Why You Shouldn’t Worry (as Much) About Email Open Rates

Email open rates. We love them. We hate them. We obsess over them. They are typically the first thing we check in our email reporting (after number delivered). We anxiously compare them to industry standards. And we’re constantly trying to get them ever higher.

However, maybe we’re obsessing a little too much about open rates as open rates. There is much that we can learn from our email open rates beyond the basic question, “How many people opened our email?”

The danger inherent in only looking at opens as opens
With your diligent efforts to improve, your open rate might increase from 22.36% to 23.01% or even double, from 18% to 36%, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything good happened. You can have a higher open rate and a lower click-through or even conversion rate. Don’t just look at the opens. You run the risk of being misled and losing the bigger picture view of your email’s performance, thinking that your campaign was more successful than it really was.

What can you learn from your email open rates?
In addition to expanding your analytical view to understand how your email open rates fit into a campaign’s overall performance, also consider all the information you could be gathering from that metric. For example, in addition to the numbers of people engaged enough to open your email, open rates can tell you:

  • The effectiveness of subject line (good or bad)
  • The quality of your list (low or high)
  • The frequency and/or cadenceof your sends (too many, too few, just right)
  • How well you’re segmenting
  • The best days and times for sending email

This is all valuable information that you can and should use to improve your open rate because increasing your open rate should help to increase your conversion rate. (No one can buy if they don’t open the email first, right?) You want more people engaged. You want a better subject line. You want to improve the quality of your list, etc. These are all worthwhile endeavors, and all will benefit your overall email marketing program.

Keep the end goal in mind
Focusing too much on opens as opens can also distract you from your real goal. And your goal isn’t necessary a sale, or anything associated with a dollar figure. Your goal might be:

  • Raising brand awareness
  • Getting a content asset downloaded
  • Gaining social followers or likes
  • Growing your email list
  • Re-activating inactive subscribers
  • Selling products or services
  • Getting people registered for a webinar

Whatever your definition of a “conversion” for a particular campaign, your open rate is only one step in the process of getting those conversions. That’s why I highly recommend that you look at your email open rates in the context of all of your other metrics too, including your click-through rate (CTR), as well as your click-to-open (CTO) ratio.

Keeping email open rates in perspective
Here’s one final argument for not focusing too much on your open rate: You must keep things in perspective. Let’s say your business sells million dollar yachts, and you have a niche in-house email list of about 2,000 names. If your open rate is 20%, that’s only 400 people, and that seems small, right? And if of those 400 people, only 8 click on a link, then you also have a very low click-to-open rate of 2%. And let’s say of those 8 people, only one buys a yacht, that means your conversion rate is a mere 5%.

But guess what? You made a million dollar sale. You don’t need a high open rate to generate an email ROI in a business like that! Always pay attention to your open rates, but avoid getting too focused on that one metric. Consider all the information you can glean from it, and be mindful of that metric’s meaning within the bigger picture of your overall email marketing performance.