New Research Shows Marketers Who Focus on Subscriber Engagement Get More Email Delivered to the Inbox


The State of Email Engagement report, released by Return Path in partnership with Demand Metric

Email remains an effective—and important—marketing channel.

Far from being an outdated or “dead” marketing channel, our research shows that email effectiveness is improving. In fact, almost 80 percent of the study’s participants reported that email is holding steady or improving in terms of effectiveness. And almost two-thirds of study participants rated email among the most important channels they use.

Marketers still don’t understand that engagement influences deliverability.

Engagement is critical to inbox placement, as major mailbox providers like Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo use subscriber engagement as a key indicator of whether email messages are truly wanted by their users. Perhaps the most surprising thing this study revealed is that, while marketers clearly value email, many lack a clear understanding of how mailbox providers evaluate their messages when making critical spam filtering decisions.

  • More than half of the survey participants were neutral or disagreed with the statement, “Mailbox providers use subscriber engagement to determine where to filter (e.g., inbox, spam) the email you send.”
  • Importantly, marketers who agreed with this statement were much more likely to report good (42 percent) or very good (24 percent) deliverability.

Most marketers are taking steps to improve the subscriber relationship.

Despite this apparent disconnect, the vast majority of marketers are taking steps to improve subscriber engagement.

  • The ability to segment lists and send different content to each segment of subscribers is an important factor in keeping subscribers engaged. Almost 80 percent of study participants report that they are doing some degree of list segmentation—and two-thirds of those who do practice list segmentation report either good or very good deliverability.
  • A full eighty percent of study participants personalize email marketing content to some degree, and this is a critical factor in email effectiveness. Marketers who personalize email content reported a 16 percent higher open rate and nine percent higher click-through rate than those who do not personalize.
  • Marketers are beginning to embrace the importance of send frequency, but few have a precise understanding of the optimal frequency for marketing messages. Among study participants who report increasing email effectiveness, just five percent say they have a precise understanding of optimal send frequency and 52 percent say they have a “reasonable estimate.” For marketers with steady or decreasing email effectiveness, these numbers drop to one percent and 29 percent, respectively.


Research for this study was conducted via an online survey administered between December 10, 2018, and January 21, 2019. During this period, 256 responses were collected, 221 of which were complete enough for inclusion in the analysis. Only valid or correlated findings are shared in this report. The respondent breakdown was self-reported as follows: 46 percent mostly or entirely B2B, 12 percent mostly or entirely B2C, 33 percent blend of B2B and B2C, and nine percent nonprofits.


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