Is There a Click-Through Rate Sweet Spot?

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Not really. A new study suggests that fewer images and concise text drive higher click-through rates; however, fluctuations remain.

Marketers are always trying to craft the perfect email message, and Constant Contact seems to have whittled down the exact number of images and lines of text to do just that. After analyzing more than 2.1 million customer emails sent over the course of 13 weeks, the small business online marketing company concluded that, on average, messages with three or fewer images and approximately 20 lines of text drive the highest click-through rates from subscribers.

“If you make the message[s] more concise, more easily readable and digestible on multiple devices, such as mobile and tablet, it leads to a higher click-through rate for the people receiving them,” says Jesse Harriott, chief analytics officer at Constant Contact.

But before marketers take Constant Contact's word as law, they might want to consider a few variants found within the study. For instance, there seem to be discrepancies in the right number of images and lines of text for different industries, as well as for different types of organizations within one sector. Consider the following data for active subscribers to nonprofit organizations' emails: Even though the click-through rates for associations' emails remain fairly consistent with 20 to 30 lines of text, membership organizations saw high click-through rates for messages containing 15 and 30 lines.

When it came to fluctuations in the number of images, messages from religious organizations experienced little change in terms of click- through rates. Harriott says that the images in the other two categories were “less important” in terms of impacting their click-through rates; therefore, they were not listed in the press release. In fact, when it comes to driving click-through rates, Harriott says, associations and membership organizations might not have to include images in their messages at all. 

“It's not as critical,” he says. “It makes sense. You're engaged with that organization; you want to know what's going on; you're willing to look at more content; you're open to hearing what they have to say. A lot of that is text-based for those types of groups.”

Constant Contact also detected variances in the ideal number of lines of text and images used for nonprofit versus for-profit emails. For example, in terms of lines of text, office supply companies benefit from keeping the total slightly below the recommended sum (15); contrastingly, real estate agencies experience the highest click-through rates when they include about 35 lines of text. Retail businesses are right in the middle with a more restricted sweet spot. According to Constant Contact, retail emails with 17 to 19 lines of text experience a more than 50% increase in click-throughs; however, these emails' click-through rates plummet by half when the total number of text lines are between 19 and 21.

“It really has to do with the relationship that the people on the email list have with the organization,” he explains. "You can imagine if you are signed up to receive emails from a nonprofit, you're likely to be passionate, engaged, and very interested in what's going on with the nonprofit. So you might be open to reading more about what they're doing, seeing pictures, ecetera; whereas if you're on an email list for a retail store, you might just quickly want to be aware of anything going on in the retail store but not as willing to spend as much time reading the content."

And while Harriott says that less is more is a good general rule of thumb for images, he says that some industries lend themselves more towards visuals than others. For instance, business product and services companies see the highest click-through rates with emails containing 13 to 16 images while restaurants and salons or spas perform best when their emails contain 15 images.

“You want to see pictures of the food [where] you might go out to eat," he says. "You might want to see what the salon services are and what the location looks like. So images are sometimes more important in other areas.”

Contrary to the nonprofit sector, images didn't play a major role in terms of affecting click-through rates for certain industries, like office supply businesses, real estate agencies, or retail companies; therefore, Constant Contact, again, didn't include these figures in the release.

So what can marketers learn from all of these data points?  First, Harriott says that these figures are most critical for small business marketers as opposed to big brands who have a larger budget at their disposal.

“With that being said, consumers are consumers,” he says. “And if a large company is sending out those types of messages in email, as well, those same principles are going to apply and they need to be aware of the load that they're putting on the people that they're sending messages to.”

Still, he acknowledges that most small business marketers are playing the role of a one-man band and that they may not be able to attend to each area of marketing as much as they'd like. So, he recommends keeping their email simple so that they can have a big impact and be sent out quickly.

“The biggest take away is just to be concise,” Harriott says. “The more concise your content [is], the more it can be consumed on mobile devices, tablets, and desktops, [and] the more effective it's going to be. Also, think about the call-to-action. What are you trying to get the audience to do after they read your email?”

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