What your email opens are telling you

5 minute read

One of the neat things about email marketing is that if you need data there’s certainly no shortage of performance metrics at your fingertips. But what do they mean and how can you use them to improve?

There are many commonly quoted email metrics – delivered, opens, clicks, unsubscribes, click to opens and unsubscribe to opens to name just a few. Of these ‘opens’ (or open rate) is often the first ‘go-to’ performance indicator.



Firstly, the definition.

Opens quantifies those who open your messages (of course it does!). It’s based on and can be quoted as an absolute value, but it’s more commonly referred to as a percentage – that is the percentage of delivered emails which are opened by the recipient. Again, it’s normally quoted in relation to the number of emails delivered, not the number sent. In an ideal world this makes little difference as failed delivery should be minimal – if not there’s a problem to investigate. Also, typically, to avoid inconsistencies from multiple opens, it’s usually defined using the unique opens only.

So what should you expect?

Our current benchmark figures indicate an average open rate, across all of the 25 sectors that we track, of 24.45%. However it is highly variable, with the individual industry sector averages ranging from 17% to 37%. Many factors contribute to the observed variability. The time of send (anything from the hour of the day to the time of year) is often used as a next level drill-down.

opens (blog)

24.45% might not seem very high, especially bearing in mind that this figure is based on valid permission-based subscription. At least in principle, these messages are anticipated and welcome. You’d be right. In many cases opens can be significantly higher than the average – ‘welcome’ emails are a good example where open rates frequently greatly exceed the average. In fact our experience shows that welcome emails are probably the most opened emails you will send – so there’s an opportunity to grab.

What do your open rates tell you?

Open rates are generally a good indication of the anticipation and expected appeal of your message not the content of the message itself. Subject line, sender (that’s your from address) and timing are all important factors here. Get these right and your opens will surely increase. By the way, it’s worth noting that an email open is triggered by rendering of an included image pixel. Since images are routinely downloaded (especially on mobile devices) there is still some interpretation as to the true value of the open metric – and of course, open is no indication that the message has been read or engaged with.

Open rates for a single campaign tell you exactly that. If you want to assess your performance more objectively you’ll need to track multiple campaigns over an extended period of time. This is also gives you useful trend information and provides a relative benchmark level against which individual campaigns can be measured.

So all things considered, opens already provides some useful insight. However, open is just your first hurdle. Unless pure eye-time brand exposure is your objective, what your subscribers do next is in many ways more important. For this you’ll need to look at your clicks, goal achievements and engagement behaviour – but that’s another blog for another day.

Want more?

In the meantime if you’d like to know more about the industry statistics I mentioned earlier you can find them all in our 2015 Email Marketing Benchmark Report. It’s free to download and contains lots more metrics, analysis and practical tips for improvement.