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What Can You Learn From Looking at The Data of Over 2.2 Million Email Campaigns?

Today’s post is from Campaign Monitor. It’s based on data they’ve collected from over 2.2 million campaigns delivered by Campaign Monitor. From their data set they have come up with some noticeable rules of thumb that may help you increase the effectiveness of your email marketing. Use these findings for navigation on what to test next.

As every online marketer knows, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to execute email campaigns that look great, render perfectly, and drive top results.

At Campaign Monitor, we recently ran some stats that showed a correlation between an increase in how much email our customers send and a decline in click-through rates. From 2012 to 2013, the average number of email campaigns went up 17%, and the average number of recipients per campaign went up 10%.

However, the number of clicks relative to recipients dropped by 10%, from 3.3% to 3.1%. Even more dramatic, that’s a 43% decline from the average click-through rate of our customer base in 2008, which was 5.5%.

There are a lot of factors besides volume that could be impacting response, of course. But, still, it seems pretty reasonable to say there’s a lot of email marketing out there, and it’s not easy to break through the clutter in recipients’ inboxes.

So, we took a subset of campaigns that were sent to an average of 100,000 subscribers and that generated at least 50% opens and/or 5% clicks (relative to recipients), and we reviewed them, in addition to some examples from email marketing gurus, to see if there were any commonalities that might be responsible for their above average performance.

Common Elements of Successful Campaigns

Here’s what all of those campaigns shared:

CTA above the fold.

It’s email marketing 101, but still worth repeating. If you want to optimize response to your campaign, make your call to action clear and place it toward the beginning of your email. This top performing campaign from Fitbit has both excellent placement for their call to action and strong styling of the button to ensure it stands out:


Repetitive CTA.

Another fundamental guideline that’s worth emphasizing is to repeat your call to action so your subscribers have another chance to click if they’re scrolling through your email. This is particularly important if you have creative that most readers will need to scroll through, or if a large portion of your subscribers are reading on mobile devices. Square does a great job of repeating the call to action in their top performing campaign:


Stand-alone button call to action.

Take advantage of the fact that it’s hard to resist clicking on a button, and use one for any action you want your reader to take. We recently redesigned our own newsletter at Campaign Monitor to feature a button for our call to action, and saw some great results. Prior to our redesign, about 8% of clicks focused on our main call to action in any given newsletter. After we changed from a link to a button, that jumped to 33% of clicks:


Contextual links.

Don’t limit your call to action strictly to buttons. The top performing brands in our collection also leveraged multiple in-line links, linked header images, and linked pre-header text. This promotion from Rumba has four links placed throughout the creative:


Concise subject lines.

Exclamation points, capitalization, and personalization were employed in the subject lines of our top performing campaigns. The common thread? Short, direct copy. The average subject line was 39 characters (including spaces) and 7 words. Some examples include:

  • “You are a winner after all” (MONA)
  • “Brand new for 2013” (Costa Sunglasses)
  • “5 career-endangering mistakes for songwriters” (BMI Communications)

Varied Aspects of Successful Campaigns

Perhaps equally as interesting, here are a few things that weren’t consistent across campaigns.


We definitely recommend a responsive design, but, mobile considerations aside, all layouts are fair game. Our top performing campaigns featured a variety of layouts, including both one column and multi-column formats; headline navigation bars, sidebars, and no navigation elements; single form and sectioned newsletters; and more:



General thinking prefers shorter emails over longer ones, but, ultimately, your content should dictate the length of your newsletter. Our subset of top performing promotions included every length of campaign, from a short letter to customers to a campaign that highlighted more than two dozen special offers:


Amount of copy

It’s not uncommon to hear that emails with less text perform better, but, again, it all comes down to your content. Beachwear brand Seafolly had a top performing campaign that featured 14 words; whereas, software company AgileBits sent an email with well over 20 lines of text. The secret to a text heavy email? Pay attention to typography. Narrow or small print, muted colors, and compressed fonts will bring down campaign performance:


Finally, it is worth noting that there always are exceptions to “best practices,” including the guidelines highlighted here. But, overall, this short list should help you get on your way to more effective email campaigns.

About the Author: Agata Celmerowski is Head of Marketing at email marketing software provider Campaign Monitor. The examples included in this post recently were featured in Campaign Monitor’s “Top 100 Email Marketing Campaigns” eBook. To download it, visit

  1. Arun Sivashankaran Mar 03, 2014 at 10:52 am

    Great post. Do you think that you that the number of mobile readers should be a consideration when thinking about email length & amount of copy?

    • Absolutely Arun. With up to 65% of emails now opened on mobile devices, the advice covered here about using a responsive email template and repeating CTA is sound advice.

      If an email performs poorly on mobile, the sender is missing out on more than half of the opportunity space and mobile users are long on expectations of how emails render on their devices and short on patience.

  2. Great Post. One point many don’t pay attention to is to keep the Branding consistent to other marketing and sales channels to leverage impact and improve CTR.

  3. One rule of thumb, make sure the grammar, spelling and links are all correct. Check and double check before sending. Send many test emails. There is nothing more frustrating, ( I know I have done it. ) to craft a beautiful newsletter and for the grammar and spelling police to reply with in 1 minute of it sending out.

  4. Andy Capaloff Mar 04, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Great article that I’m sure will be a favourite with Curators.

    As a recipient of mail as opposed to a marketer, who uses it, I’d say that from my perspective, the more frequently I receive emails that share content that doesn’t excel in quality, the less likely I am to open any from that source. And if the sales offer to quality content ratio is too high, I will surely not open emails.

    Am I representative? I have no idea.

    (FYI: I always open and read Kissmetrics emails!)

  5. @Arun, I think the key consideration with regards to mobile is making sure your email is designed responsively. The right design will enable you to accommodate the type of content you need to make your campaign engaging to your subscribers.

    @Guest, great point – the end to end experience of your subscriber or customer is key. It’s all too often that’s forgotten and emails/websites/checkout flows are all done in silos.

    @Sean, you’ve inspired me to start thinking about a post on the best email typos of all time. :-)

    @Andy, couldn’t agree more. A sub-par campaign can absolutely damage the engagement readers will have with future emails. And Kissmetrics does such a great job ensuring the quality of their content!

  6. Chris Kitzmiller Mar 06, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    I love me some Campaign Monitor. Progressive and educational. I’ve been a customer for a long time and really enjoy their service (this is not a paid testimonial :)

    I’ve always used buttons in my emails. It just makes sense. I’m surprised they didn’t touch on A/B split testing for performance.

    The bottom line: Send damn good content and make it relevant.

  7. Michael Z Miller Mar 07, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Excellent information in this post! It almost makes me want to get into all my autoresponders and check over everything. :)

    I just hope I remember where this is when I need it next week!

  8. Plus SeaFolly had some nice eye candy

  9. Good advice, thanks Agata.

    Re the addition of a nice CTA button, we’d reiterate your point of keeping textual-links,too – we find that often it’s our text-links that generate more clicks than the lovely, glossy, appealing button. Yet, if remove the button, the overall clicks still drop!


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