In the world of email marketing, there are many different metrics for determining a campaign’s success and even more opinions on which one is the most important. So far in this series, we’ve talked about the often-underappreciated click-through rate and how it tells you when you’re getting people’s attention and when you’re not.
We’ve also discussed conversion rate and how it’s one of the most important analytics you have at your disposal. After all, it tells you how many people are encountering your content and then taking the ultimate desired action, which is of course buying from you.
Now it’s time to address the analytic that makes all of the others possible – the email open rate.
What Is an Email Open Rate?
As you might have already guessed, email open rate is the percentage of recipients that see the subject line of the message you’ve sent and choose to read it. You calculate it by dividing the number of emails opened by the number of emails that reached their recipients’ inboxes. (If you’re calculating manually, remember to subtract the number of messages that bounced back, since they never got there to be opened in the first place.)
Most people think about open rate as a percentage, so the final step is to take the result of that calculation you just did and multiply it by 100. For example, if opens divided by receipts works out to 0.12, your email open rate is 12%.
How Does Your Open Rate Stack Up?
Like most other benchmarks in the email marketing world, average email open rates vary significantly by sector. Statistics from late 2018 show that the highest open rates are in primary and secondary education, where almost a quarter of emails get opened. Automotive services are lowest at just over 11%, not far below consultants and trainers at almost 12%.
Overall, the average open rate across industries is about 16%. But don’t get discouraged – the unsubscribe rate is only 0.03 percent.
Why You Should Care About Open Rates
It would be easy to skip over open rates when you’re reviewing analytics. After all, you’re probably most concerned with how many people are buying from you – as well you should be. But if you only look at conversion rates, you’re missing the long view.
Conversion rate gives you the short-term picture of how many people are currently buying based on your content. But open rates give you even more information.
They tell you how engaged your audience is.
Of all the reasons why someone might open an email, the sender’s name is the top reason for almost 65% of subscribers. People tend to remember the messages that they get from a person or company, and what sticks in their mind is how valuable it was. The more valuable and relevant your customers perceive your emails to be, the more likely they’ll be to open them.
If your email open rate is low, your audience might not be associating your brand with information or offers that they want. There are two primary reasons why this happens.
1. People disengage with the brand in general.
Consider this possibility if other online marketing analytics are also on the downswing. It’s fixable, but you’ll have to get more people involved beyond the marketing and content creation teams.
2. The emails they’ve gotten aren’t interesting.
Take a look at your click-through rate, which tells you how many people click on the link you give them as compared to how many read your email. If that number is going down, or if it has gone down in the lead-up to an open rate decrease, your content might need some improvement.
(That’s one counterpoint to the argument that CTR is an irrelevant analytic. For more of those, see the post from this series that addresses the value of click-through rate as a metric.)
They tell you how you’re doing at creating a mailing list.
The concept of opt-in is getting a lot of attention in the digital marketing world these days. While consent in personal relationships is earning a major presence in the news, consumer consent is drawing a line between brands that respect their customers and those that just want to increase their profits.
In marketing, opt-in is defined as someone saying yes when you ask them whether you can send them emails, offers, or other types of communication. Email services can use a single opt-in, which asks customers to fill out a form that gives permission for a company to send them messages, or the double opt-in, which adds a verification step afterward.
If your email open rate is low, it could mean that your recipients aren’t looking at your emails without being aware that they signed up to receive them. That’s how people start to ignore a company’s messages. Create an opt-in process or improve the one you have, perhaps by upgrading to double opt-in, before people start to unsubscribe or report you to email marketing regulators.
They can tell you if your timing is off.
Almost 24% of opens happen less than an hour after your email is delivered. Only a day later, open rate dips to under 1 percent. That means that if you’re sending emails when people are online, they’re more likely to read them.
You might be able to improve your email open rate simply by changing the day or time when you send.
They impact whether or not people see your messages.
You’re not the only one who cares about your email open rates. Those numbers also affect which messages are available to users who opt into smart inboxes like Google Priority Inbox, which tracks the messages that a person opens and engages with. The more someone opens your messages, the more likely they are to appear in that person’s priority inbox.
Why Do Readers Open Emails?
For 35% of your recipients, the subject line of your email determines whether or not they’ll open the message. A low open rate should encourage you to take a look at how you’re writing them.
Are they too long?
Research by Marketo shows that the fewer words a subject line uses, the more likely a recipient is to open it. In a study of more than 2 million emails in approximately 200 campaigns, subject lines with four words had the highest open rates. Those rates decreased relatively steadily as the number of words increased to nine.
Part of the reason for this trend is that more and more people are now reading emails on their mobile devices. Smartphones in portrait mode often restrict the number of characters in a subject line. For example, iPhone users can only read 41 characters in their Mail apps. It’s hard to entice people to click if they don’t manage to finish the message.
Do they imply value for the recipient?
People don’t open emails because they think it will help you; they open them because they think there’s something in it for them. Read your subject line and see if it sounds like you’re making an offer. Look for words like “free” or “coupon.”
You’ll want to stay away from anything that sounds demanding. Exclamation points are a surefire way to get your open rates to drop. Exclamation points do signify excitement, but not for the reader. They make the message sound like you’re demanding something from readers, not giving them something.
Are your words engaging?
When you only have time for a short sentence, every word has to count. Try to include words that…
Pique people’s curiosity:
Create feelings of urgency:
“Don’t miss out”
“Sale ends soon”
Have emotional content:
“Just for you”
“Here’s your coupon”
Using the recipient’s name also helps recipients to feel like they’re getting personal messages from you. To make this come across even better, try using a person’s name as the sender, whether it’s yours or belongs to another member of your team.
A message type is also suggested within an email’s subject line, and it has a significant effect in determining whether someone opens an email.
The highest open rates belong to triggered emails, which go out in response to an action a customer has taken. Those actions can be anything that the marketer has plugged into an email automation program. Purchases and product page browsing are common examples.
Recent data from GetResponse shows that triggered emails have an open rate of about 46.5%, but even within that category, there is variation. Cart abandonment emails have a high open rate at 48%, largely because they tend to be timely and relevant to the person’s current thought process. The Welcome emails have the highest by far at 84.2% – so if you send any marketing emails, make it this one.
The lowest? Newsletters.
Why the difference? According to the experts who collected the data, emails with the best open rates are those that are most timely and relevant. Take cart abandonment emails, for example. The customer was presumably looking at the items shortly before the email was sent, so a message about those items is more likely to be enticing then as opposed to later.
For your email advertising strategy to work, you have to constantly be tracking analytics and adjusting your content accordingly. Metrics that you’ve already learned about earlier in this series, like CTR and conversion rate, are certainly important. But a customer can’t click through and make a purchase if that person never reads the email.
Remember that people see three things before they open an email:
These are the factors that can influence your open rate, so pay attention to all of them if you’re not getting the readership you want. It might take some analysis to figure out whether the problem is the length of your subject line, the words you’re using, or when you’re sending it, but remember – when your open rate increases, you have more people moving through the pipeline toward purchase.
Check out all of the articles in the ‘Email Marketing’ series:
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.