Email metrics are critical to our understanding of how well our messages perform. Except when they’re not. Sometimes metrics do not tell you the whole story, and they even tell a misleading story on occasion. One of the most common misrepresentations we see in email metrics is where a relatively small number of clicks is interpreted to mean that a message was not particularly engaging. This isn’t always the case.

Here are a few examples of messages that won’t draw a lot of clicks, but which may nevertheless be working as hard as anything else in the inbox:

The Thought Leadership Newsletter
Newsletters are many brands’ benchmark messages, and carry the brunt of an email strategy. If your newsletter is built around a number of story abstracts with links to more information on each on your site or across the web, seeing clicks register is an indication of engagement. But if the purpose of the newsletter is to be useful right within the inbox, such as a thought leadership piece which includes a complete article , a lack of clicks may be OK. Messages designed to build engagement right within the inbox do not need clicks (or even links) to be successful. It’s true that you give up some insight on what people like, but there is also a brand impact and engagement that comes from the very act of subscribing, noticing and reading. The other upside to messages like this is that they help cement your subscribers’ engagement with the email channel. Messages designed to send them to your website underscore the value of your site and its content, while messages that reward the very act of opening and reading show the usefulness of your emails themselves.

The Coming Soon or The Week Ahead Email
Some retailers (like the Clymb) will send an email about “upcoming sales this week,” or a trade association may publish a weekly update about relevant dates and deadlines over the coming few days. Like the thought leadership newsletters, these messages earn their keep simply by being read, and help build pre-engagement for the messages later on with clearer and more immediate calls to action. Not seeing clicks on messages of this type is fine. The metric to watch instead is unsubscribe rate, as you want to make sure people find them useful enough to continue devoting some inbox real estate to them.

The Narrow Topic to a Broad List
If you do a good job with your subject line letting subscribers know what’s in an email, those interested will click. Likewise, those not interested will not. That’s also good – you’ve respected their time and kept them attentive until the next message. You will not see opens and clicks from this audience but that doesn’t mean your message was a bust, particularly if those who did read found the narrow content particularly engaging. The important element here is the narrow content, not the broad list. Broad content to a broad list that does not generate clicks may well signal that in an effort to be a little relevant to everyone, the message was genuinely interesting to few.

The Announcement
Some emails are meant to simply announce something – the appointment of a new CEO, a change in the company’s privacy policy or the opening of a new location. In many cases, these messages see few clicks because they include few links, or the ones they do simply link to “more information” on a topic that the newsletter has just effectively exhausted. In these messages, however, including contextual links to enable some measure of tracking may actually be a good idea just to make sure they are worth sending in the first place. Many messages in this group fall into the “let’s tell everybody” category, and end up with such low engagement that they come closer to telling nobody.

The Offline Call To Action
If the call to an action in a message is “visit us at Booth 45” or “print this out to receive 20% off your next in-store purchase” a lack of measurable activity might not signal a lack of engagement at all. Brands focused on clicks may overlook offline calls to action altogether, which can be a mistake. Some of your best customers exist in the real world almost as much as they do online.