Click Rate vs. Click-Through Rate: Making Sense of Email Interaction Metrics

click rate vs click through rate

Email marketing is a powerful tool, but its effectiveness hinges on understanding and accurately interpreting key metrics. Two terms often at the center of this analysis are click rate vs click-through rate. 

Despite their importance, there’s a lot of confusion about what these metrics really mean and how they’re different. This confusion can cause a real headache when you’re trying to figure out your email campaign’s metrics and performance. 

But we’re here to clear things up. We’ll explore the common definitions of click rate and click-through rate and then discuss how we measure them at Campaign Refinery and why. 

What Is Click Rate? A Closer Look  

Click rate is a key indicator of engagement. It measures how many people interact with your email content out of all the people you target. 

A high click rate means a good number of people receiving your emails engage with the content. So, your audience is genuinely interested in what you’re sharing. A low click rate is a sign of the opposite — your emails aren’t sparking enough interest to get clicks.

The Common Definition of Click Rate 

Most sources define click rate as the number of unique clicks on links in the email divided by the number of emails delivered — all multiplied by 100 to get a percentage. 

CR = Number of unique clicks / Number of emails delivered * 100 

But at Campaign Refinery, we believe that’s not the best way to measure CR. 

A More Accurate Approach to Click Rate

Campaign Refinery definition considers unique clicks divided by unique opens.

Click Rate = Unique clicks / Unique opens

This formula takes into account deliverability and the success of the subject line because we don’t count the people who click on your email multiple times. 

And if your email includes multiple links? Our formula captures that, too. We count unique clicks per unique link. So, if your email contains three links and the same user clicks on all three, we’ll count three clicks because the links themselves are unique. But the stats stay the same if the same user clicks on the same link multiple times. 

What Is a Good Click Rate? 

A general benchmark for a decent click rate is around 2-5 percent. But the number can fluctuate based on your audience, subject lines, email content, and how you segment your list.

According to industry data, media companies (6.33 percent) and bloggers (5.98 percent) have the most email clicks on average, while emails related to politics (1.09 percent) and software (1.16 percent) see the lowest rates. 

Let’s take a look at click rates across various industries to understand how they compare. 

IndustryClick Rate (%)
Education and Training2.85
Marketing and Advertising2.88
Real Estate3.61
Comparison of click rates across multiple industries

Now, let’s move on to the second part of our discussion on click rate vs. click-through rate. 

What Is Click-Through Rate? A Closer Look 

Click-Through Rate (CTR) is the percentage of unique email recipients who click on a link in an email. It’s a key indicator of how compelling your email content is to your audience.

A high CTR suggests your copy, and calls to action make the readers curious enough to click and explore more. It’s also a reflection on the quality of your subject line because a larger percentage of all the recipients clicked on the link. 

On the other hand, a low CTR could mean a few things:

  • Your content isn’t striking the right chord with your audience.
  • Your CTAs aren’t clear enough.
  • The email design is missing the mark.
  • You’re not reaching the right audience. 

The Common Definition of CTR 

Many email marketing platforms calculate CTR by dividing the total number of clicks by the number of emails opened and then multiplying by 100 to get a percentage. 

CTR = Total number of clicks/number of emails opened * 100. 

This calculation measures how many people click on the link after they open your email. At Campaign Refinery, we use a more aptly named metric to measure this behavior: Click-to-Open Rate. We’ll discuss this metric later on.

Rethinking CTR: A Unique Clicks Approach

Our way of calculating CTR focuses on unique clicks. We take the number of unique clicks (clicks by different individuals) and divide it by the number of emails sent. 

CTR = Number of unique clicks/number of emails sent * 100. 

Using this definition, CTR gives you insights into how many different people engage with your email, so you’ll have a clearer picture of your email’s reach and effectiveness.

Why Measuring Unique Clicks Is Important 

Total clicks can reflect multiple clicks from the same recipient. If a few recipients click on a link several times, you’ll get an exaggerated sense of how effective your email is. By using unique clicks, you’re focusing on the number of individual recipients who have interacted with your email. 

Measuring unique clicks is also important for optimization. When you’re A/B testing your content, the metric gives you a clearer understanding of which version is more effective at engaging recipients. 

Why “Emails Sent” Matters in CTR 

When you use emails opened to calculate CTR, you’re only looking at the subset of recipients who have already shown interest by opening the email. While this can be useful, it often gives you a higher, potentially skewed CTR. 

Using emails sent keeps the metric grounded and provides a more realistic view of engagement relative to your total outreach.

This way, if your CTR is low, you might have visibility issues, such as your emails landing in spam folders or being ignored. This insight is vital for improving email deliverability and open rates.

What Is a Good Click-Through Rate? 

Click-through rate standards vary by industry and campaign type. On average, a CTR of around 3-5% is considered good. However, personalized campaigns with well-defined segments can see higher rates. 

Let’s check out a few CTRs for a selection of industries: 

IndustryCTR (%)
Advertising and Marketing2.6
Professional Services1.8
Real Estate, Design, Construction3.6
Comparison of CTRs across multiple industries

Higher CTRs are usually seen in personalized and well-targeted campaigns.

Note that this data matches Campaign Refinery’s Definition of CTR. 

Measuring Clicks Against Opens (CTOR)

Click-to-open rate (CTOR) is a metric that specifically measures how compelling your email content is to those who have actually opened the email. It tells you how many people were interested enough in your email’s content to interact with it after opening it.

To calculate CTOR, you take the number of unique clicks and divide it by the number of unique opens, then multiply that by 100 to get a percentage. 

CTOR = Number of unique clicks/number of unique opens * 100. 

Unlike CTR, which considers all recipients, CTOR zooms in on the recipients who have shown interest by opening the email.

Here’s what a high CTOR can tell you:

  • Your content convinces enough people to click. 
  • Your email design and CTAs are clear. 
  • You’re targeting the right audience with the right message. 

Click Rate vs. Click-Through Rate vs. Click-to-Open Rate

Now that we’ve got our definitions straight let’s line up all three metrics side by side. This way, we can see how each piece fits into the puzzle of understanding recipient behavior in email marketing.

Remember that one metric isn’t better than another. You need all of them to get a clear picture of your campaign’s performance. 

Here’s a quick comparison: 

MetricDefinitionFormulaWhat It MeasuresAverage (%)
Click RatePercentage of clicks on links in the email.(Total Clicks / Emails Sent) × 100Engagement with the email among all recipients.3.36 
Click-Through Rate (CTR)Percentage of recipients who clicked a link out of all the emails sent.(Unique Clicks / Emails Sent) × 100Effectiveness of email content among the entire recipient list.2.44 
Click-to-Open Rate (CTOR)Percentage of recipients who clicked a link out of those who opened the email.(Unique Clicks / Unique Opens) × 100Email content’s ability to drive action among those who view it.8.93 
Comparing email interaction metrics 

Beyond click rate and click-to-open rate, it’s easy to confuse click-through rate with two other common metrics: impressions and conversions. 

  • Impressions vs. click-through rate: Impressions (also called total opens) refer to the number of times your email is displayed, essentially counting how often it appears in inboxes. It gives you an idea of your email’s reach. 
  • Conversion rate vs click-through rate: Conversion rate in email marketing is a step beyond clicking. It measures the percentage of recipients who not only clicked on a link in your email but also took a desired action afterward, like making a purchase or signing up for a service.

A Practical Example 

Imagine you’ve launched an email campaign for Christmas to boost online sales and drive traffic to your website. To gauge the campaign’s effectiveness, you consider Click Rate (CR), CTR, and CTOR.

Here’s how the numbers stack up:

  • Your campaign reached 10,000 people.
  • The CTA in your email received 2,000 clicks. 
  • Out of all recipients, 5,000 opened the email, and 1,500 of those clicked on the CTA. 

Based on these numbers, we can calculate all three metrics: 

CR = (2,000 clicks / 10,000 emails sent) × 100 = 20%.

CTR = (1,500 unique clicks / 10,000 emails sent) × 100 = 15%.

CTOR = (1,500 unique clicks / 5,000 emails opened) × 100 = 30%.

Putting the Metrics into Perspective

So, what do these numbers tell us when you put them together? 

  • CR: A 20 percent CR in a large campaign like yours is a solid achievement. It indicates a strong initial engagement and suggests that your Holiday Campaign was effective in capturing interest.
  • CTR: Your 15 percent CTR shows that a significant portion of your entire mailing list found your email compelling enough to take action, which is great news for your campaign goals.
  • CTOR: The 30 percent CTOR means your email content was highly effective for those who opened it, encouraging a substantial number of readers to click through to your sale page.

Overall, your campaign did a great job of sparking interest and converting it into meaningful actions, like driving traffic to your website.

Beyond the Numbers: Interpreting Metric Combinations

It’s not always smooth sailing. There will be times when the numbers tell a different story, and it’s crucial to understand what’s behind them. 

So, let’s explore what different combinations of these metrics might reveal about your campaign.

Click RateCTRCTORCampaign Outcome
HighHighHighIdeal outcome indicating strong overall engagement and effective content.
HighHighLowGood initial engagement, but content may not be compelling enough for those who open the email.
HighLowHighUnlikely to happen.
HighLowLowUnlikely to happen. High CR usually correlates with at least one other high metric.
LowHighHighA rare scenario that could indicate a highly engaged but small audience segment.
LowHighLowUnlikely to happen.
LowLowHighIndicates compelling content for those who open the email, but overall low engagement. The subject line and preview text aren’t effective. 
LowLowLowIndicates a need for overall improvement in engagement strategies and content.
Email campaign performance via CR, CTR, and CTOR.

How to Improve Your Interaction Metrics 

Now that you know how to interpret your click-based metrics, you understand which levers you need to pull to boost your numbers. But the order also matters. 

Here’s a roadmap of what to do if you need to grow your CTR, CR, and CTOR: 

  1. Ensure deliverability
  2. Understand and segment your audience
  3. Craft compelling subject lines and preview texts
  4. Create engaging content
  5. Refine your CTA

Ensure Deliverability 

Deliverability should be your first checkpoint if you notice low interaction metrics. If your emails aren’t reaching inboxes, no other strategy matters. 

Domain reputation, IP reputation, domain authentication, email list hygiene, and email content all influence deliverability. 

Regularly remove inactive and unengaged users from your list. Avoid spammy language. And implement email authentication protocols. 

Email frequency and timing are also important. If you send too many emails too quickly, you risk overwhelming your recipients. So, they start ignoring your emails, and your metrics suffer — not to mention the risk of higher spam complaint rates. On the flip side, sending emails too infrequently can make your audience forget about your brand or lose interest.

Understand Your Audience 

To effectively engage your audience, you need to tailor your campaigns to their interests. This involves:

  • Segmenting your email list: Break your list into smaller groups based on shared interests and have a strategy for each segment
  • Data-driven personalization: Use customer data to create emails that resonate personally with your audience.
  • Customer journey mapping: Send content that aligns with different stages of the customer’s interaction with your brand.

Craft Effective Subject Lines

Your subject line and preview text are your first impressions. Make them count with:

  • Personalization: Include the recipient’s name or other personal details in the subject line to make it more relatable and eye-catching.
  • Information gaps: Use phrases or questions that leave recipients wanting to know more. For example, “You Won’t Believe What’s Inside” or “Have You Seen This Yet?” 
  • Leveraging trends: Tap into current trends or hashtags to make your subject lines timely and engaging.

Create Compelling Content 

Your content is the heart of your email.

Enhance it with:

  • Storytelling: Share customer success stories, behind-the-scenes glimpses, or the brand’s journey to create a deeper connection.
  • Interactive elements: Include quizzes, polls, and clickable sliders to attract more interaction. 
  • Personalization beyond names: Tailor content based on past interactions. For example, recommend products to complement their previous purchases. 

Optimize CTAs

A well-placed and clear CTA can significantly boost your interaction metrics with: 

  • Urgency: Create a sense of limited time to prompt quicker actions.
  • Action-oriented language: Use verbs that drive action and convey energy, like “Discover,” “Explore,” “Join,” or “Start.”
  • A/B Testing: Experiment with different CTAs to see what works best.

Deliverability, The Key to Amplifying Metrics

At Campaign Refinery, we understand that strong deliverability is the backbone of successful email marketing. It’s simple: when more of your emails land in inboxes, you see an organic rise in Click Rates and Click-Through Rates. 

We’ve fine-tuned every aspect of our platform, from the technology behind sending emails to the way we define metrics, to optimize for maximum deliverability.

We provide you with clear, actionable metrics that reflect true engagement. By focusing on meaningful data, you can make informed decisions to refine your strategy.

Get exclusive access to top-tier email marketing tools. Check out Campaign Refinery’s plans and apply now to become a client.

Happy emailing! 

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