I’ve heard from some of you asking what “good email open rates” are for your newsletters and requesting best practices and tips. Your email open rates tell you how many people actually opened your emails, out of all the people who you sent it to (or out of all the people who received it, depending on your management tool). Here’s the scoop on open rates…

The Problem With Open Rates: Inaccuracy

Incorrect Delivery Rates:

We start with delivery rates—how many emails from your list were actually delivered? Well, that gets a little tricky, because of course you hope that your emails are delivered to your subscribers’ inboxes, but your delivery rate includes those that go into spam folders. So you may not know if someone ignored your email because they weren’t interested or intrigued, or because they just never saw the email.

Inflated Rates:

The second problem with open rates is that your open rate only tells you that an email program displayed the email. Problem is, some email softwares automatically open emails. Let’s say, for example, that you use Outlook or Thunderbird. Let’s say that you get an email from your favorite store. You read it, decide there’s nothing in there that you need to keep, and you delete it. Your email software takes you to the next email on the list and opens it for you.

This counts as an “open” in pretty much every email newsletter management platform, so your open rates get inflated by people who didn’t intentionally open your email and probably didn’t read it, either.

Deflated Rates:

Email newsletter management tools (like Constant Contact, aWeber, MailChimp, Infusionsoft) track whether people are opening your emails by inserting a tracking graphic. When your email software opens the email, to display the graphics, the software has to download them first. The newsletter management tool can tell who has downloaded which graphics and when.

However, if you’re like me, and your software is set up so that it doesn’t show images in any email unless you request them, then you can open an email without being tracked. That means that your email open rates can be deflated as well.

So what’s an open rate good for, then?

Since we know email open rates aren’t super-accurate in terms of tracking your engagement with your audience (seriously, clicks and purchases are a much better metric), what are they good for?

Comparisons. I use email open rates to track comparisons among my emails and to see what worked and what didn’t, specifically, with my email subject lines. So at the end of the day, yes, open rates are important, but they’re mostly important when you compare one open rate to another. Still, people want to know what a “good” open rate is, so here are a few breakdowns by industry:

MailChimp Research

Vertical Response Research

Constant Contact

Now that you know, you can move on to How to Increase Your Email Open Rates.