3 Reasons Your Email Open Rates Don’t Matter


email-open-ratesEmail open rates are often viewed as a measure of a successful email. And it’s a logical assumption.

The Email process goes like this (removing deliverability from the equation, that’s a different discussion):

  • A good subject line gets the email opened.
  • An opened email means the person is interested.
  • An email click means the person got just enough information in the email to want to learn more, or take advantage of what you said.

So high email rates, usually measured as percentages) are a good thing, right?

Well, no, not always.

Email Open Rates Don’t tell The Story

  1.kpis-behind-the-metrics-log  Opens don’t necessarily means actual opens.

Email open rates are skewed by the way folks have their email clients set up.

Think about your personal email address, such as AOL, gmail, or other online client. Chances are, you just see the from name and the subject line. Those opens mean that the reader had to click on the email to open it.

Using another program, just as outlook, often means having a preview pane that automatically loads part or all of the email. That often counts as an open, unless you set up your emails to count them differently using pixels and other tracking codes.

  2.  Unsubscribes

Readers have to open (and click) to unsubscribe.

If you are counting your email opens but not removing your unsubscribes, you’re getting a false sense of success. If someone unsubscribes from your email, it means they had to open it and click the button. Not a valuable open (or click!), in judging the quality of the message.

That’s not to say it was a wasted open or click, someone unsubscribing from your list is also valuable, because you don’t want to be sending emails and engaging with folks who simply aren’t interested. It’s sad, yes, but also unproductive and costly.

  3)   Size of send

So you’ve got a 60% open rate. Well my oh my, that IS impressive. But wait, how many people did you send it to?

Sorry, size matters. That’s just how math works.

So if you see a sudden jump in your email open rates, or success of any of the metrics, always ALWAYS look into it to learn more before declaring success, and by default, suggesting failure of previous ones that “didn’t measure up”.

(Yes, even if you get massive sales directly from an email through ecommerce. Good bet that there was a typo, and you’re losing money, or next time you can offer a more limited promotion.)

But if you typcally send to thousands, but send a tailored email to a highly targeted small list, you better have a very high open rate, assuming you had your strategy, subject line, content and creative in line with the audience.

In that case, you’d want to focus on what the others didn’t open it.

Before assigning success to your initiatives, it’s best to review them in their entirety, and the effect they had. Email is a very efficient and useful tool, and most platforms allow the options to see the click maps. This is helpful, it can tell if your customers just need a reminder to engage with you (if they’ve clicked on your logo, or other areas of your email) or if they’re particularly motivated by the content/offer in the email.

So in the end, it’s not about open rates, it’s about the overall performance of the email in the larger objective. Did it have the impact, overall, that you needed. Judge the entire outcome, not the KPIs one by one.

Be smart, and be aware of what your metrics mean.

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