Marketers who use email to communicate with their tribe are eager to monitor and improve their performance. Among the many metrics they closely watch as a measure of the effectiveness of their email marketing is the open rate.
Put simply, email open rate is the number of times your email gets opened by subscribers, expressed as a percentage of the total emails delivered.
Questions that bother email marketers include “What is a good email open rate?” or “What can I do to improve my open rate?” – and the answers are somewhat complex. It’s more important to understand how email open rate is measured and what exactly the relevance and value of this number is.
Unless you master these nuances, you may be led to the wrong conclusions from the data. Let me illustrate this with an example.
Suppose you run a split test, sending nearly identical emails (differing only by subject line) to two segments of your email list. If your list has 10,000 subscribers, five thousand will get version 1, and the rest get version 2. If you measure the clickthrough rate and discover that the first group had 1,000 clicks and the second had only 900, you would assume that version 1 was superior in getting results.
But what if you also monitored email open rates and find that 55% opened version 1 but only 40% opened version 2. Then the numbers tell a different story. Version 1 has been opened 2,750 times, and generated 1,000 clicks, for a 36% clickthrough rate. But version 2 has been opened only 2,000 times, but got 900 clicks, for a 45% CTR.
That’s almost a fifth higher than version 1 – and the only way you could figure that out was by factoring in the email open rate!
Which brings us to the first recurring question – what’s a good email open rate?
I could be dogmatic and say 25% – and I would be wrong 3 times out of 5. That’s because there is no such thing as a “good” open rate across the board. Various factors and variables impact open rate. They vary widely across industry or niche, and in smaller increments across different lists. Variations in the way open rate is measured and reported adds a further level of complexity, making it harder to arrive at a single ‘average’ figure.
Even if you were to take the benchmark figures from a specific niche or industry as your reference frame, it would be pretty inaccurate. For instance, how would you compare and contrast a meaty, content-rich newsletter published every week by an authority in your niche, against another list which sends daily snippets and tid-bits of basic information?
So if you’re trying to make the numbers tell you a useful story, be sure to compare your data against a marketing process that is similar to yours. You still won’t be absolutely on target, but by making minor adjustments and allowances for your unique style and qualities of your list, you may arrive at a fairly good estimate. Some variables you may have to compensate for include:
- the size of your list (the bigger your list grows, the harder it gets to appeal to everyone on it, resulting in a lower open rate)
- the style of your communication (chatty, personal, non-‘marketing’ messages get opened and read far more frequently than hype-filled sales pitches)
Once you arrive at a benchmark for your email marketing, remember not to obsess over a single measurement but to focus more on trends over time. As long as your email open rate is not dropping suddenly, and keeps steadily getting better, you are on the right track and are delivering value to your audience.