How can we use the Open Rate indicator to make our campaigns better?
When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of online marketing, there are a lot of measurement indicators available, depending on the type of campaign that is being run. E-mail marketing campaigns have one specific measurement parameter, Open Rate, which is the basic indicator in reports about the campaign’s results. Open Rate is a tricky indicator though. It’s potentially misleading because there a lot of things about it that you need to be aware of before you start using it to understand the performance of your campaign. A lot of marketers even reject Open Rate – they consider it something not precise enough and something that only confuses you when drawing conclusions about the campaign. Anyway, don’t listen to that kind of advice – you know the Winnie the Pooh rule: The more, the merrier. The more indicators you have for measuring the results of your campaign, the more precise your analysis will be. You just have to take care to understand the meaning of every indicator and what you can use it for.
Mind the calculation
So let’s get to the point: what does Open Rate actually mean? Open Rate is the percentage of people who opened your e-mail compared to the number of people to whom you sent your message. You should be really aware of the way that Open Rate is generated. One of the most popular ways to calculate Open Rate is as a percentage of actually delivered e-mails. Another way is as a percentage of sent e-mails. Some software counts unique opens, but other software doesn’t. They count every single time the mail is opened – for example if a user opens your e-mail today and after two days opens it again, that’s two opens. When you know the way that your Open Rate is calculated, you can make more exact analyses of your campaign performance.
How exactly is the number of opened e-mails calculated? This statistic relies on images in HTML messages, which are downloaded by the opening of the e-mail. These images are invisible to users and are different in every single e-mail you send – so that you can see which particular user has opened the e-mail. Users don’t have a clue about this tracking. When they open their e-mail, the transparent image downloads, and the e-mail software records it and tracks it as an open.
But here comes the problem. There are some people who open their messages when they’re not online; or whose e-mail client doesn’t support HTML (like many mobile devices); or whose client automatically disables images. So the opens of these groups of users are not counted. In addition, many e-mail services count delivered e-mails in a questionable way. If the message ends up in the spam folder, it’s still being counted as delivered, although the user will never read it. These factors lower the Open Rate. On the other hand, a lot of e-mail clients have a preview pane where messages are opened, the image is displayed, and the open therefore counted – but you can’t be sure if the users have actually read the e-mails or not. If a user clicks on an e-mail, wanting to delete it, it still displays in the preview pane and counts as opened, but the user has neither read it nor engaged with it. Situations like these lead to an artificially high Open Rate. Clearly, the Open Rate is not a precise indicator. So in this case, why should we use it?
Use Open Rate as a general indicator
Open Rates do have a use for a variety of purposes. For example, they’re a great measure for comparison between different e-mails you’ve sent. You can send identical e-mails, but with different “Subject” or “From” lines, to two different groups – the variant with the better Open Rate was the better email. Structure your future “Subject” or “From” lines the same way as with this group. If you’re calculating Open Rates in the same way every time, then when the Open Rate changes this might be from something that you’ve done differently in your campaign. If the Open Rate rises after you change the colour of your design, the colour change was a good idea. If it falls, go back and try another change, maybe in the text.
Remember that the Open Rate is not an accurate measure. Use it as a general guide to the trends in your campaigns. Combine it with other parameters like clicks, actions, registrations, etc. Don’t look at the indicators separately and don’t focus on only one of them – even purchases, for example. Because if you have great success with your campaign, you should understand what the reason for this success is, and you have to look through other indicators as well.
If you see a great decrease in the Open Rate of a regular campaign (e.g. you send your e-mail every week), this may mean there is a distribution problem with some of the email addresses. Go through your list of recipients and determine if there’s any kind of trend. If users with accounts in Gmail don’t receive your message, try to find the reason and to correct it. If you see a constant decrease, consider the frequency of your e-mails; maybe you’re becoming annoying.
Good open rate?
A logical question is “What is a good Open Rate?” But there’s really no right answer to it. There are public figures on the Internet, for different industries, so you can browse for the published Open Rates that best match your industry. But be careful when comparing against them – how do they calculate Open Rates? Which market are the figures for? And in the end, everything depends on the target group and on the quality of your e-mail list. So if you can’t compare with these figures – it’s irrelevant. The Open Rate depends of tons of variables, like the time it was sent, the list of subscribers, how it was measured, the topic and many more.
But you still want a figure for a good Open Rate, right? If you get between 25% and 35%, you’re doing well. Open Rates very rarely go over 50%, so don’t expect results as high as 75-80%, for example. Improving Open Rates is simply about doing more effective email marketing, which means in fact that you should consider improving your overall strategy. Where to start? Re-read the basic 7 tips for effective e-mail marketing and try to stick to them. If you send interesting and useful information, if you try to engage with your users (not just talking to them without wanting a reaction), if you send your e-mail right on time, your Open Rate will rise. Easy to say, not so easy to do – but you’ll learn with time. And the results will be worth it!
Read more about other measuring indicators for e-mail campaigns, and how you can combine them with the Open Rate in order to understand your results better, in the next posts about e-mail marketing.