A Guide to Demystifying Open Rates in Email Marketing: Understanding, Measuring, and Optimizing Them
Email marketing is one of the best ways of using digital marketing.
It has the highest bang for the buck (ROI) in terms of customer connection, and generating revenue.
It is also the cheapest to implement, and does not need any expensive tools or know-how.
An appropriate email marketing strategy enables businesses to connect with their target audiences, nurture leads, and drive conversions.
In terms of tracking the performance and success of marketing email campaigns, we generally use the measurement of open rates: a metric that offers valuable insights into how recipients engage with your messages.
In this article, we will dive deeper into the world of open rates in email marketing, and how to achieve a high open rate in Email Marketing. We cover what open rates are, why they matter, and how to make the most of this essential metric.
This will help you turn your average email campaign into a stellar email that gets opened!
Understanding Open Rates in Email Marketing effectively will elevate your email marketing strategy and help you reap rich rewards.
If you are new to Email Marketing, be sure to read our What is Email Marketing guide, which explain the complete process – a great refresher for beginners & experienced marketers alike.
What Are Open Rates in Email Marketing?
Open rates are the most useful email marketing measurement criteria that quantifies the percentage of recipients who have opened an email from your campaign.
To calculate open rates, the number of email opened is divided by the number of emails delivered, providing you with a percentage that represents the level of engagement your email generates.
Email Open Rate: Number of Emails Opened / Number of Emails Delivered.
For example, lets say you have 1000 total number of subscribers in your email marketing list. If you send out 1,000 emails, all get delivered and 200 recipients open them, then your email open rate is 20%.
Note that we are using “Number of Emails Delivered”, and NOT “Number of Emails Sent” in the computation.
There is a big difference in between the two. If you choose the latter, you will reduce your Email Open Rate drastically.
You need to EXCLUDE the emails that bounced, and remained Undelivered.
Bounced email can be classified as Soft Bounce and Hard Bounce emails. A high bounce rate will also spoil your reputation with the ESP.
Excluding Hard Bounces from your calculation is best
Hard Bounce covers the following types of non-delivery emails:
- The emails undelivered due to a permanent issue, usually one of the below.
- Undelivered emails due to wrong email address, or wrong domain. This could happen due to typos. Like commonly people type their gmail.com email as gmial.com. This is clearly a typo, and results in a permanent mail delivery failure – a common hard bounce in email marketing.
- Undelivered emails due to email address no long valid (discontinued – like when people leave the organization, or closed, when people move on)
- Undelivered emails due to being rejected by Recipient Server, due to some IT Policy, or Spam filters.
Soft Bounced emails typically have a temporary problem.
Some typical Soft Bounce Issues in Email Marketing are listed below. They should be excluded too.
- Email box full
- Email Recipient out of office
- Email delivery temporarily failed
So if you send out 1,000 total emails, 50 are undelivered due to hard or soft bounce issues, and then 200 recipients open them, then your email open rate is slightly better.
This is because you only delivered 1000 – 50 = 950 emails.
Email Open Rate = 200 / 950
Email Open rate = 21.05%
Why is Understanding Email Open Rate Important?
Email Marketing Open Rate is critical because they offer an immediate glimpse into the effectiveness of your email’s subject lines, sender identity, and overall appeal.
Factors such as captivating subject lines, a trusted sender name, and content relevance play pivotal roles in enticing recipients to open your emails. Smart email marketers use these strategies to boost email open rates easily.
Failing in any of these will reduce your email open rate drastically.
12 Strategies to Boost Email Open Rates
Improving open rates requires a multifaceted approach. You can do several things to improve email open rates. I have listed the Best Practices in Improving the Email Open rates here. The good news is that they are fairly easy to understand and implement.
1. Compelling Email Subject Lines:
Crafting a compelling email subject line that pique recipients’ curiosity is a proven strategy. It leads to an email being opened or not.
However some people use gimmicky email subject lines, and abuse them by using Click Bait type of subject lines. These tend to improve the Email Open Rate, but then result in a Higher Unsubscribe rate too.
2. Building Sender Reputation:
By consistently delivering valuable content and adhering to ethical email marketing practices, you can enhance your email campaigns’ open rates over time.
3. A/B Split Testing the Email Subject Lines:
With this A/B Split Testing, Two Separate email subject lines are created. A small percent (10-20%) people get the email with the first subject line.
A similar percentage gets the second subject line with the B tests. We then wait typically for 4-6 hours, to see which subject line has a better open rate. The remaining 60-80% people get the version with the improved subject lines.
4. Relevance of the Email:
Segmenting your email list allows you to tailor content to different audience segments, increasing it’s relevance. Sending highly relevant emails is a good idea, and often results in higher open rates. You can also add a local flavor, or seasonal angle to it.
Sending email with “Thank Giving Ideas” slightly before Thanks giving, and Festive Offers just before the festival also improves open rates.
5. Using Personalization in the Email Subject & Body:
Using a Person’s name or some relevant attribute in the subject line or “Email Sent From” can also significantly improve subject lines, as it build a degree of trust, and suggests that there is an ongoing relationship with the sender, which it itself is an important factor for the success of the email campaign.
6. Aesthetically pleasing email design:
An email which looks pleasing and easy to read from its preview can also contribute significantly to higher open rates. Different email clients process email differently. Some will show the Preheader text, and others directly show the email copy. The content of your email also plays an important role in achieving good open rate in email marketing.
7. Mobile Friendly Emails:
An email that looks beautiful on mobile devices (mobile phones and tablets) can significantly improve its open rate. This is because an increasing number of people are consuming emails while on the go, on small devices.
Further, people also use “Dark Mode” on their mobiles. If the email is dark, or disappears due to dark lettering in the dark mode, it often gets deleted quickly.
8. Pruning the Email Marketing List:
Removing dead, unsubscribes, and bounced email recipients regularly from your mailing list will improve the health of your overall email list, and will build a better reputation with your ESP (Email Service Providers). Some ESPs recommend to remove inactive subscribers periodically, or try to activate them by sending an “activating campaign”.
9. Study Past Email Campaigns:
Check the past email campaigns and try to find out the reason for their low open rate. By analyzing the past emails, you can often find the mistakes you have made.
I use this technique all the time while analyzing the past email campaigns when clients first come to me. Applying this technique as the first thing allows me to pinpoint the problem easily.
And there are often easy to pick clues to their lowest open rates. It is then easy to rectify them and start getting higher open rates within just 1 email campaign.
10. Identifying the Best Time to Send Email:
Analyzing the best times to send your emails over time can result in a much better Open Rates.
Sending a B2B email over a weekend will naturally result in a poor and low email open rate. Identifying the right time of day to send will often improve the open rate immediately.
11. Double Opt-In Email Subscribers:
Having a double opt in list improve the open rates, as it shows the willingness by the email recipients to receive emails from the sender. This also improves your email list health, and reputation with the Email Service Providers.
12. Email Testing
Testing an email with a small list internally, or with a small list of trusted customers is a good strategy so that you can catch some glaring issues. It is so common for a hurried email to be sent out, full of Typos.
If the typo appears in the subject, it puts the reader off, and may not look sincere enough to warrant an open. Thus, it may end up in the Junk or Spam folder often. A well designed, good email will often end up in the Inbox rather than in the junk folder.
How To Track & Analyze Open Rates of your Email Marketing Campaigns
Tracking email open rates is often offered for free by email marketing platforms, which provide detailed data on opens and engagement patterns.
Analyzing this Open rate data over time data is crucial to understanding how your email campaigns are performing on the whole. It’s essential to identify trends and patterns in your open rate data to make informed adjustments to your strategies.
Combining open rate data with other key metrics like click-through rates (CTR) and conversion rates offers a more holistic view of your campaign’s success.
Limitation of Using Email Open Rates?
Email Open Rate is only based on the email being open. We are not tracking how long the recipient engages with the email. Are they connected or not, and did they engage or not. They might have given the email a cursory glance, and then deleted it, or unsubscribed from it immediately.
Thus, while email open rate is important, it is not an extremely reliable measure of the success of an Email marketing Campaign.
You should use it with other useful Email Marketing metrics and measures too.
Email Marketing Benchmarks and Industry Standards For Open Rates
Average email open rates can vary significantly by industry and the type of email sent.
The Open Rate for Transactional Emails, and Marketing emails is also different. Track them separately, based on the target audience, and the purpose of the email.
It’s important to be aware of these industry average benchmarks to set a realistic expectation and gauge your email marketing campaign’s success correctly.
As an example, the average open rate for e-commerce emails may differ from that of nonprofit newsletters.
Ethical Considerations of Email Open Rates
While open rates are vital for email marketing success, it’s equally important to maintain ethical practices.
Building trust with subscribers through permission-based marketing and respecting their preferences is paramount.
Avoiding spammy tactics that may artificially inflate open rates is essential for preserving your sender reputation and the integrity of your email marketing efforts.
The Future of Open Rates in Email Marketing
As technology continues to evolve, so too will the measurement and understanding of open rates.
Emerging technologies such as AI-driven personalization and advanced email analytics are poised to reshape how open rates are interpreted and utilized.
Staying attuned to these developments will be crucial for marketers looking to remain competitive in the ever-changing landscape of email marketing.
Email Open rates remain a fundamental metric in email marketing, offering a quick assessment of campaign performance.
By comprehending what open rates represent, how to calculate them, and how to leverage strategies for improvement, smart marketers can harness the power of this useful metric to create more effective email campaigns.
Ethical considerations and an eye toward the future ensure that open rates will continue to play a pivotal role in the evolving world of email marketing.
Use the Best Practices of Boosting Email Open Rates to your success, and grow your email marketing list.