The Wrong Stat? Click Through Rate vs Conversion


Email open and click through rates are metrics every email marketer should watch. However, a great CTR isn’t the sign to celebrate or sit on your laurels. Conversion rarely ends with a click of the email link; it’s usually just a small step down the funnel. And when you have multiple points that can leak customers, a focus on just one step (like emails) will cost you.

A few months ago, I wrote 3 emails promoting a conference’s “founding member discount” to a tiny list of warm leads. The emails did their job. Looking at the metrics, an open rate of over 50% and a click through rate of 9.7% (an excellent rate according to some benchmarks) seemed a solid start to a long marketing campaign.

Alas, the conversion rate (i.e. tickets sold) proved underwhelming.

It was a perfect example of getting one part of a funnel right, and another — in this case, the sales page — wrong.

Even today, emails are still one of the best marketing mediums. As the DMA Insight report unsurprisingly shows, 99% of us check our email every day.

Marketers know this. Which means a lot of time, effort, research and testing goes into designing emails to capture that elusive click. And a lot of the feedback that helps us write better emails comes from studying the performance of those emails we send. Two metrics in particular come to mind: the open rate and the click through rate (or CTR).

What are you looking at?

GetResponse’s 2017 email marketing study revealed that 21% of email marketers still view opens and clicks as THE way of measuring email marketing. 29% said an “increase in subscribers” was their go-to measure.

In comparison, marketers tracking figures like revenue or sales were a tick over 12%.

To put it another way: 50% of email marketers look at top-of-funnel metrics, while around 1 in 8 focus on what’s bringing in the cash.

Now, you can argue that you’re not getting any sales if prospects don’t click through from the email. But the link is one step of many. From the email, they might sign up to a webinar. From the webinar, they might buy a “tripwire” product. And it’s only after that tripwire do they become a full customer you sell your core offering to.

The email is just a small link in a larger chain (literally). And a myopic view of your sales funnel is going to hurt you.

Let’s not bash CTR…

However, I’m not one of those placard-waving, “death to CTR” types. Email click through rate, like a lot of data modern marketers collect, is a measure worth watching and working to improve.

But if your emails are writing checks that your funnel can’t cash, you want to get to the bottom of it quickly:

  • Why are emails delivering fistfuls of leads that are jumping ship once they land in the next step of the funnel?
  • Are they misunderstanding the offer?
  • Expecting something different?
  • Are there big claims in the email that get the click but fall flat when the prospect arrives on the other side?

Maybe — and I speak from experience — your sales or landing page just isn’t delivering?

One element that can’t be overlooked is consistency. Any good funnel delivers a consistent experience, from the moment prospects see your ad or squeeze page to the moment they’re clicking the “Buy” button. A big part of that consistency: message matching.

It’s all about the match

Getting both the ads and landing page on the same… well, page, is a copywriting fundamental. And the principle applies to the rest of your funnel, emails included.

But this isn’t about making sure you write the emails, or the sales page, or the upsell with the single idea in mind. If any metric around one part of the funnel becomes a major goal in and of itself, rather than whole-of-funnel measures — the real reasons behind underperformance could be easily over-looked.

Focus on the funnel

If your emails are crushing click throughs but you’re not seeing corresponding conversions, or your sales page is dominating but you can’t push enough traffic that far, it’s time to tackle your funnel holistically.

Map it out first

This should be the first step of any sales funnel creation, but you’d be surprised how many coagulate organically into a mass of emails, landing pages, ads and order forms. When every step (with a clear goal for each) is laid out beforehand, you’ve got a funnel that hangs together much more effectively.

ACTION: If you’re building a funnel from scratch, sit down and plan your funnel step-by-step before anything else. If you’ve got an existing funnel, map out how it’s working now and analyze what’s working (and what’s not).

Optimize around your most successful component…

If you’ve got a funnel up and running and your emails are killing it, make them your exemplary example.

What does that mean?

It means steal what’s working from them. You might not know exactly why prospects respond to those emails, but you can start with intelligent hypotheses and test them on other parts of the funnel.

ACTION: Take the time to analyze your funnel and find the shining stars and leaks. Re-work the leaks so they fit better with your higher-performing copy.

…but watch for effects rippling through the funnel

Have you heard the timeless proverb “For the want of nail, a shoe was lost…”?

This is a similar ripple effect, albeit on a less grand scale. Changes to your lead magnet may affect email uptake, which can affect webinar numbers, and in turn conversions. Little changes can upset the apple cart, so diligently track the impacts of your changes to ensure the conversion dials swings north, not south.

ACTION: Review the funnel figures funnel regularly. Try not to introduce too much change at any one time so you’ll have a better idea of potential causes if the metrics suddenly fly askew. Even better, A/B test changes before deciding to integrate them into your funnel.

Don’t compartmentalize your copy

If you want message consistency, make sure your copywriters are aware of the over-arching themes, goals and messages. Mapping things out in advance helps to avoid this problem, as you’ll state the themes and messaging long before a single line of copy is written.

ACTION: Get all your copywriters on the same page before they start writing. And once they’re done, you can then…

Peer review your funnel copy

A peer review is exactly what it sounds like – having fellow workers review another’s work. It’s a common practice in software development, and it can help maintain a focus on message matching and consistency to ensure a lead flows smoothly down your funnel.

WARNING! These peer reviews aren’t about nit-picking word choices or things. A copywriter is a specialist and knows what he’s doing (we hope!). Aim these peer reviews solely at message consistency, rather than trying to put everything under the microscope and watering down the copy.

ACTION: If you have several copywriters, get them to review each other’s copy for consistency. If you’ve only got one copywriter, marketing team members can help.

One metric to rule them all

I’m sure this one’s already obvious, but I don’t want to leave it to chance.

Don’t put click throughs or any other measure in the spotlight at the expense of conversions.

At the end of the day, conversions determine whether your funnel’s working or not.

ACTION: Exactly what it says.

Get your funnel strategy in order, and you’ll get the click throughs you want AND the conversions you’re chasing.

Where are your eyes focused?

Are you watching subscriber numbers, opens or CTRs over more important metrics? Or are the “meatier metrics” getting deserved recognition on your dashboard?

Author Bio:

Dean Mackenzie is a conversion-focused copywriter who helps businesses do more with their copy, especially around landing pages and funnels. He also enjoys a good cup of tea and speaking about himself in the third person.

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