What is a Good Email Open Rate?


Being successful with your email marketing means understanding the metrics behind your campaigns. Metrics can help you see which of your emails are doing well and where you need to improve. One of the most common metrics that people look at are open rates. It’s often the first metric people see and the first one that they judge the health of their campaign or list with. But it’s also the one that’s the least important. To understand WHY it’s the least important, you first have to understand what it is.

On the surface, Open Rates seems pretty simple and straightforward. Which is why it’s the metric that most people pay attention to. However it’s also the least accurate measurement of all the metrics available to you.

Let’s take a look at my contact record in some of my client’s lists. Keep in mind that it is my job to open and test every email I send out on behalf of my clients BEFORE the client or their list even see it. So I open EVERY SINGLE EMAIL EVERY SINGLE TIME. Given this knowledge, one could rightfully assume that my contact records should always show a 100% open rate.

Open Rates - WHAH
Open Rates - WHAH 3
Open Rates - WHAH 2
Open Rates - Rhineland
Open Rates - Happy Lights

But as you see above, it doesn’t. I have a varied Open Rate throughout each list. In the MailChimp accounts I have open rates of 30.8%, 0%, 31.6%, and 63.6%. In Infusionsoft, my engagement score is non-existent.

This alone should be enough to tell you that Open Rates are inconsistent and unreliable. But let’s get into WHY they’re inconsistent and unreliable.

How are Open Rates calculated?

Email Services like MailChimp, Infusionsoft, ActiveCampaign, Get Response, and Ontraport embed a tiny image into every email you send. They then use this image to determine if your email was opened. If this image was downloaded, then the email is marked as Opened by that contact. However whether or not that image even GETS downloaded is largely dependent upon the recipient’s email client or the recipient’s email settings. Some email clients automatically download images, and some have to be downloaded manually.

Image Display

So if some email clients are marking emails as opened when they haven’t been, and others aren’t showing them as opened when they are, what is the value in the Open Rates metric? Should you even pay attention to it?

Should you pay attention to Open Rates?

In short, yes. You should be aware of your Open Rates, but they shouldn’t be the metric that you base an email’s success on. Your Open Rates should be a comparative measure. You want to be paying attention to the consistency of your Open Rates, and not the individual numbers. If the emails you send out have a consistent Open Rate of 30%, then suddenly drop to 14%, there’s a problem that you’ll need to figure out.

What is the value of knowing Open Rates?

The Open Rates of your email are the metric that almost every other metric is based on, including the most important Click Through Rate, which I’ll cover off in my next post. So while it’s less important for you to know the Open Rate, your email service depends on it to inform you of other important metrics.

What is a good Open Rate?

The one question I am asked most often is “What is a good Open Rate?” My answer is always “It depends.” Probably quite frustrating for my clients, but there is no real way to measure a successful Open Rate because it DOES depend on a lot of variables.  Open rates vary among industries. Some industries have a very high open rate, while some are statistically “hard sells” where open rates are much lower. Open Rates also vary depending on how many people are on your list. The more contacts you have, the more difficult it becomes to engage them all, so Open Rates will drop.

Again, Open Rates should be used as a comparative metric. Looking at the Open Rate alone doesn’t tell you much. But if you look at your open rates COMPARED to your industry average, you can see where you stack up. If you look at your open rates COMPARED to your previous campaigns, you can see whether you are doing better or worse and make adjustments as necessary.