The rate at which a company’s emails are forwarded is a good indicator of the effectiveness of an email program and has a direct impact on marketing reach and conversions.

In a recent report Litmus, the Email Testing and Email Marketing Analysis firm, found that the percentage of forwarded emails was related to the marketing approach used. The study examined the forward-to-open rate of over 400,000 emails with at least 500 opens between January 2013 and March 2015, analyzing and comparing topic and tactic data between the top 1 percent and the 50th percent.

The data revealed a connection between opened and forwarded emails. Specifically, it found that:

  • Those in the top one percent had a forward rate of 1 for every 21 opens, while
  • The fiftieth percentile had one forward for every 370 opens.

Put another way, the greater the frequency at which emails are opened, the more likely they are to be forwarded. In addition to expanding the reach of marketing efforts and messages, this is also an indication that the needs and expectations of subscribers were being met – signs of a healthy email program.

The report examined the factors that generated an email open (and, subsequently, its being forwarded). The two most important criteria that sparked an open were emails must deliver Value (deals, alerts, news, etc.) and have Remarkable content (something that warrants forwarding). Within this framework, there were other common elements, including:

Audience size – Emails messages targeting a smaller audience or centered on niche products and services, specialty items, and local events and attractions that reflect the special interests and needs of recipients made them more attractive as an item to share, particularly with others having the same interests.

Targeted messages – Addressed certain characteristics and behaviors and generating emails in response to the specific actions and activities of subscribers improved forwarding rates.

Personalization – Forwarding rates increased as email content became more personal or personalized.

Asking to share – Requesting that recipients share the email had the biggest impact on forwarding. Emails in the top percentile were more likely to include this call to action somewhere in the email than were those in the lower percentiles.

Content – Emails about certain topics are more likely to be forwarded than emails about other topics. The topics most likely to considered for forwarding include events, news, helpful content, promotions, deals, discounts, and new products and services.

Because of the relationship between email opens and forwards, by structuring email marketing campaigns and programs within the parameters presented in the study, business can improve their engagement metrics, which can result in higher conversions, greater reach, and increased revenue.


MarketingCharts Staff. “How Often Are Emails Forwarded?” June 24, 2015.

White, Chad. “The Viral Email,” Litmus. June 2015.