Email Open Rates: Ways to improve your email open rates 

Email open rates indicate how strong you are at your marketing game and therefore working on ways you can improve them can help you heaps in driving specific behaviours and thus achieving your business goals.

Robbie Fitzwater
Updated on

Email open rates are essential to understanding and improving. They are by no means the end-all-be-all for judging the performance of your email efforts, but as a directional indicator, they are helpful. And as you have to open an email before you can take action on it, improving your open rate will drive your efforts forward.

Because there are a lot of questions, confusion, and misconceptions around email open rates, we wanted to unpack everything you need to know to get them up!

Here is what we’ll cover:

  1. What is the email open rate?
  2. What does a good open rate look like?
    1. Open Rates for Campaign Emails
    2. Open Rates for Automated Emails
    3. Open Rates for Transactional Emails
  3. Are open rates accurate?
    1. Measurement Framework
  4. What affects email open rates?
  5. How to improve the open rates?
  6. Conclusion

What is the email open rate?

Email open rate is a marketing metric that gives you the percentage of the people who opened the emails sent by your business. This is based on the people who actually received the emails.

Email open rate metric proves to be a helpful indicator in determining how well your subject lines and preview texts are working. It lets you figure out how seriously your audience takes your emails. In too many cases, people might also use this as a north star metric or as Key Performance Indicator (KPI).

However, while significant, the open rate is essentially a vanity metric. Because if you are driving opens but not conducting business results, the goal and the outcome need to be aligned.

So, while it is an essential indicator for the success of making sure you’re going down the right path, it’s not the only thing you should be measuring.

What does a good open rate look like?

According to the Email Marketing Benchmarks by Mailchimp, the average open rate across all industries is 21.33%, as shown in the figure below:

Mailchimp study about open rates
Based on the Mailchimp study in 2019, a 20% open rate on average is a good number. However, it highly depends on the industry.

So, what are the underlying factors that affect the open rate? Let’s discuss it in detail here:

  • Depending on the Industry 

These numbers may go higher or lower depending on the type of industry you are in and what vertical you’re spending time in. 

Whether it is B2B or B2C, or is it e-commerce? The goal is to understand what is going to be the purpose of your emails.

And that will be very helpful in understanding why people will be opening your emails or what will be the draw for those open.

  • Depending on the type of email

The open rate of the emails you send may also depend on the email type. Basically, in email marketing, we have three types:

Open Rates for Campaign Emails

These are the emails that are sent to a specific list of the audience at a particular time to get a specific behavior. They aim to drive specific behaviors from the audience; however, they might lack personal context.

As these emails don’t have a very high context. That’s why their open rate might be the lowest of all other types. But still, it is essential to see that it is being sent to a broad list of customers and that 20% for campaigns will be a significant number you want to look at.

Open Rates for Automated Emails

Automated emails (or flows for the Klaviyo crowd) are emails sent based on specific triggered behaviors of the audience. Customers perform a particular action, they get a separate email. 

They are based on customers’ behaviors and are highly contextual and personalized. They usually hit right on the spot of a customer’s need. And that’s why customers are likelier to open and engage with those emails. This means that the open rate for these emails might be a little higher. 

Connecting content with context creates something significant and impactful for the customer. As a result, these emails typically have a higher open rate. 

On average, the open rate for automated email is 50% to 80%, which is quite successful. 

Adding high-level context is genuinely beneficial. They can perform well if you can elevate their quality without additional segmentation and personalization. In other words, these well-structured emails can yield impressive results.

Open Rates for Transactional Emails

The other area of emails is transactional emails. These are the emails you send to a customer regarding their purchase. For example, an order confirmation email or the shipping confirmation email. These are going to be validating a transaction or validating an exchange.

So as these emails are going to be even more personalized because they will have a hundred percent deliverability which means these can’t end up in your audience’s spam folder. As these would carry important information for the audience regarding their purchase, they will end up in their inbox instead of newsletter promotions in Gmail.

With such high context, these emails have an average 70% open rate. So, as a whole, as a kind of entity or a type of email, these emails have the highest available rates.

Are open rates accurate?

As marketers, people have found it difficult to answer this question in the past few years due to some ambiguity in the data and the findings. 

For example, in September 2021, the new Apple iOS update, 15.5 came out in which anything on Mobile Apple Mail or Mobile Safari Browser showed as “open”; this gives a false indicator that someone opened it. 

Since then, this has caused an overinflation in open rates for those email clients.

It can sometimes be challenging to figure out how much of your open rate will be skewed by these false indicators, ultimately distorting the data. 

That is why marketers are concerned with identifying who’s opening through a mobile browser or a Safari mobile browser. And so, they must be careful to take those begin with a grain of salt because they are not as accurate. 

The significance of the open rate falls flat from there because you could have a super high open rate, but if nobody’s taking action or clicking into an email or taking the action you want, it doesn’t matter.

But it is also essential to understand how this all fits into your measurement framework and how effective it is in driving the behavior you want to see.

Measurement Framework

Regarding Email open rates, it is essential to see our measurement framework. So there are three different layers of measurements which include:

  • Engagement-based metrics 
  • Performance-based metrics
  • Value-based metrics
Measurement Framework

In engagement-based metrics, we can get a good insight into our audience’s involvement with our emails from their click and/or open rates. 

These engagement-based metrics show only the individual-based performance of the email. You’ve got to have an open to get a click on it. So that’s where you want to get those opens and perform well. But from there, you want to drive the behavior you want to see. And both of those stand-alone indicators will help the individual email marketer. 

As you progress to a higher level, you may shift your focus to business-specific or team-specific metrics. These could include measuring the number of repeat purchasers, among other key indicators. And that’s also going to ladder up to higher-level business outcomes or business objectives of increasing the lifetime value of a customer.

Open and click rates are good indicators for a marketer as an individual to understand whether what they are doing with the emails is right in line or not.

They may also serve as an indicator if something drops quickly. If opens and clicks fall off a cliff, it may be related to a deliverability-related issue, meaning that you may be in the Gmail/Yahoo mail doghouse in terms of hitting the spam folder. What is needed here is to button up your list hygiene to ensure you are gradually moving out of the spam folder and seen by email clients as a reputable sender.

So as an indicator, open rates give good directional insights. But for marketers, know you should use them as a compass, not a map.

What affects email open rates?

Multiple factors impact open email rates in email marketing, and we have listed a few of those down for you:

  • Relevance of content

The relevancy of the content will be one major component of the effectiveness of the open rate. Suppose you are a clothing business sending emails about warm clothing during July and August to the Southern region’s audience; it will be highly irrelevant content for them.

They are going to only open such emails by reading the subject line. It’s not going to be valuable to them at that moment. 

So it’s essential to understand that connecting the content with the context and sending the right message to the right person at the right time will get you high open rates. 

  • Variation in messaging

The variation of messaging will also be significant for the open rate. So if you keep sending the same email repeatedly with repetitive content and very similar messages, that will burn your audience out. Many e-commerce businesses fall into this trap, where they send repetitive messages regarding their sales. 

Another thing businesses don’t realize is that frequent sales of your products mean you’re devaluing your brand. You commodify your brand because when everything is always on sale, nothing is on sale.

“When everything is always on sale, nothing is on sale.”

In that case, people may not buy from you, assuming your brand needs more value. On the other hand, if they do purchase, they’ll likely take you always have a sale. And then you’re going to have to go back and retrain your customers not to expect that every single time they purchase.

So that’s why if you’re doing the same thing repeatedly, like a used car lot, nothing is engaging about sale, sale, sale messaging.

Vary your messaging to keep things fresh.

  • List hygiene

List hygiene is one of the critical factors that impact the open rate. 

It refers to sending relevant messages to relevant subscribers. You will only hit the inbox more frequently in Gmail if you have good list hygiene or a poor sender score.

You be hitting their spam folder or being forwarded to the newsletter or promotions tab. And if that is the case, then it’s hard to get open because people don’t check those as often, and you aren’t going to be seen as much.

  • Value-added through content

There is another factor to consider, too. If you’re a newsletter-based company or a substack, those businesses typically may have higher open rates because their content will be more valuable.

This happens because if somebody subscribes to a substack list, they will probably open those more frequently. After all, they’re probably paying for it. 

So you must understand what type of content you are sharing. Is it more promotional-based or more content-based? For example, giving our model here at MKTG Rhythm. We like to focus on more content marketing because it’s a powerful way to build relationships, be relevant, and build a rhythm of communication with our audience.

So that is why we recommend keeping things relevant and fresh and adding value to your content so your audience stays engaged. Don’t constantly try to promote only because there’s a time and a place for a promotional event. 

Don’t know where to start with content marketing? We put together this blog with strategies and tips on where and how to start: Content Marketing: Where To Start And How To Be Successful?

How to improve the open rates?

Below enlisted are some simple ways you can improve your open rates:

  • Know your audience 

To improve your open rates, the first crucial thing to consider is to become familiar with your audience. 

Knowing what they need and when they need it is an important insight to connect the content with context accordingly. For example, understanding your audience is going to help you know what are going to be the best times to communicate with them. 

Suppose you’re running a children’s clothing company. Having identified your audience as primary mothers of young children, you can strategically plan your email-sending routines accordingly.

In this case, your audience consists of parents with young children who demand much time and attention during the day. Consequently, they might be less available during daytime hours. Additionally, their weekdays might be busy due to their children’s regular schedules.

So as a savvy marketer, you need to know the context of their day to understand when to send. 

For this audience, they were most likely to be available around nighttime, usually after 8:00 PM. They would put their young children to bed and then sit on their couch catching up on their phones. They may have the same behaviors on the weekends because they keep their kids on a schedule and can’t do as much with young children.

So this is a crucial step when considering what’s happening in our customers’ lives. Understanding your audience provides significant insight and power. It helps discern what messages they might prefer and the ideal time to reach them. 

Knowing your audience can also be super helpful in segmenting them. When sending a highly targeted message to a specific audience segment, ensuring it reaches the right group at the right time is crucial. Precision in timing and audience selection is essential for effective communication and engagement.

For example, you don’t want to send “how to stay warm” content to a group in the Northern Hemisphere in the summer. That would be completely irrelevant and not look good for your business.

  • Vary your messaging 

To achieve higher open rates, a crucial strategy is to diversify the content of your messages. By ensuring your content remains fresh and relevant, you avoid repetitive messaging and maintain audience engagement.

Good messaging is like a concert setting where a good variation of music helps you a lot. You’re doing a few different things, but you’re serving different audiences and ways to communicate with each of them.

So if you’re a good musician, you will be experimenting with new music consistently. You will be testing on the road and in front of the audience so you can see what’s working and what’s not. What’s attracting more audience and selling more tickets? 

You would be tweaking, perfecting, and polishing things. That will help you stay forward, leaning on your toes as a marketer evolving what you’re doing through your email campaigns and automation.

With all this, you should also incorporate deeper tracks by targeting more segmented and narrow audiences. Hopefully, more impactful groups. That would be like a band playing that song they haven’t played in seven years. And only their super fans would be the ones that will get it. They’d be the ones bawling their eyes out at the concert.

This is how you create a meaningful impact in your work, targeting those eagerly anticipating your content. In marketing, the goal is to send precisely targeted and segmented emails that leave a lasting impression. By focusing on high-impact communication, you can engage your desired audience effectively.

As a singer performing at a concert, you also play the hits from your albums. The songs that everybody knows the lyrics to so that you have those singalongs where everybody is participating and singing at the top of their lungs.

In marketing, that’s how you would also want to play. You may use previous content that has been a big success. You might use it in a different context to drive other actions and get people engaged and involved. 

It’s like clockwork, where you can recycle content year after year. But we will use that when we want to tee up other things. So, before you want to tee up a promotion or a sale, you can focus a little bit more on being salesy, engaging everyone through a piece of valuable content. After that, here’s where you can fit your promotional emails and be slightly more heavy-handed in your communication. Now you might have earned the right to ask for more. And that’s ideally, by the time you’ve gotten there, you have your audience so engaged that they’re ready to buy anyways.

  • Keeping the list clean

As we talked about this one earlier, again, making sure we keep your lists clean is very important. 

Cleaning your list and getting people off your lists who are not engaging makes it valuable and a business asset. 

Recognizing that certain audience members might only find your emails in their spam folder is essential. Even if your emails make it to their inbox, a lack of engagement indicates the need to remove them from your list. Doing so can prevent them from negatively impacting your open rate metric.  

  • A/B testing

A/B testing or just testing, in general, is going to be another way to help you understand what will work and what’s not. The focus here revolves around determining suitable automation strategies for different audience segments. Additionally, it involves exploring effective subject lines tailored to each specific audience. Whether adding emojis in the subject and preview or not? Or does making it suspenseful or comical work or not? All these questions can only be answered through testing and experimenting.

  • Email type

We have talked about three different email types, and these structures will help other groups differently.

You can send many plain text or hybrid emails to test and experiment. However, plain text emails often perform better regarding inbox placement and open rates. These emails are viewed as easily readable, leading to higher engagement levels.

Plain text emails will not only help you to interrupt the pattern of highly designed emails but also are going to be viewed as completely readable and inbox a little bit better.

These emails give them some relevant information and provide enough variation. This makes them feel like they’re getting an email from a person rather than a brand. That adds value and leaves an impact on them. 


In conclusion, email open rates are beneficial in providing good insight and serve as a good indicator of a business’s success on email. 

They help you address issues and get back on track if you see them going down. 

However, they can also be considered vanity metrics and may only be somewhat reliable. These metrics are helpful and good to have in your calculations. However, they should not be your only measure of success. It would be best if you had to look at your marketing through a more holistic lens.

You may also like:

Feel free to let us know in the comment box if you got any questions or suggestions

Leave a Reply