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Open Rates for Email is Misleading You. Focus on This Instead.

open rates for emails are misleading

“The open rates for our email campaigns are terrible. Is there anything you can do to fix them?” I often hear this from clients. What I want to say to them is, “With my magic powers, I will increase your open rates instantly.” Then eliminate three-quarters of the list that never opens their emails. Voila! Open rates increased.

In reality, I tell them that you need to ignore the open rates of your emails. You are focusing on the wrong thing. Here’s why.

The Open Rates for Email is a Percentage

This one is just a math issue. If you have a list of 1,000 people and 250 open the email, that’s a 25%, which, by all accounts, is pretty good. However, if you eliminate half of the list because they never open any of your emails, your open rate will go from 25% to 50%! However, you still only have 250 people opening the email. 

Even the Opens are Misleading.

Your email platform will count an open when their tracking pixel is activated, and this happens when the graphics of the email are loaded. A tracking pixel is a small 1 pixel by 1 pixel graphic that sends information back to the email platform when it is loaded. That happens when you open the email to view it. So what am I talking about when I say it is misleading?

In many cases, people open the email to delete it. They opened it, yes but was it effective? No. In some cases, if they have a preview window set up in something like Outlook, when they arrow down through the emails, and the email appears in the preview window, it counts as an open. In both these scenarios, the viewer opened the emails, but they did not engage with it in any way. 

Engagement is Where You Need to Focus. 

In most marketing emails, there is an action or several actions that you want the reader to do when they read the email. It could be reading more of an article. It could be purchasing a product. When the reader takes the action we want, that is engagement. It doesn’t matter if the open rates for email are 25% or 100% because if no one clicks, is it successful? There are some things you can do to increase engagement. Here are some tips I tell my clients.

Start with Segmenting Your Email List

Segmenting your list will allow you to target your customers directly based on their interests. I wrote an article about segmenting your email list for more conversions. In that article, I discuss how email list segmentation will increase open rates, conversion rates, reduce cart abandonment, and not annoy your customers.

Most email platforms like Mailchimp or Constant Contact provide tools to create segments. Some of the most common are already defined within the application, for example, open rates and engagement. Sometimes you want to dig a little bit deeper. You can include segments based on shopping habits or particular products, or even geography. The idea is to deliver the right message to the right person.

Don’t Skimp On the Content.

People will engage with what is relevant to them, and this is the case whether you write a book, a blog, or an email.

Don’t always rely on images to tell a story. If your image has too many details or wording across the picture, it may not be as readable on small devices because the image shrinks to fit the screen size. Copy tends to be much easier to read on the phone, partly because you can adjust the lettering size. Also, the phone screens are so good these days that it rivals printed text.

Good, relevant copy targeted to the reader, regardless of its delivery, is essential. Sometimes, businesses forget that your audience probably doesn’t find your product as exciting as you do. You still have to convince them to take action. 

Develop Contingencies Based on Their Actions

What do you do if you don’t get the desired results you want? Do you throw the whole thing out and start again? Sometimes, you can capitalize on what isn’t working and still get value from a campaign.

I laid out a plan for contingencies in an article called Does Your Email Marketing Have Contingencies? I talk about that there are typically four kinds of interactions when you send out an email. Each one of these actions, or lack of action, is accounted for in a contingency plan. By anticipating possible reader actions, you can get more value from your email campaign.

Engagement is Where the Money Is

The open rates for email are not telling you the true story of your campaign’s success. The real success comes from what happens after a reader opens the email. Most email platforms have tools in place where you can find out who has engaged the most. Start breaking out your list into segments and develop messages directly targeting those individuals. Even if you are sending a monthly newsletter, you can still segment your list based on the articles with the most engagement. The whole idea is to deliver the best content to the right people for the best engagement opportunity. 

As I said from the beginning, your email campaign doesn’t live or die by the open rates for email. The campaign lives or dies by the actions or lack of actions of the readers of the emails. To get better engagement, you need to think more about what you are sending rather than to whom you are sending it. By focusing on valuable content for your reader, your email marketing efforts will see a better return on the investment.