The discussion is everywhere: what are your open rates? How often are people opening your newsletter? Is the metric that big of a deal? Just what is a good open rate for a newsletter?
Having a healthy and engaged newsletter is a huge goal for email marketers (including me at The Fiery Well.) And determining what healthy is between you and your email marketing service. But are open rates the best metric for determining the health of your email list?
What those open rates really mean
I often get feedback from clients, colleagues, and members alike that their open rates are “fantastic” or “satisfactory”. Yes, they are an important piece of a very large puzzle. Is that all you look at? Then they’re just another vanity metric. (Yeah, I said it. And believe me– I used to be in it, too!)
If you tell me your email open rate is over 30% I’ll congratulate you and ask: how many sales did that translate to? What segment of your subscribers? What’s your click-through rate? What’s your reply rate? Literally, what is any other metric of evaluation that you have?
Why? Email open rates are a fickle metric.
Tracking pixels: a game of digital ping-pong
How does your email service provider count your email as opened? Tracking pixels!
We embed an invisible image (tracking pixel) into the footer of your emails. Once that image/pixel is loaded, we log the email as opened.ConvertKit
When open tracking is enabled, each time you send an email campaign through Mailchimp, we embed a tiny invisible graphic in the bottom of your HTML email. This open tracker graphic, or web beacon, is unique to each campaign you send. When someone opens your email with images turned on, that graphic is downloaded from our server, and it’s recorded as an open on your campaign report.Mailchimp
It’s like a game of ping-pong. When the tracking pixel loads, it sends a signal back to your email marketing service and says “Ping! Hey, this image loaded! That means someone, or something, opened the email!”
One problem here is that not everyone allows images to load in their inbox, which skews your data. Gmail lets you turn image loading off for various reasons, including: saving data usage, decreasing load times, or reducing SPAM emails. Similarly, Outlook will let you load everything in plain text, preventing that tracking pixel from ever loading. For the privacy proactive folks, there are even browser extensions, like Ugly Email, that will block the tracking pixel from loading.
And that’s just on the subscriber side! Did you know you could send an email that’s way too long and screw up your metrics? Too long of an email and that tracking pixel never gets a chance to load, and your email is “not opened.” For it to be counted, your subscriber has to get to the bottom of the email and click “view entire message.”
All this to say: open rates will not tell you if a human opened and read your email.
Alone, open rates are a flawed metric
You want to look at the pattern of your open rates, not the number alone. What else goes with them?
- Click through rate
- Subject line A/B tests
- Reply rate
- Conversion rate
- Bounce rate
- Unsubscribe rate
- Message length & type
Open rates are a long-term metric to measure. Track them to look for trends! Look at them as part of the bigger picture.
Looking at only one point of data will give you a skewed and incomplete picture. Like a pointillism painting, you have to step back and see the whole picture to have it make any sense. Up close, they’re only dots.
And if you think that purging your list of cold subscribers will help those open rates, you are right! Yes, removing cold subscribers will automagically improve your open rates. It’s basic math!
Your open rate is calculated by dividing the subscribers who opened your email by the number of subscribers who received the email.ConvertKit
Did your marketing efforts improve? Or just the math? What’s your big picture?
Q: What is a good open rate for your newsletter?
A: An open rate that continually improves over time.
How do you get it to improve over time? Look at your data. A sudden drop in open rates from one week to the next isn’t necessarily very informative data. A steady decline, or increase, in open rates week over week is potentially more helpful.
We’ll get into removing cold subscribers next.
Let me know in the comments below: what do you think of open rates now?