Is Email Open Rate a Good Measure of Marketing Success?
Depending upon the ultimate goal of your email marketing campaign, Camp Director Mark Kilens and I both feel that the open rate has limited significance as a defining metric.
For a long time, marketers have placed a lot of weight upon open rates, seeing it as a measure of email campaign effectiveness. However, it is not only unable to provide any deep insight into customer response, but it is also subject to variations in measurement.
And, precisely because of this lack of universal measurement or standards across email service providers, open rates can be defined differently when people view their emails through a preview pane, something which is classed as an ‘opened email’ in some email reports, and not in others. The open rate line is also blurred by disabled images and non-html friendly mobile phones, both of which cause more ambiguity as to whether an email is recorded as having been opened or not.
The open rate is unable to provide any information beyond that the email was opened. It does not shed any light on what the recipient did after the email was opened. Did they click off the email immediately when they read the header? How much of the email did they read? The open rate tells you only how well people have responded to a combination of your subject line, and your company’s name, which is in the ‘from’ field.
And, what is considered a good open rate?
Really, there is no typical, good, or standard email open rate. The rate obtained for any list, or group of lists will depend on how it was measured, when it was sent, the size of the list and a whole host of other variables. There is no shortage of benchmark numbers out there, but even between benchmark figures you will find big variation in the reported open rates.
According to a recent blog post from Junta42, email newsletter open rates can range from a low of about 8% open rate to a high of 45% open rate.
- The average open rates for decent enewsletters are mid- to high-teens.
- Monthly enewsletters average in the low 20% range.
- Daily enewsletters average in the mid-teens.
But, not everyone agrees with us. Darn.
Following our last session, Email Marketing Content Camper Mark Lennon of Espresso B2B Marketing, had this to say in response to our assertion that open rates do not matter:
We understand all of the weakness associated with the metric. We know that the rates are not completely reliable and we understand all of the reasons for the unreliability. Nevertheless, they do have value.
If we send out an email, and we want to test two different subject lines, we can use the open rate to understand which subject line is more effective.
For example, if we send out 1000 emails with subject line A, and 1000 emails with subject B, and the open rates are:
It's pretty safe to assume that subject line B is more effective. Are there some false opens? Absolutely. But we assume a similar rate of false opens across both test groups.
Think about polling people on who they are going to vote for? Some people are going to lie. Does that mean that you shouldn't bother making polls? Of course not. Even with the lies, you can reach some conclusions from the poll.
HubSpot likes to say that click-through rates are all that matters. But if all I have is the click-through rate, I don't know whether my subject line bombed, or whether the email body was at fault. If my email never gets opened, I can have the best email message in the world inside and nobody will know it. The open rate helps me separate subject line performance from email body performance.
Likewise, we like to compare email click-thru rates with actual download rates. That can give us hints regarding the landing page effectiveness. If 100 people click-through the email, but only 20 download the white paper, we're going to take another look at the landing page.
These metrics, even with their individual flaws, help us get better.
And, we agree with you.
But why calculate the open rate at all? Because, as with most statistics, while the open rate may not tell you much as a stand-alone metric, as a part of the bigger picture, it can highlight important information. The open rate represents the first ‘hurdle’ to pass over to get closer to your ultimate objective. If you are finding that a large group of people aren’t opening your emails, it may be necessary to test out different subject lines, alter the ‘from’ address, or maybe even double check that your emails are being delivered. After all, anybody that doesn’t jump over the first hurdle certainly won’t be making it to the end.
After all, what is the ultimate goal of your inbound marketing campaign – to get recipients to fill in a form, purchase your product or subscribe to a newsletter? All of these actions require the recipient to travel much further down the sales path, and so the open rate is not a very accurate indicator of a campaign’s true performance.
What do you think about email open rate as a leading indicator for marketing success?
Image credit: jkfid