February 3, 2010

Email Marketing: What's a Good Open Rate?


Hostway Team

By Melissa J Luther

Email marketing can be a convenient and inexpensive way to reach potential new customers and stay in touch with current and former clients. It is only effective, however, if your message actually gets read. If not, those emails become expensive in terms of time and effort wasted.

Most email marketing software provides you with statistics that tell you how many of your emails are opened, but those numbers always seem so low. How can you be sure your campaigns are effective?

What Is an Open Rate?

Email software registers an “open” when recipients' email programs display images, activating a special tracking image hidden in the email. This number is not completely accurate because many email programs today block images by default, especially on mobile devices, so unless the reader actively enables images, the open does not register. For this reason, many email marketing providers also count an open if the recipient clicks a link.

Conversely, if the message appears in a preview pane with images automatically enabled, it will count as an open even if it was not really read.

An open rate is then the percentage of opens in a given campaign.

What Is a Good Open Rate?

There is no such thing as a typical or average open rate. Open rates depend on many factors, including:

  • Size of list: Open rates drop as your list grows
  • Quality of list: An in-house list of opt-in subscribers will have a higher open rate than a rented list of prospects.
  • Topic: Some topics are more interesting and result in a higher open rate
  • Industry: An entertainment niche with rabid fans will have higher open rates than, say, insurance tips
  • Time sent: Depending on your audience, certain times will result in more opens
  • Your target audience: Some audiences are more receptive to email than others

An often-overlooked variable is how your email provider calculates open rates. Some providers measure opens compared to number of emails sent while others use number of emails delivered. In addition, some providers count only the first open from each recipient and others count every open. For this reason, you cannot accurately compare statistics across email providers, and most published numbers are not relevant to you.

If you absolutely must have numbers to compare to, most published numbers fall in the 15 percent to 40 percent range. If you can find numbers for your specific industry or niche, this may also give you a better ballpark figure, but remember that you don't know how they were calculated.

A more valuable comparison is how your open rates change over time. If they hold steady or increase, you are doing well. If they start declining, try to figure out why and correct the problem. It is worth remembering that as email marketing grows, it makes sense that open rates may decline. People with limited time will first open emails from companies they know provide valuable information. Make sure you consistently provide value.

So, keep an eye on how your open rates trend, but don't put too much emphasis on the absolute number or how it compares to your competitors' rates.

About the Author

Melissa J Luther, owner and founder of LookSee Information Solutions, LLC helps small businesses create and maintain a strong online presence. She takes a multi-channel approach, with a well-optimized Web site as the center of an online presence that includes content creation, PPC advertising, linking and social media as appropriate.

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