something counter-intuitive - walk away from campaign-level metrics such as open and click rates, which are the staple diet of email marketers the world over. Instead you must do what the inbox providers are effectively doing themselves - embrace subscriber-level metrics. They have dropped rudimentary rate-based metrics such as spam complaints and started looking at the inbox or subscriber level.

    Campaign-level reporting, such as those you describe and you get from your ESP, are what most email marketers use and are pretty simple to understand and calculate. Every time you send an email, you measure how many people got the email (delivered), opened it, clicked it, hit spam, or unsubscribed and then divide those numbers by the number of people sent that message. However, it is a HUGELY misleading measure of subscriber engagement because it looks at the message and not the subscriber who got it.

    Subscriber-level reporting is very simple in theory. You measure every interaction every subscriber on your list has with every email you send over a given period of time. When you send an email, every subscriber on your database can either be sent that email or not, receive it or not (delivered), open it or not, click on it or not and mark it as spam or not. Simple.

    But to truly measure engagement, not only do you have to repeat that process every time you send an email, you also have to connect each of these individual subscriber interactions with all of their previous interactions, whether you sent them an email or not. To find out more people reading this may want to read my article Deliverability Engagement and the theory of Email Marketing

  4. April Mullen from SparkPost replied, December 18, 2015 at 1:10 p.m.

    I could not agree more, Dela! Always love your wisdom. 

  5. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, December 18, 2015 at 4:59 p.m.

    It's good to consider responses from the consumer in any medium based on a risk or cost based model.

    Picking up the phone and talking to a representative is pretty expensive. To begin with, it takes a lot of time. It also requires engaging with someone who may have a different agenda from you. And there's a risk that you get bad telemarketing which consumers always hate.

    That means a phone call is a significant action or response. It also usually requires that the consumer believes there is real value to them for doing it.

    By contrast, a "click" is about the cheapest response possible. So it's no wonder that consumers throw them about with abandon. There's little risk. Takes little time. (And there's also little chance for much to come out of it.)

    Is it in any way a meaningful "engagement". No. Clicks mean little to consumers (and they're priced to advertisers appropriately - dirt cheap).

    Is a click the gateway response to bigger action? Direct marketers know that lower the cost of the initial action, the fewer significant brand results can come out of it. Magazines know that the harder they "give away" the initial subscription the fewer consumers who will sign up for the long term paid subscription. On TV, the harder people work to get an "call for information" call by offering free stuff, the less value those calls have.

    So I think, no. It's not a good indicator of a meaningful interaction with the brand.

    What bugs me is that the direct response business has known all about this for decades. Yet agencies so look down their nose at the DR folks ("Send direct mail? Really? What kind of schmucks do you think we are?") that bucketloads of client money have been wasted on ideas like "a click shows meaningful engagement".

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