Spam rates have increased year-over-year, according to new data released by Return Path on Thursday -- but so has positive email engagement.
The email and data solutions provider analyzed more than 5 billion messages in its second annual report, The Hidden Metrics of Email, to discover that both overall spam placement and positive email engagement (defined as a read, reply or forward) increased year-over-year. The data comes from Return Path’s subscriber network of more than 3.5 million users, aggregated across 17,000 senders from the four main inbox providers: Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo and Google.
Overall spam placement increased slightly from 12% in 2015 to 13% in 2016, according to Return Path, with distinct differences across industries. The banking and finance industry delivered an average of 6% of emails to the junk folder, while spam placements in the automotive industry averaged 24%. The automotive industry also had the worst spam placement in 2015, with 28% of emails delivering in the junk folder.
Industries with the lowest spam rate -- such as finance, travel and utilities -- outranked their peers in subscriber engagement. Overall read rates increased by 8% year-over-year, according to Return Path, with every industry studied improving their engagement metrics since 2015. The utilities industry had one of the highest read rates in 2016, with an average of 57% of emails being opened, a jump from 47% in 2015.
Tom Sather, senior director of research at Return Path, talked about the dichotomy of heightened engagement and increased spam placements in a conversation with Email Marketing Daily.
The increase in open rates, says Sather, was surprising, and “shows email marketing is still truly impactful -- people still want it because they can control it by signing up for what they do or do not want.”
The increase in open rates year-over-year is “a good sign for email” and the “result of good marketing,” according to Sather, but the increase in spam rates also points to the ineffectiveness of poor marketing.
“Spam rates are extremely important for email marketers,” says Sather. “All it takes is one campaign into the spam folder to make your campaigns suffer. You can’t get opens, clicks or sales if the emails aren’t delivering correctly.”
This issue is not only a challenge for promotional emails. Transactional emails, such as shopping receipts of shipping notifications, can lead to negative customer experiences if they do not reach their intended inbox. If this is a recurring issue, customers can be lost.
The study also suggests that subscribers are taking a more active role in managing their inbox by separating wanted mail from unwanted mail, by either flagging messages as not junk or deleting emails without reading them. Emails that were deleted before being read rose from 9% in 2015 to 13% in 2016, while the “this is not spam” rate increased from .03% in 2015 to 1.04% in 2016.
“Devices play a role here too,” says Sather. “Email opens on mobile devices have surpassed that 50% threshold and people now are using mobile devices to triage their inbox, deleting what they don’t want to read."
Sather recommends that marketers use this data to compare themselves against their competitors, adding that although marketers are often “shooting in the dark,” competitive metrics offer hints as to why people might be ignoring emails.