Cures for the Common Newsletter: Demystifying Email Metrics

September 8, 2021

Read the first in this series of cures for your troubled employee newsletter, which covers information overload and email fatigue.

No matter the business you’re in, you have one thing in common with all others - the need to communicate. How do we share loads of information with our people, keeping them updated on business developments and interested in what’s next, without boring them to death? There are lots of ways to do that, but no communication tool has been as long standing as the newsletter.

When done right, newsletters can be a “one-stop-shop” that give people a sight line across your company. They can be a problem solver too. Everyone is drowning in emails, and a well-planned newsletter can be a time-saving life preserver.  

But what happens when your newsletter isn’t being read? What if the tool you use to share important information isn’t effective anymore? And how can you figure out what’s causing the performance drop-off?

But do you find yourself scratching your head in confusion when you look at the data? Do you find yourself pondering questions like:  

  • What’s a good click-through benchmark?  
  • Is my open rate “good”? What should I be striving for?  
  • What metric is most important?  
  • Where do I get started?  

The answer to all of the above questions? It depends.

Breaking down benchmarks…

Our biggest piece of advice when it comes to any communications channel benchmarks – such as newsletter open rates or click rates, for example – is to use them strategically. Why? Because a number of variables are at play with the other organizations that are part of the benchmarking data set:  

  • The resources and size of their internal communications teams (organizations skewing the benchmarking average higher might have a 30-person communications team, and you’re a team of two!)
  • The role of that particular channel in their communications strategy  
  • Employee audiences and their workstyles within those organizations

…and the list goes on. The net-net: It’s not fair to YOU to benchmark YOUR performance against other companies. So, what do you do?

Tip #1: Benchmark against yourself

When you need to gauge channel performance, benchmark against your own highest performance audiences, content types, etc. But use some caution here! Different teams likely prefer different channels.  

EXAMPLE SCENARIO: Your sales team has a 91% adoption rate of your mobile app while engineering is at 34%. Don’t benchmark sales against engineering – sales works in the field and prefers the app, while engineering works in the office and prefers the intranet.  

A more apples-to-apples comparison would be to look at different regions within your sales team and benchmark that way. Maybe your west region has an 80% adoption rate, so you aspire to move your other four sales regions up to 80%, too.  

Tip #2: Use Industry Benchmarks Strategically

Remember when we said to use them strategically? If you are trying to make a business case to your stakeholders, benchmark against your industry, your peers, and other companies using the same platform or using the same channel. What do those teams setting the benchmark have that you need for you team? Use industry benchmarks to ask for it!  

Decoding Open, Click and Read Rates

What can we infer from an email OPEN?
And what can we infer from an email CLICK?
What can we infer from email READING TIMES?

SHORT READING TIMES (WITH A HIGH CLICK THROUGH RATE): The content is readable, well-laid out, and uses an eye-catching, finger-friendly call-to-action to help the reader find what they need and get to their destination quickly  

SHORT READING TIMES (WITH A LOW CLICK THROUGH RATE): The reader finds everything they need in the email itself. The email content is readable and well-laid out, uses compelling visuals, and contains the right amount of engaging information to keep me immersed.

So, what’s the cure? First and foremost, think about what you’re trying to achieve with each and every newsletter.

Consider these three scenarios:


Do I want my reader to know something or do something? 

  • KNOW SOMETHING! The email is focused on delivering information  and there are zero links to drive to.

What are the email metric(s)* I care about and which do I prioritize?

  • OPEN RATE + READ TIME! As an informational email, how long employees spend reading the email matters most.


Do I want my reader to know something or do something? 

  • DO SOMETHING! The email is focused on delivering information around a single piece of content and driving a single action.

What are the email metric(s)* I care about and which do I prioritize?

  • OPEN RATE + CLICK RATE! Ifocused on moving employees to take a particular action, I want to focus on driving the click rate.


Do I want my reader to know something or do something?

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What are the email metric(s)* I care about and which do I prioritize?

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

* REMEMBER that email metrics are just a start – not the end-all, be-all for assessing whether your message has gotten through! This leads us to a friendly reminder...

Keep your purpose in mind

A lot of our newsletters need to accomplish a lot of things, but no matter what action you want to inspire, the first step is actually opening your newsletter, measured via open rates. If all the necessary information is contained in the email newsletter, you will want them to read the whole shebang, and reading time becomes the metric to watch.  

But if you want them to DO something, like visit the intranet for more detail or complete an action, the main thing you’re trying to drive is click-through rates.  

Without a clear goal or end KPI in mind for each individual newsletter, it’s easy to catch a case of the “data dumps.” Keep the end goal of your newsletter in mind – whether you want someone to KNOW something or DO something – and then stay focused on the metrics that matter.

Stay tuned to the Brilliant Ink blog for Part 3 in this series…coming soon! For more bite-sized brilliance, subscribe to our monthly employee engagement newsletter, the Inkwell, and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest!

Jackie Berg

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