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New Research from Return Path Shows Strong Correlation Between Subscriber Engagement and Spam Placement

Second annual report reveals industry benchmarks for key metrics that impact deliverability

NEW YORK, March 9, 2017 — Today marks the release of the second annual email engagement benchmark report from data solutions provider Return Path. The Hidden Metrics of of Email Deliverability provides sector-specific results for email marketing metrics like read rate, reply rate, forward rate, and complaint rate, which measure consumers’ level of engagement with the email they receive. Overall, industries that outperformed the average in these metrics also saw less email delivered to spam.

“More than ever before, subscriber engagement is critical to getting your email delivered to the inbox. Major mailbox providers like Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo are constantly looking for ways to improve their customer experience, and they are increasingly reliant on engagement signals to filter out unwanted messages,” said Return Path President George Bilbrey. “Yet many marketers don’t track these metrics, and may not even be aware that they’re available.”

Among the key findings from this report:

  • Although overall spam placement increased slightly year over year (13% in 2016 vs 12% in 2015), positive engagement metrics like read rate, reply rate, and forward rate also saw significant improvement.
  • Industries with the lowest spam rate (banking/finance, distribution & manufacturing, travel, and utilities) also exceeded nearly every benchmark for subscriber engagement.
  • The amount of email delivered to the spam folder ranged from just 6% (banking/finance and distribution & manufacturing) to 24% (automotive). Automotive also had the worst spam placement of 2015 (28%).
  • Overall read rate increased by 8% year over year, and every industry saw an increase in read rate compared with 2015. Industries with the highest read rate were distribution & manufacturing (58%) and utilities (57%). By comparison, the best read rate of 2015 was 47% (utilities).
  • Subscribers took a more active role this year in separating wanted mail from unwanted mail. The overall “deleted without reading” rate rose from 9% in 2015 to 13% in 2016, while the “this is not spam” rate (which measures how often a subscriber retrieves a message from the spam folder and marks it as “not junk” jumped from just 0.03% in 2015 to 1.04% in 2016.

Report findings are drawn from more than 5 billion commercial emails received in 2016. The report analysis is broken down by industry sector, allowing marketers to compare their own subscriber engagement against their industry peers and identify opportunities for improvement—ultimately leading to better deliverability and marketing ROI.

“Optimizing consumer engagement can certainly improve deliverability, but these metrics also provide valuable data about the effectiveness of your email campaigns. And Return Path is uniquely positioned to help marketers uncover these important insights,” continued Bilbrey. “Unlike other deliverability solutions, Return Path’s consumer panel of more than 2.5 million active consumer inboxes offers an unprecedented look at how real people interact with real email messages.”

The complete Hidden Metrics of Email Deliverability report can be found here.

Return Path conducted this study using global consumer data consisting of more than 17,000 commercial senders, 2.5 million consumer panelists, and 5 billion commercial email messages received between January 1 and December 31, 2016. Consumer data is defined as information captured from monitored email accounts controlled by real subscribers to sample user initiated and engagement based filtering decisions by mailbox providers. Consumer data can uncover behavior-based factors and thresholds that influence inbox placement at large mailbox providers, and can’t be identified by non-interactive seeds.

About Return Path
Return Path analyzes the world’s largest collection of email data to show businesses how to stay connected to their audiences and strengthen their customer engagement. Our data solutions help analysts understand consumer behavior and market trends. We help mailbox providers around the world deliver great user experiences and build trust in email by ensuring that wanted messages reach the inbox while spam doesn’t. To find out more about Return Path solutions, visit us at or request a demo.