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Return Path Research Finds Email Senders with Strong Subscriber Engagement Are Likely to See Less Email Delivered to Spam

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

NEW YORK, February 21, 2018 — Data solutions provider Return Path today released its annual email engagement benchmark report, The Hidden Metrics of Email Deliverability. The report provides sector-specific results for email marketing metrics including read rate, reply rate, forward rate, and complaint rate, which collectively provide critical insights about subscriber engagement and play a role in determining whether email reaches the inbox. According to this report, industries that outperformed the average in these metrics also saw less email delivered to spam.

“In recent years, subscriber engagement signals have become a critical factor in filtering out unwanted email—especially at major mailbox providers like Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo. These providers are constantly looking to improve their customer experience and refine their ability to deliver only wanted messages to the inbox,” said Tom Sather, senior director of research at Return Path. “Engagement data can also provide unique insights to help marketers improve deliverability and enhance customer relationships. But unfortunately, many marketers don’t track these metrics, and may not even be aware that they’re available.”

Among the key findings from this report:

  • For the second consecutive year, overall spam placement increased, rising from 12 percent in 2015 to 12.5 percent in 2016, and now 13.5 percent in 2017.
  • The increase in spam placement is somewhat offset by the fact that consumers were more likely than ever to “rescue” wanted mail from the spam folder, as demonstrated by the significant year over year increase in the “this is not spam” rate (1.77 percent in 2017 versus 1.04 percent in 2016).
  • Industries with the lowest spam placement rate (banking & finance, distribution & manufacturing, and insurance) also outperformed nearly every benchmark for subscriber engagement.
  • The amount of email delivered to the spam folder varied significantly by industry, from just 3.5 percent for senders in distribution & manufacturing to 23.7 percent for education/nonprofit/government.
  • Subscribers read email at a slightly lower rate than last year (21.5 percent in 2017, 22.2 percent in 2016), but mail that is ignored (or “deleted before reading”) was also slightly less common than a year ago (11.9 percent in 2017, 12.5 percent in 2016).

Report findings are drawn from more than 5.5 billion commercial emails received in 2017. The report analysis is broken down by industry sector, allowing marketers to compare their own subscriber engagement against industry peers and identify opportunities for improvement—ultimately leading to better deliverability and marketing ROI.

“While engagement data can provide unique insights to help marketers improve deliverability and enhance customer relationships, many marketers aren’t currently tracking these metrics—and, in fact, may not even be aware that they’re available,” continued Sather. “With its unparallelled consumer panel, Return Path is uniquely positioned to provide an unprecedented look at how real people interact with real email messages.”

The complete Hidden Metrics of Email Deliverability report can be found here. You can also explore engagement data and draw your own insights with the interactive Hidden Metrics microsite.

Return Path conducted this study using global consumer data consisting of more than 17,000 commercial senders, 2 million consumer panelists, and 5.5 billion commercial email messages received between January 1 and December 31, 2017. Consumer data is 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 provider, 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. 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.