Why you should be careful when looking at email open rates

valérie giner

Digital Marketing Consultant

As mentioned in my previous blog, one of the first metrics you look at when beginning with email marketing are open rates. However, this metric can be misleading and often unreliable.

I’ll explain you why.

How are open rates tracked?

Firstly, it is important to understand how open rates are tracked. Email marketing platforms such as Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor or Eloqua will put an invisible tracking pixel – a tiny image – will be placed inside the HTML email. This invisible image is displayed when the recipient opens the email. That tiny image needs to be downloaded in order for the email to be tracked as being opened.

Basically, an open can only be reported if the recipient’s email client is capable of showing the HTML email with images and if that option has been turned on.

Open rate-reliability

Because of this, there are a number of cases in which your email will not be recorded as having been opened:

  • If your email is a plain text message and does not include images, even if the subscriber decides to open your message, it won’t be counted as open.
  • Even if a mail contains images but the recipient decides to open your message using plain text, the mail won’t be counted as open.
  • Messages that are read in preview (without downloading the images)
  • Some messages are read with a different mobile client and each client tracks differently, impacting the open rate results
  • Some mails are opened but the images are blocked by the email client – these opens are not tracked.
  • Depending on the email client (ex: Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo! Mail, etc.), images can be blocked, requested by default, etc.
  • Bounced mails
  • Blocked mails
  • Mails that are deleted before they are opened

What can you do?

The above does not mean you have to ignore open rates all together. This metric is still a good measurement of engagement over time. Keep an eye on this metric and see how it evolves over time. What’s important is to make sure that you see this number increasing steadily.

Also, try and compare your open rate with other metrics. Read our blog article, 6 metrics to keep in mind when measuring the success of your email campaigns to discover other important email marketing metrics.

Need email marketing expert?

At Minds&More we can create, improve and analyze your email campaigns.

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