Conversions – whether they take the form of a customer placing an order, downloading an eBook, registering for a webinar, etc. — are the goal every email marketing message and campaign.

The metric used to measure conversions is called, not surprisingly, conversion rate. Lindsey Kolowich defines the metric at HubSpot as “the percentage of email recipients who clicked on a link within an email and completed a desired action, such as filling out a lead generation form or purchasing a product.”

She also provides this simple formula for calculating it:

(Number of people who completed the desired action ÷ Number of total emails delivered) x 100
For example: 400 people completed the desired action ÷ 10,000 total emails delivered
x 100 = 4% conversion rate.

Christopher Ratcliff writes at eConsultancy that conversion rate is a critical metric for email marketers because it is so closely tied to specific calls to action (CTAs) in their messages.

“A conversion can mean anything from a product purchased to the downloading of a white-paper to simply directing the recipient to a new social channel,” he writes. “Because your definition of a conversion is directly tied to the call-to-action in your email, and your call-to-action should be directly tied to the overall goal of your email marketing, conversion rate is one of the most important metrics for determining the extent to which you’re achieving your goals.”

So, what is a “good” email marketing conversion rate? The best answer to that question is probably “it depends” – on, among other things, the type of email being sent, the specific industry involved and other factors. Some statistics from a study by Remarkety illustrate how much conversion rates can vary by email type.

As we mentioned with regard to open rates in a recent post, benchmarking against past performance is probably the method email marketers can use to assess any metric. To do this with conversion rates you want to chart past rates, establish an average, identify outliers, look for patterns and then set goals for future messages and campaigns.

Not all conversions are the same

While it’s natural to focus on sales, downloads and registrations, etc., as the ultimate indicators of the success of marketing messages or campaigns, they are not the only types of conversions that are important. On the Litmus blog, April Mullen suggests that successful marketing emails are also those that trigger a cascade of “micro-conversions” that ultimately result in the sale or other important customer action, also known as “macro-conversions.”

“Email is so much more than the final conversion event,” she writes. “It has a critical hand in the revenue-driving process by moving your customers down the funnel toward the website through a series of micro-conversions — all the smaller, desired actions that your customers go through to reach the end goal you had in mind for the campaign. Everything from delivered, opened, clicked, etc. should be considered as conversion events or micro-conversions that all have a hand in a campaign’s success.”

In the same post, Erin King differentiates between “direct” and “indirect” conversions, and notes that both are valuable to marketers.

“Some emails lend themselves to direct conversions (I promote a product, you buy it). But there’s also value in “indirect” conversions, where your email inspires some other interaction with your site or product,” she writes. “For example, say I send an email promoting a report download. My subscriber opens the email—and then does nothing. But my email reminds them that there’s other content on my blog that they want to check out.

Later on, they visit and read some posts, see a promotion for a weekly email they’re interested in, and decide to sign up for it. Is this conversion the one that the original email intended? No, but the email was still the catalyst that started the subscriber down the path to signing up for a new email list, so it’s an indirect conversion.”

Ways to increase your conversion rate

Remarkety’s Max Katsarelas writes that if you want to boost your conversion rate, start by focusing on improving your open rate, which means, among other things, making sure you nail your subject line, avoid triggering spam traps and personalize your messages. You can find more suggestions regarding open rates here.

In addition, Katsarelas suggests including incentives, such as coupons, citing statistics indicating that while the average conversion rate for marketing emails is about two percent, that can rise to about ten percent when coupons are included. He recommends that CTAs be straightforward, such as “Shop Now” or “Take 10% Off’” – to make the action you want taken clear to customers.