Is CTR Dead? Why Email Marketers Are Tracking CTOR Instead

Email marketing has been a critical component of digital marketing strategies for decades, and marketers have relied on various metrics to measure the success of their campaigns. Two of the most commonly used metrics have been the clickthrough rate (CTR) and the open rate. However, as email marketing has evolved, so have the metrics used to gauge performance. In recent years, the click-to-open rate (CTOR) has emerged as a more meaningful and accurate measure of email engagement. In this article, we‘ll explore the reasons behind this shift and provide actionable tips for improving your CTOR.

The Evolution of Email Marketing Metrics

Historically, email marketers have focused on two primary metrics: the open rate and the clickthrough rate. The open rate measures the percentage of recipients who opened an email, while the CTR measures the percentage of recipients who clicked on a link within the email. For years, these metrics were considered the gold standard for measuring email campaign performance.

However, as email marketing has become more sophisticated and data-driven, the limitations of these metrics have become more apparent. The open rate, for example, can be misleading due to the way email clients handle images and tracking pixels. In some cases, an email may be counted as "opened" even if the recipient never actually saw or engaged with the content.

Similarly, the CTR can be influenced by factors beyond the email‘s content, such as the subject line‘s ability to generate opens. A high CTR may indicate that the subject line was compelling enough to get recipients to open the email, but it doesn‘t necessarily mean that the content itself was engaging or relevant.

Understanding CTOR: The Metric That‘s Changing the Game

To address the limitations of CTR and open rates, email marketers are increasingly turning to the click-to-open rate (CTOR). CTOR measures the percentage of unique recipients who clicked on a link within an email out of those who opened the email. In other words, it focuses on the engagement of recipients who actually saw and interacted with the email content.

The formula for calculating CTOR is:

CTOR = (Unique Clicks ÷ Unique Opens) × 100

For example, if an email campaign is sent to 10,000 subscribers, and 1,000 of them open the email, with 200 clicking on a link, the CTOR would be:

CTOR = (200 ÷ 1,000) × 100 = 20%

This means that 20% of the recipients who opened the email found the content compelling enough to click on a link.

Why CTOR Matters More Than CTR

There are several reasons why CTOR is becoming the preferred metric for email marketers:

  1. More accurate measure of engagement: CTOR focuses on the recipients who actively engaged with the email content, providing a clearer picture of how well the content resonated with the audience.

  2. Eliminates the impact of subject lines: While subject lines are crucial for getting recipients to open an email, they don‘t necessarily reflect the quality of the email content itself. CTOR removes the influence of subject lines and focuses solely on the performance of the email body.

  3. Helps identify areas for improvement: By isolating the performance of the email content from the subject line, CTOR enables marketers to pinpoint specific areas of the email that need optimization, such as the copy, design, or call-to-action.

  4. Benchmarking and industry comparisons: CTOR provides a more standardized metric for comparing email performance across different industries and campaigns. This allows marketers to set realistic goals and measure their success against industry benchmarks.

To illustrate the difference between CTR and CTOR, consider the following example:

Metric Formula Example
CTR (Total Clicks ÷ Emails Delivered) × 100 500 clicks ÷ 10,000 emails delivered = 5% CTR
CTOR (Unique Clicks ÷ Unique Opens) × 100 500 clicks ÷ 2,500 unique opens = 20% CTOR

In this example, while the CTR is 5%, the CTOR reveals that 20% of the recipients who opened the email engaged with the content. This provides a more accurate picture of the email‘s performance and helps identify areas for improvement.

CTOR Benchmarks and Industry Data

To give you a better understanding of what constitutes a good CTOR, here are some industry benchmarks for 2024, according to a recent study by Email Marketing Insights:

Industry Average CTOR
Retail 15.8%
Travel and Hospitality 14.2%
Financial Services 13.1%
Technology 12.4%
Healthcare 11.3%

It‘s important to note that these benchmarks are averages, and your CTOR goals may vary depending on your specific audience, industry, and objectives. However, they provide a useful starting point for evaluating your email performance and setting realistic targets.

Strategies for Improving Your CTOR

Now that you understand the importance of CTOR, let‘s explore some actionable strategies for optimizing your email campaigns and boosting engagement:

1. Segment Your Email List

One of the most effective ways to improve your CTOR is to segment your email list based on factors such as demographics, behavior, and interests. By sending targeted, relevant content to each segment, you can significantly increase engagement and click-through rates.

According to a study by Mailchimp, segmented email campaigns have a 14.31% higher open rate and a 100.95% higher click rate than non-segmented campaigns. This highlights the power of personalization in driving email engagement.

2. Optimize Your Subject Lines

While CTOR focuses on the performance of the email content, compelling subject lines are still essential for getting recipients to open your emails in the first place. Craft subject lines that are clear, concise, and enticing, and consider using personalization, urgency, and curiosity to boost open rates.

A study by Experian found that personalized subject lines can increase open rates by 29.3%. Additionally, subject lines that create a sense of urgency or FOMO (fear of missing out) can boost open rates by up to 22%.

3. Create Engaging Email Content

Once recipients open your email, the content needs to deliver on the promise made in the subject line. Ensure your email copy is clear, concise, and focused on the benefits for the recipient. Use an engaging and conversational tone, and break up the text with subheadings, bullet points, and images to make it more readable.

According to a study by the Nielsen Norman Group, users typically read only about 20% of the text on a webpage. This makes it crucial to structure your email content in a way that is easy to scan and digest, with clear hierarchy and visual cues to guide the reader‘s attention.

4. Optimize Your Call-to-Action (CTA)

Your CTA is the primary driver of clicks within your email, so it‘s essential to make it prominent, clearly worded, and action-oriented. Use contrasting colors, whitespace, and first-person language to create a stronger connection with the recipient and encourage them to take action.

A study by Campaign Monitor found that emails with a single, clear CTA can increase click-through rates by 371% compared to emails with multiple CTAs or no CTA at all. This emphasizes the importance of having a focused, compelling CTA in your emails.

5. Test and Refine Your Emails

A/B testing is a powerful tool for identifying the elements of your email that resonate best with your audience. Test different subject lines, email layouts, copy variations, and CTAs to see which combinations yield the highest CTOR. Continuously refine your approach based on these insights to optimize your email campaigns over time.

According to a study by Litmus, brands that consistently A/B test their emails generate an ROI of 48:1, compared to an ROI of 35:1 for brands that don‘t test. This demonstrates the significant impact that testing and optimization can have on email marketing performance.

Real-World Examples of CTOR Success

To illustrate the potential impact of focusing on CTOR, let‘s look at two brands that have successfully improved their email performance:

  1. Airbnb: By segmenting their email list based on user behavior and preferences, Airbnb was able to create highly personalized email campaigns that resonated with their audience. As a result, they saw a 13% increase in CTOR and a 17% increase in bookings from email.

  2. Sephora: The beauty retailer used A/B testing to optimize their email templates and CTAs, focusing on creating a more engaging and visually appealing design. This led to a 15% increase in CTOR and a 22% increase in email-driven revenue.

These examples demonstrate the tangible benefits of prioritizing CTOR and implementing data-driven strategies to improve email engagement.

The Future of Email Marketing Metrics

As email marketing continues to evolve, it‘s likely that we‘ll see the emergence of new metrics and the refinement of existing ones. However, the focus on engagement and relevance that CTOR represents is likely to remain a key priority for marketers.

One emerging trend is the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to personalize email content at scale. By analyzing user behavior and preferences, AI-powered email platforms can automatically generate highly targeted content and product recommendations, potentially leading to even higher levels of engagement and conversion.

Another trend is the growing importance of mobile optimization in email design. With more than half of all emails now opened on mobile devices, it‘s crucial to ensure that your emails are responsive and easily readable on smaller screens. This can have a significant impact on CTOR, as mobile users are more likely to engage with content that is optimized for their devices.


In today‘s data-driven marketing landscape, tracking the right metrics is essential for optimizing your email campaigns and driving business results. While CTR and open rates were once the go-to metrics for email marketers, the click-to-open rate (CTOR) has emerged as a more meaningful and accurate measure of engagement.

By focusing on CTOR and implementing the strategies outlined in this article, you can create email campaigns that truly resonate with your audience, driving higher levels of engagement, conversion, and long-term customer loyalty. As email marketing continues to evolve, staying ahead of the curve and adapting to new metrics and best practices will be key to success.

So, is CTR dead? Not necessarily. It still has its place in the email marketer‘s toolkit. But in 2024 and beyond, CTOR is the metric that will separate the best from the rest. By understanding its importance and taking action to improve it, you can position your brand for email marketing success in the years to come.