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 important to understand and improve. They are by no means the end all be all for judging 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 is going to 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!

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 allows you to figure out how seriously your audience is taking your emails. In too many cases, people might also use this as a north star metric or as Key Performance Indicator (KPI).

However, while important, open rate as a metric is largely a vanity metric. Because if you are driving opens but not driving business results the goal and the outcome are misaligned.

So, while it is an important 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 depending on 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 is going to be very helpful in understanding why people are going to be opening your emails or what’s going to 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 type of email it is. 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 specific 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 important to see that it is being sent to a broad list of customers and that 20% for campaigns is going to be a big 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 particular email. 

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

Because you are connecting the content with context and creating something really meaningful and impactful for the customer, they typically have a higher open rate. 

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

So that’s where adding the high-level context really helps, and if you can get those to a higher level without more segmentation and more personalization, those can perform extremely well too.

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 are going to have a hundred percent deliverability which means these can’t end up in the spam folder of your audience. As these would carry important information for the audience regarding their purchase, they are going to end up in their inbox as opposed to newsletter promotions in Gmail.

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

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 actually opened it. 

This has caused a bit of overinflation in open rates for those email clients since then.

It can sometimes be difficult to figure out how much of your open rate is going to 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 have to be careful that they take those opens with a grain of salt because they are not as accurate. 

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

But it is also important 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 important to see what our measurement framework looks like? So there are three different layers of measurements which include; 

  • Engagement-based metrics 
  • Performance-based metrics
  • Value-based metrics.

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

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 be getting those opens and performing well. But from there, you want to be driving the behavior you want to see. And both of those stand-alone indicators are going to help the individual email marketer. 

But as you move up to a higher level, you may be thinking about more business-specific or more team-specific metrics, like the number of repeat purchasers. And that’s also going to ladder up to higher-level business outcomes or business objectives of increasing the lifetime value of a customer.

So it can be concluded that open and click rates are good indicators for a marketer as an individual to understand whether what he or she is doing with the emails is right in the 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 ni 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 and not a map.

What affects email open rates?

There are multiple factors that 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 is going to 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 audience of the Southern region; it’s going to be extremely irrelevant content for them.

They are never going to open such emails just by reading the subject line. It’s not going to be valuable to them at that moment. 

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

  • Variation in messaging

The variation of messaging is also going to be important for the open rate. So if you keep sending the same email over and over again with repetitive content and very similar messages, then that’s going to burn your audience out. A lot of e-commerce businesses fall into this trap where they’re sending 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.

In that case, either nobody’s going to buy from you, assuming that your brand has no value, or when they do, they’ll be assuming that you always have a sale. And then you’re kind of going to have to go back and retrain your customers to not expect that every single time they purchase.

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

Vary your messaging to keep things fresh.

  • List hygiene

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

It refers to sending relevant messages to relevant subscribers. If you have poor list hygiene or a poor sender score, you’re not going to be hitting the inbox as frequently in Gmail.

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 is going to be a bit more valuable.

This happens because if somebody subscribes to a substack list, they’re probably going to 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 example, here at MKTG Rhythm, we like to focus on a lot more content marketing because we believe that it’s a strong way to build relationships and be relevant and build a rhythm of communication with our audience.

So that is why we recommend you to keep things relevant, fresh and add 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 promotion event. 

How to improve the open rates?

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

  • Know your audience 

The first crucial thing to consider to improve your open rates 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 understand what are going to be the best times to communicate with them? 

Suppose you’re running a children’s clothing company. Now you know that your audience is mostly going to be the mothers of young children, so you plan your email sending routines accordingly.

In this particular case, you know that your audience has young children, who are going to be taking a lot of their time and attention during the day, and so they’re not going to be as available during the daytime, or they might not be available much during the weekdays because their kids and they might be on a consistent, regular schedule.

So as a smart marketer, you need to know what the context of their day is like to understand when to send. 

For this audience, they were most likely to be available around nighttime, usually after 8:00 PM. They would be putting their young children to bed and then sitting 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 just can’t do as much with young children.  

So this is a crucial step when we consider what’s going on in our customers’ lives. Thus, knowing your audience gives you a lot of power and a lot of insight into understanding what and particularly when they might like to be reached. 

Knowing your audience can also be super helpful in segmenting them. If you want to send a really specific message to a specific segment of your audience, then again, you need to make sure it is for the right group at the right time. 

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

  • Vary your messaging 

Another important strategy to get higher open rates is to vary the content of your messages so that it sounds fresh and relevant and it’s not just one thing over and over.

In my opinion, 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 different ways that you can communicate with each of them.

So if you’re a good musician, you’re going to be experimenting with new music pretty consistently. You’re going to 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 things, perfecting things, and polishing things a little bit. That’s going to 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 be incorporating some 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 like seven years. And only their super fans would be the ones that are going to get it, and they’d be the ones bawling their eyes out at the concert.

So that’s how you make your work impactful, maybe not for everybody, but for the ones that look forward to your work. And that’s how in the marketing world, you want to be sending very precisely targeted, segmented emails which are highly impactful. 

As a singer performing at a concert, you also make sure to 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 in the past. You might use it in a different context to drive different actions and get people engaged and involved. 

It’s like clockwork where you can recycle content year after year after year. But we will be using that at times when we want to tee up other things.

So before you want to tee up a promotion or a sale, you can first focus a little bit more on being salesy where you engage everyone through a piece of valuable content. After that, here’s where you can fit in your promotional emails and be a little bit 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 of your lists who are not engaging makes it valuable and makes it a business asset. 

It is important to understand that for a certain audience, you’re only hitting their spam folder, or even if you’re making it to their inbox and they are not engaging, then it’s better to get them off your list as they may be hurting your open rate metric.  

  • A/B testing

A/B testing or just testing, in general, is going to be another way that can help you understand what is going to work and what’s not. 

The focus here would be on what kind of automation would work for different kinds of audiences or maybe what subject line would be effective for the 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 are going to help different groups differently.

You can send a good amount of plain text or hybrid emails to test and experiment, but a lot of times, plain text emails will inbox a little bit better because they’re going to be viewed as completely readable and will ultimately get you higher open rates.

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 which adds value and leaves an impact on them. 

Conclusion

In conclusion email, open rates are very helpful in the way that they provide 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 in case you see them going down. 

However, they can also be considered vanity metrics and may not be entirely reliable. These metrics are helpful and good to have in your calculations, but they should not be your only measure of success. You need to be looking at your marketing through a lot more holistic lens.

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

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