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A closer look at email open rates

In the early days of email marketing open rates along with and deliverability rates were the only ways to determine campaign performance. Luckily, there are now a number of tools to better analyse success rates, but does that mean that email open rates should be disregarded?
A closer look at email open rates
Tracking results is the only way to establish whether the emails your business are sending out are actually performing and making a difference in your marketing strategy. Email open rates make up part of these results. Put simply, open rate is a metric to track how many of the emails you send out are being opened by your subscribers - the amount of total delivered emails that were opened.

Measuring open rates

When each email is sent out, a piece of code is added that requests a small, undetectable image from the relevant web servers. Thus, when a reader opens an email, the image is downloaded, allowing companies to record that download as an open for that specific email.

However, it's important to keep in mind that the open rate is not a 100% accurate measure. Recording an 'open' is only possible if the reader's email client is capable of displaying html with images, and if that option is activated within their email client. Therefore, companies that are sending text-only emails will not be able to record open rates (with the exception being if the text email contains a clickable link). Similarly, people who receive html mailers with the images disabled will not be recorded as 'opens'.

Opening rates vary from email campaign to campaign. The rate obtained for any list, or group of lists will differ according to how it was measured, when it was sent, the size of the list and a host of other potential variables. There are some trends though - niche topics as well as organizations that focus on specific supporters are more likely to see higher open rates, while large companies with extensive databases often see lower open rates. Generally however, a figure between 20 and 40% is considered an average open rate.

Don't be fooled

Of course a high open rate for any email campaign means that you're doing something right, but it is important to remember that an open rate only tells us half the story. Opening an email does not necessarily amount to any valuable interaction with the email - the mere fact that the email was opened does not mean that the recipient read it, saw the pictures or clicked through on any of the embedded links.

Even though email open rates are not the only or the most accurate indicator of success, they do indicate that people are following through on the first step of coming into contact with your marketing - which in itself is a good thing at any rate.

Here are some pointers that will help improve you company's email open rate:
  • Subject lines
Email subject lines should always aim to be snappy, succinct and accurate. It's also important to avoid using spam phrases at all costs. These would include old classics such as: Congratulations, Winner, Free Stuff etc. Rather, try to include as much detail as possible regarding the contents of the mailer - this will entice the reader and hopefully nudge them towards opening and reading.
  • Trim the excess for success
Make sure that you are receiving reports that allow you to determine which emails are either bouncing or which subscribers are not opening your emails on a consistent basis. Pulling people from your list who never open your emails can radically increase your open rate. This will also allow you to hone in on the remaining subscribers by formulating targeted campaigns that's much more likely get a solid response.
  • Eye-catching Layout
When designing a mailer a good idea is to focus important content at the very top. Many email clients display the top half of unopened emails allowing the reader to get a sneak peek at what's inside. Eye grabbing content could lures the reader and could potentially result in an opened mailer.
  • Excellent timing
Luckily in this case timing is not everything but it can make a positive difference to your campaign. Emails that appear in inboxes at the right time are much more likely to be opened and read. People's schedules are busy, so grabbing their attention while they are sitting down and committing to checking their emails is the best strategy here. During lunch or after work generally sees a spike in email checking - particularly those that do not necessarily pertain to work.

Open rates are a valuable measure that can indicate whether your campaigns are working or not - but its inaccuracy and many variables can often be misleading. A good idea would be to consider open rate data alongside other results data as part of a holistic approach when measuring campaign effectiveness.

11 Apr 2012 11:17



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