hello open sign

I had a question from a woman who was freaked out about her email open rates. She had no idea why someone would subscribe to her email list but would then not open the emails she sent. It was making her frustrated and upset to think that she was putting in all this hard work and no one was reading.

We didn’t end up working together, but I did share a bit about email open rates with her. When I asked about her numbers, it turns out she was killing it. She had more than 50% of her list reading any one email and she had lots of people clicking on her links. Her sales numbers were going up. But she was still very offended that 100% of her list wasn’t opening every email.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m a busy, business-owning mom, and I definitely don’t open every email, I just don’t have the time. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the sender or that I won’t ever be a buyer, it just means that I have 8 millions things to do before lunchtime. 

But how do you know if enough people are opening your emails? If it’s not 100%, what should you be shooting for?

So, what is an email open rate?

An email’s open rate is the percentage of your email list who opens that email. Your email marketing platform tracks statistics about your email campaigns, and this one is nearly always front and center. 

In general, it’s a measure of engagement. How interested in your message are your subscribers? 

It’s easily compared because it’s one number that seems to be the same across campaigns, across platforms, and across industries.

Why email open rates are important

Well, if you’re going to the trouble to send out emails, of course you want people to read them. I mean, otherwise, why bother? Generally, higher is better.

Email is still one of the very most effective ways to communicate. More people trust it over social media. Plus it’s coming right to their inbox. No relying on an algorithm that can change daily.

More people seeing your message means more chances to build relationships. And that means more leads, hopefully more clients, and the possibility of more money. More email opens means more of whatever you’re looking for.

In addition, knowing your email open rates helps you gauge your audience’s interest in what you’re writing. But you probably knew most of that already.

Do you know why they’re not important?

Email open rates can be very dependent on factors that are outside of your immediate control. For example, while you can change your industry in theory, if you’re marketing your business you’re not going to change industries to get higher email engagement. Same goes for your target market – you may eventually change your target market, but you’re not going to change it email to email.

The size of your list can affect email open rates

I’ve seen that the larger the list, often the lower your email open rate. I think that in the early days, your existing customers, your friends, your family, and people who are already super-engaged with your message are the first subscribers. Those folks open everything!

As your list grows, you start to acquire subscribers who are meeting you for the first time. They don’t have the personal connection yet, so they’re not inclined to open every email just because you send it.

What’s going on in the world will also impact open rates.

And it’s not always in the way you think. During the 2020 pandemic, some people are going to be too stressed to worry about business and emails. While others have so much extra time on their hands, they’re going to open everything. How the final numbers play out is hard to know, but it is out of your control.

Opens aren’t as important as conversions.

Open emails don’t mean sales. And a few sales might beat 1000s of opens. Sometimes people open emails just to find that unsubscribe link. That’s not a good open or a good click.

No other business in the industry is just like yours

Industry metrics aren’t as easy to compare as they sound. And those industry averages include giant corporations and tiny one-person shops. They include the sleazy spammy emailers and the full-of-value every time emailers. You’re different, and comparing you to the average only means that you’re probably in the middle somewhere.

Different tracking

Different email clients handle emails differently and your email marketing platform can record opens that aren’t there and fail to record engagement that isn’t exactly an open. This can distort your numbers.

Where to find industry standards

Despite all of that, in the beginning, when you don’t know what to expect, industry averages are pretty interesting to look at. Since they contain everybody in an industry, and you’re just starting out (with friends and family on your list), your email open rates are likely to be higher. 

Here are two service providers’ industry lists. 

MailChimp

Constant Contact

The trouble is that every industry list has wildly different numbers. You really need to think about what they might reflect? It could be that each platform reports differently. Or that one platform is better than others. Or maybe the top email marketers are attracted to one platform over another.

My best suggestion is to avoid doing a wide search for industry averages. Instead, search for industry statistics from your own email marketing provider.

Tracking your own open rates

This is what’s really important. Watch your overall email open numbers. Compare your current numbers to past numbers. Your goal should be to improve your own numbers, not to match some other business’s numbers.

As you grow, it’s natural for the rate to fall a bit as the size of your list grows, but sharp drop-offs might indicate something’s wrong. When you see a significant change in either direction, pay attention and look for the cause.

Compare types of emails – do you get more opens from sales emails or newsletters?

Test out types of headlines – what types of headlines do your subscribers like to open?

Watch who opens based on times of day or day of the week.

Improving your own open rates

If you want to improve your own email open rates, I’ve had some success with the following tactics, though they’re not all easy. And even when I’m paying close attention, I can’t always say why one email is more opened than another. But I do make note of it and try to keep doing it! 

Intriguing headlines

This is probably the most important, and yet can be pretty tough. Try your best to be engaging, and watch what happens. Your subscribers are different than another group of subscribers and different headlines will grab different groups.

Send from you, not your company name

I like this one, especially if you use your name a lot in your business. People want to have a relationship with another person, not a business. We’re all a lot more interested in seeing what Jen, the hand-crafted jewelry maker who has 3 kids and a farm in Alabama, has to say, than what Dancing Moon Jewelry has to say.

Communicate frequently so you’re not forgotten

I know that I stop opening emails if I’ve forgotten who the sender is. And the best way to avoid being forgotten is to communicate frequently. But don’t just spam an inbox – send valuable information. A great way for busy business owners is to have a weekly newsletter that goes out on a pretty regular basis.

Send valuable emails 

Like I was saying above, when you do send out emails, make sure they’re high-value. Don’t waste your subscribers’ time. At first you might think this conflicts with communicating frequently, but you can send the same message in so many different ways that they can all be valuable. You can entertain, teach, or offer very targeted solutions to problems you know they have.

Engage your subscribers 

Create some back and forth dialogue to really get to know the people on your email list. Ask questions and be sure to answer their questions! 

Clean up your email list on a regular basis

And finally, keep your email list clean. If you see your email open rates really dropping, take a look and see how many people have stopped engaging at all. While you might be able to re-engage some of them, it would probably be best to remove the rest from your list. This also has the added benefit of lowering your email marketing costs if you’re using a provider that charges by the size of your list.

Next Steps

Go take a look at your email open rates. Is there a trend in one direction or another? Are they holding steady? 

And if you want a few more opens, make a plan to implement some of the tips I’ve listed out. If you need some ideas on what to send, take a look below at the newsletter cheat sheet that I’ve put together!

Photo by Adam Solomon on Unsplash

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