Why are email open rates deceptive?

One of the most touted benefits of using email to communicate with customers is the ability to measure recipients’ interactions with the email, via extensive tracking systems. And the first statistic most companies look at is the open rate. Big mistake.

The open rate metric just can’t be trusted.

It seems obvious that an open rate tells you the percentage of people who “open” and read the email sent to them. And, in some cases it does. But in order for an email to qualify as opened it must meet one of two criteria: the images in the email must load, or the recipient must click one of the links within the email.

So why can’t open rates be trusted? Plenty of recipients are reading text without loading images.

Think of the process. You send out an eNewsletter designed to be appealing, with an attention-grabbing subject line and photo of your product. When it arrives in a customer’s mailbox, the subject line lets them know that this could be information they want. A recipient sees your eNewsletter and reads it right in the preview pane of his or her mailbox.

But in most modern email programs, the email settings automatically block images to speed up loading processes and protect inboxes from spam or viruses. Outlook Express, Yahoo!, AOL, MSN Hotmail — they all have defaults that cause them to screen out images unless a recipient requests to “load images.” A recent Epsilon Interactive study found that 30 percent of all recipients are unaware that images are turned off.

So, even though a recipient read large chunks of your email, it may not be counted as “opened.” As more people opt to read plain text emails without loading images, the open rate metric becomes less and less valid. (There are a number of strategies that help senders keep their messages interesting even when the images are turned off. For more on this strategy, drop us an email or give us a call.)

So, how do you measure email success? Most experts recommend that you move toward using another metric: unique click-through rate. Currently, the unique click-through rate has become the most definitive way to track and measure the success of an email marketing campaign.

The unique click-through rate measures how many unique users clicked on each link (so if you click three times on the same link, you are only counted as one unique user). This means that email campaign managers should pay attention to how and where they include links within their emails.

There are many ways to showcase and use links to promote user engagement. You can:

  • Prominently display links to contests
  • Excerpt a small part of a feature article and link to the full story or the company website
  • Run an instant poll that allows visitors to vote and see results
  • Provide links to relevant or related stories from past issues

If you want to make sure you are engaging your audience and using valid metrics, give us a call or send us an email. We would love to chat.