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At a time when the popular look on the web is one of simplicity, it’s tempting to apply the same ideas to email. Less is more. The fewer prompts the better. But does this result in more click throughs, or are we simply indulging in form, over function?

I started asking these questions after attending a talk on essentialism, or the disciplined pursuit of less, but better. Championed by Plato, Gandhi and Steve Jobs, it’s an idea loaded with promise and apparently, few downsides; the essentialist spends their time on meaningful projects, travels light and naturally, designs the most spartan of email campaigns.

The problem, of course, is that while it’s attractive to think that less links in an email campaign (and less surrounding content clutter) should result in higher engagement, we’ve never looked at the numbers. That is, until now.

A case for more

With the hypothesis that HTML email campaigns with less unique URLs and/or links would have a higher click rate (% click/open) than those with more, we looked at the behavior of over 500 million email recipients, from email campaigns sent to over 500 subscribers in recent months. Each email campaign was categorized by unique URLs and links therein, to allow us to determine whether having less to click on resulted in a more engaging email experience.

Here are how click rates perform as the number of links increase in email campaigns:

Links vs Click Rate

For comparison, here are how click rates perform as unique URLs increase:

Unique URLs vs Click Rate

Increasing the number of unique links and URLs has a strong positive effect on click rate until you reach 11 or so – after which, it see-saws around the 17% mark, but never really takes a dive. So overall, it seems that the more links, the higher the click rate. This is upsetting for anyone who dotes on the single call-to-action approach to email design, or worse still, has a client intent on packing in an extreme amount of content.

The other thing worth noting is the relationship between links and unsubscribes. Email campaigns with no links at all receive an unsubscribe rate of 0.45%, or roughly 55% more unsubscribes on average than those with 1 or more links. Unsubscribe links were excluded from our link total.

Did we just bury simplicity?

Like with many things, if you narrow your focus down to simply the numbers, you can come to some rather unappealing conclusions. For example, having 10-20 links in an email campaign may at face value seem like it can “boost” your click rate, but potentially at the expense of having an unfocused message. For example, if you have a newsletter with say, 6 different articles and a dozen links to choose from, you may be increasing the likelihood that there’s something that any given recipient may find relevant. But if you want everyone on your list to buy a specific product or sign up to a webinar, then having an overly-complicated email won’t get you any closer to your goal. HubSpot emphasised finding a “middle ground” in their blog:

It’s never a bad idea to include multiple links in an email, since each link is a call-to-action that could reconvert your email recipient. That said, you don’t want those calls-to-action to compete with one another, which is why it’s crucial that you decide exactly what it is you want your email recipient to do upon receiving your email. Answers to your top 11 questions about email marketing“, HubSpot

So, our takeaway here is, use links. Use multiple links. But stay focused on your message and whatever you do, don’t provide just one link to use – being your unsubscribe.

Now that you’ve seen the numbers, what do you think? Should senders be deliberate about how many links they use? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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