16 February 2017 - Sharon Beilis

Professional email marketing is part art and part science. The art is about crafting messages and designs that compel subscribers to act… the science part is about understanding statistics and using them to guide optimizations and improvements.
We all don our Scientist hat to examine those KPIs that have been drilled into our minds as being critically important: from bounce rate to deliverability, from unsubs to opens.
We then use these numbers to guide us as we do our Artist hat (beret?). A low open rate means we need to create better subject lines, right?

There are several reasons why open rates are not as important as we all thought.

1. Email Open Rates are Unreliable

The first reason that email open rates are not a good indication of success (or failure) of a given email campaign is because they are unreliable. Actually, that is not entirely true. When an email is registered as “open” it typically is accurate…the email really was opened. However, when emails are marked as “unopened,” that may not be the case. Email open stats rely on a small graphic pixel placed within the email. If emails are opened without the graphics being loaded, the open is not registered.

Many email programs (like Outlook, for example) have a “preview pane” in which users see most (if not all) of the message without ever opening the email – these are not recorded as “opened.” Other programs open messages as text-only, without the graphics, and therefore, they do not register as open.

2. Email Open Rates Don’t Always Correlate to Conversions or Sales

Let’s imagine for a minute that email open rates were accurate – this still would not make them a good metric. A good metric is anything that is correlated to the goal of the email. Is your goal sales? Leads? Email open rates rarely have a direct correlation to those. Consider the reason more people open emails:

A. Perhaps the subject line was intriguing – but if the message inside isn’t equally fantastic, they will never click through

B. Perhaps they are annoyed and want to unsubscribe and need to open the message for the unsub link – in that case, the open is not a good sign at all

C. Perhaps they came exactly at the right time – we have explained before that there is no perfect time to send an email but if yours hits recipients just as they are cleaning up their mailboxes – they may open it – and trash it

An email open is not a good indicator and cannot be properly measured. In our data-driven times, if having no data is bad, then having wrong data is much worse. Instead of measuring open rates, measure metrics that are much more indicative of the success of your campaign. If your goal is sales, measure sales that resulted from your email. If your goal in engagement, measure that. If your goal is opens… get a better goal!