The Open Rate: What does it all mean?
In previous posts we have described a condition with which many email marketers are afflicted. This "disease" can break down a marketer, bringing all marketing progress to a halt by infecting it with confusion and distress.
'Analytic paralysis' is the condition of being completely obsessed with the analytic reports of your email campaigns. Those who have this illness disregard common sense and place far too much importance on numbers they don't really understand.
I hope to cure some cases of analytic paralysis by discussing and debunking the myths surrounding email open rates. An email open rate is supposedly the number of people who have opened and read your email. It was created for the purpose of giving marketers a way to see how many people opened their email rather than just deleting it on the spot. The problem is, these numbers are almost always blurred and don't give accurate real time representations of how many recipients actually read an email.
Why are the numbers skewed?
Statistics show that 84% of people 18-34 use an email preview pane. An email preview pane exists in email clients such as Outlook and Thunderbird. It allows readers to view a preview of their email in a small window under or next to the inbox. The way opens are reported when an email is viewed in a preview pane are inconsistent. In many instances, a recipient may have read an email in their preview pane but their view will not register in the open rate.
Email open rates are collected based on a hidden image placed into an email. When this hidden image is loaded, the recipient is counted as an open. Many email programs, including Outlook and Gmail, block images automatically. This means that users who have viewed an email will not be counted as an open unless they go out of their way to allow the images of the email to be loaded. This is something many people don't do even if they value the content of the email.
So what does this all mean to you, an email marketer trying to find a good way to judge the success of your emails? Basically, it means that open rates are a great way to compare campaigns against one another, but not for much else. If your open rates increase or decrease drastically you'll know you're either doing something right or you screwed up.
Open rates are not a particularly good way to judge the individual success of a campaign or your email marketing efforts in general. A low open rate may seem discouraging, but the percentages reported can be very misleading. An open rate percentage should not be used as a hard and fast number to report how many people you have reached. A more effective judge of success of any email campaign is the click-through rate. Click-throughs are recorded more accurately and give reliable data on who has acted based on an email. Getting people to act based on an email is the real goal anyway.
Don't let confusing numbers throw a wrench in your efforts. If you're doing the right things in your email campaign, such as providing valuable content, avoiding spam flags and sending to a good list, you will have success.
Avoid analytic paralysis by trying to remember this information, and don't forget, advertising can only bring customers to your product. You are responsible for giving them something of quality when they get there. No amount of advertising, regardless of its brilliance, can maintain a bad product.