Solving Open Rate Mysteries
Why do people open my email so many times? And other common questions answered
When people are first introduced to email marketing, they are thrilled to find that they can get detailed reporting that tells them who is (or isn't) opening their emails and what they're clicking on. But then they take a look at the open rate report and it brings up more questions than it answers.
It's no surprise that many email marketers are confused by what they see in an open rate report. After all, they are not as straightforward as one would assume they would be. Further, an email that on the surface might seem to be unsuccessful could be just the opposite.
Let's take a look at some common questions that come up when it comes to deciphering your open rate report.
What is an open rate?
Perhaps a better way to think of an open rate is to call it an 'interaction rate.' This number is the percentage of those on your list who either clicked on a link or enabled the images in the email to display on the screen. Emails that are bounced and don't make it to the recipient are not counted in this number. Also, the percentage you see in your report is the number of "unique opens," so even if a recipient looks at your email multiple times, it will only be counted once.
Alright, but what is an 'open'?
An open isn't really an open in the conventional sense. It's an indication that a link has been clicked or that a particular tiny image has been displayed. Every time you send an email campaign, it actually contains this tiny, invisible image. You can't see it, and neither can your recipients, but the image is important because when it's displayed, it sends a signal back to its "home base" (in this case, the server of your email service provider) that it has been "seen."
An email is considered "opened" whenever this image is displayed. This means that if a person has set his preferences to not display the images in emails, or if he receives a text-only version of your email, he can read your message and it will not count -- and accordingly, it will not be included in your open rate. It also means that a person could have his images automatically turned on and can simply have the email in the preview pane of his email client and it will be considered "opened," even though he has not actually read the message.
Further, if a person opens your email, puts it aside, and then comes back to it again later that day, then the next day, and twice more, her email address will show up on your opens list five times because the image has been displayed that many times. Also, if someone clicks on one of the links in your email, it counts as an open every time that link or any other link is clicked. However, in both cases, only that first time will be counted in your open rate.
How accurate is my open rate?
Unfortunately, your open rate report can only give you a representation of the number of people who are seeing your email. That said, the good news is that because not all opens are registered (as in the case of text-only readers, for example), your rates are actually, probably higher than they are reported to be.
How should I judge my open rates?
It would be easy to tell you that there is one definitive number that makes for a good open rate. But the truth is, average open rates can range from as low as 15 percent to as high as 50 percent based on the type of organization and business. Why so low? Well, remember: many email services (like AOL and Gmail) are automatically turning off images from displaying. It's highly likely that more people are seeing your message than your open report is showing.
That said, if you want something to shoot for, there is no shortage of information when it comes to industry benchmarks (click here to see the open rates of Constant Contact's customers). In general, it's better not to focus on the specific numbers and think about what's good for you, relative to other emails you send. Or, better yet, look at your click-through rate report to see what content is most engaging to your readers, and use that to gauge how successful your emails are.
Regardless of what the open rate is, Constant Contact has a 97 percent delivery rate -- as verified by Return Path -- so you can rest easy knowing that your email is getting to its destination, even if it's not being counted as an "open."
Why is my open rate declining over time?
It's normal for this to happen after the first few times you send. When list members get your first few emails, they are curious because they haven't received anything from you before. But after you've been emailing for a while, the curiosity factor is curbed. On the good side, once you've settled into a regular pattern of emailing, you can see from who opens your email who is truly interested in what you have to say.
Anything else I should know?
Always look beyond the numbers. Even if your open rates are consistent, there is a good chance that it's not the same people opening your emails every time you send. Take yourself as an example. You may open a newsletter from the local food pantry in December but not in January, while your neighbor might not open it in December but will in January. The open rate would be the same for both months, but different people would be on the list of who opened the message.
Are there ways to increase my open rate?
There sure are. Click here to learn a few.