SMS v email response rates

What’s the average open rate for SMS compared to email?

Email and SMS open rates are often quoted, compared and contrasted. 

As email open and response rates have declined in recent years and our spam folders bulge, companies have been increasingly turning to SMS as a way of selling directly to their customers.

The last few years has seen a huge increase in the number of businesses using SMS and the trend looks set to continue.

Nick Lane from Mobile squared identifies huge growth potential for A2P SMS.

There are 304.7 million registered businesses in the world, just 5% use SMS.

Nick Lane – Mobilesquared

Definition of key terms used with email and SMS marketing measurement

Read, open, delivery and response rates are all somewhat murky terms that and difficult to define, let alone measure with any accuracy.

There are often different ways of interpreting, measuring and reporting. Results often seem wildly optimistic and completely out of step with what most companies experience in their own campaigns.

Here are main metrics that people use to discuss SMS and email marketing campaigns.

Delivery rate
This is the number or proportion of messages that actually get delivered to the SMS message or email inbox.

Open rate /  read rate
For SMS there’s no way of measuring  whether a user has actually opened or read a text, it’s assumed that if a text has been delivered, then it’s probably been read.

Average SMS read rates have been estimated by consumer surveys, some of which are now over 10 years old.

Email open rates can be captured more accurately but there are still a number of factors that often exaggerate the actual figure.

For example if an image loads, that is often counted as a ‘read’ whereas the message could have easily been deleted immediately.  A more accurate description might be ‘email loads’.

Multiple opens of an email by the same person are often counted as separate opens or reads. Unique views is a more accurate measure that discounts someone opening an email more than once.

Click through or response rate
With reporting SMS metrics, click through and response rate are often used interchangeably but they’re clearly not the same thing. 

If a text doesn’t contain a URL that the customer can click, then there can’t be any click through rate. The text might be asking people to reply to the text or perhaps even call a number given in the text itself.

With email the ‘call to action’ is almost always to click through to a web URL, so in this context, click through rate makes more sense.

Click through rate does not however mean that these people then went on to make a purchase.

The overall open rate for SMS campaign can be improved by using an HLR lookup service. This allows you to validate your mobile numbers before sending your messages

Open rates for SMS Vs Email

SMS open rate

With no actual open rate data available for SMS marketing, the fall back position has always been to rely on survey data.

Most people quote the results of a survey conducted by UK research company Mobile squared in 2010.
The much quoted statistics are:

90% of all incoming SMS are read within 3 minutes

over 99% of all text messages are read by the recipient

Total kudos to Mobilesquared for owning the most quoted mobile marketing statistic ever.

Despite being well over 10 years old, the stat feels like it is probably still accurate. SMS remains the most attention grabbing messaging channel

I can’t remember the last time I ignored a text.

Here is a selection of SMS open and read rates from various sources.

Source SMS open rate SMS click through / Response rate
Twilio 82% 36%
Red eye 99% 36%
Text Anywhere 98% 6.1
XL Today 98% 45%
Labs Mobile   19%
Tech Jury 98%  
Simple Texting 98% 45%
Tatango 99% 19%-46%

Email open rate

Email open rates can be measured far more accurately than SMS but there are several ways that email open rates can be calculated.

Depending on who you use as your resource, there are also a range of reported average open rates for email.

The range for average email open rates is between 17% and 30%.

Source Email open rate Email click through rate
Mailchimp 22.70% 2.91%
Campaign Monitor 21.50% 2.30%
Hubspot 20.90% 7.80%
Get Response 17.00% 10.29
Constant Contact 29.55% 1.27%


SMS and email are used to achieve different objectives

There’s an increasing consumer expectation that they should be communicated with using the channel that they prefer, whether that be SMS, email, OTT apps or livechat.

Email and SMS are not competing options where you decide which one to use. The solution is always to use a blend of email and SMS. 

If you give customers the choice then you’re giving yourself the best chance of maximizing the response rate for both.

If you’d like to explore our SMS API and potentially reduce your costs, feel free to set up a test account.

We’ll add 50 free credits for testing and will be standing by to offer as much support as you need.

Related articles

What is A2P SMS? SMS for businesses is called all sort of things, here’s a guide.

What is transactional SMS? Is this the same as A2P SMS or something different?

Why is business SMS still so popular? Just 160 plain text characters and it’s still the most popular business messaging option. How could that possibly be?

What’s the best time to send an SMS campaign?

author avatar
Henry Cazalet Managing Director
Co-founder and Director of The SMS Works, a low cost and powerful SMS API for developers. About Henry