What Are Email Open Rates?

Email open rates are kind of what they say on the tin: the percentage of people on your email list who are opening your emails. It’s important to know this for a number of reasons that I’ll talk about in this post.

Clients often forget that when they start to grow their email list that not everyone will be hanging off their every word. It would be nice to think that everyone following us would see every social media post, read every blog post and open all the emails we send them. But that’s just not the case.

As excited and invested as we are in our business, other people are busy with their own lives. Over time you will grow a percentage of your audience into your raving fans. The small group of people who do lap up everything you say and buy all your products. And although your goal is to get as much of your audience into raving fan status as you can, the majority won’t be.

Don’t despair! This doesn’t mean there’s no point talking to the majority of your list. It just means understanding what’s normal for your list, what you can do to improve open rates and managing expectations when you’re using your email list.

Why do email open rates matter?

Well, there are a few reasons. Firstly you want to make your business as efficient as possible. If you’ve got a big list (or any size really) but you’re not reaching the majority of these people then it’s not ideal.

A disengaged list costs you money

Since you pay by number of subscribers it costs you money to maintain a list. Obviously the idea is for your list to be an asset that makes you money. However, if you have a load of disengaged subscribers then you have the opposite. These people are costing you money. You’ll want to either re-engage them and keep them on your list. Or get the inactive users off your list. No-one’s going to buy from your emails if they’re not even reading them.

Your Sender Reputation

Another reason why email open rates matter is because they can affect your sender reputation. How much engagement you get with the emails you send tells internet service providers how relevant you are to your list (their customers too). If you’re sending out stuff that your list is indicating – by their lack of engagement – isn’t useful or of interest you’ll get “marked down”.

This can negatively affect your deliverability rate which affects your open rates further. It also makes it more likely that your email will go to spam.

Cleaning up your list to get rid of the dead wood (for want of a better expression) can have an immediate positive impact on your open rates. The same number of people could be opening but they’re a larger percentage now of your total list.

What else you can do to improve open rates

Average email open rate

Let’s start by first look at what’s average. About a 20% open rate is considered normal across the board. Of course, that’s an average so in some industries it’s much higher and in others somewhat lower. Like I said in this post What are Digital Marketing Conversion Rates the most important benchmark is your own. You are your own competition so don’t get too hung up on what others are doing. If your open rates are below average there are steps you can take to improve your open rates. If they’re higher, you can still test and measure to see if you can increase yours even more.

Bear in mind that when I say 20% open rate is average, I mean per email. So it’s not always the exact same 20% of people opening your emails. That’s one of the reasons we need to email more than you might think. I know a lot of people worry about contacting their list too frequently. (And by the way that is a real issue affecting sender reputation but you have to find the right balance.) They don’t want to annoy their people or be spammy. And while I totally get that, if you’re only emailing once a month it’s a long time between emails for a lot of people who didn’t open the last couple you sent.

And that’s one of the ways you can start getting into “perceived” spamming territory. Even if someone signs up to be on your list, if it goes so long until they hear from you that they can’t remember who you are, they’re going to treat you like a stranger.

If people then go on to report your emails as spam that obviously isn’t going to help any.

Factors that affect email open rate

A number of factors affect your email open rate which means you can experiment to see how changes influence that number.

List size

As a rule, the bigger your list the lower your email rate. So when you’re starting out and you have 100 of your friends and family on your list you can expect a higher open rate. As your list grows with people in various stages of familiarity and trust with your brand this is likely to drop.

Subject lines

Our people are bombarded with emails everyday. They’re busy. We need to cut through the marketing noise to catch their attention. Compelling subject lines are a good way to do this. 

Start noticing which email subject lines pique your curiosity when they land in your own inbox. What drew your eye to them? What made you choose to open it? You can model your own subject lines of these and see what happens.

Use punctuation…sparingly

Carrying on from the above it’s not just the actual words in your subject line that can affect open rates. Emojis and even punctuation in your email subject lines can impact open rates. If you’re using emojis it’s best to use them at the start or end of the subject line. Make them an addition to the meaning rather than a necessary part of it. For some people, images don’t show up. You want to make sure that the subject line still makes sense without the emoji.

Send times

Sometimes you can improve your email open rates by changing the time of day that you send them. Some providers like ActiveCampaign have an intuitive sending feature. They’ll pick the best time of day for your list. I’d recommend trying this but don’t take it as gospel they’ll get it right. Test and measure all day long!

Knowing your audience

If you’re choosing your send times manually then consider your audience. If your ideal clients are mums with young children then it’s unlikely that 8am is a good time to send them an email. Most mums I know with young children are rushing about doing the morning routine then. They’re dashing about from one thing to another sorting the kids out and then trying to get themselves organised for the day. For these people 8pm might be the perfect time. They’ve sorted the kids and have just sat down with a cup of tea (or glass of wine!). An email that comes through now will be at the top of the pile and more likely to get noticed. Something sent 12 hours ago has probably been buried by the deluge of other emails and messages received throughout the day.

In contrast, if you’re aiming to grow a list of young professionals an early morning email could work well. A high percentage of professionals grab their phone first thing in the morning before they get up to do anything. A 6am email is likely to catch their attention before any of the work stuff starts coming through at 8-9am.

Segment your list

Separate the contacts in your list so that they’re getting the most relevant news for them. If you’re launching something and sending more emails than usual about a particular topic give them the option to opt-out of that particular sequence.

Test and measure

As usual, nothing’s set in stone. Start from where you are now or with an educated guess about what might work better and then test and measure. Yes you’ll be sick of hearing that phrase soon but it’s the only way to find what works for you. 

Given that the list really is one of the biggest assets you can have in your online business it really is worth taking the time to work on it. 

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