Who cares about open rates?

Open rate has been a core email metric for as long as the channel has been around. It certainly has its benefits, and of course, its disadvantages. But, like it or loathe it, the metric and how marketers report on their campaigns is about to change forever as Apple ushers in their latest update, iOS 15. Which begs the question, why do we put so much faith in it, and who really cares about open rates anyway?!

Who does care?

Email open rates have always been a controversial topic matter. I’ve worked with many brands who regularly ask what a reasonable open rate is for their campaigns; they search high and low for benchmark reports to give them the stats and figures they need to show the powers that be that they conform and they’re keeping up with their peers. But who is driving this obsession? Who really cares? Well, on some level, we all do. And quite rightly so. We all want to know what we need to do to make our emails better, more effective, and lucrative. So all marketers care about email open rates. The real question is, should we?

And the answer is… not really.

Opens have always been a “noisy” metric. As a result, it should always be considered a guide, a possibility that the end recipient has opened your email. The reason for that lies in the mechanics of how opens work; they don’t allow for pinpoint accuracy. 

An open can be tracked in an email because they include a tracking pixel. That pixel is displayed when the recipient opens an email. That image downloading notifies our servers, and the email is recorded as being opened. So any open, a 2 second peek, and accidental click of a mouse will be recorded as an open.

So with that being said, your open rates aren’t as accurate as you’d hope. Also, comparing one email open rate to another isn’t fair; there are so many factors that come into making an email successful or not. The time of day, subject line, content, design, placement of the call to action (CTA), and those are just the factors that you control. You need to also factor in recipients who (and I hate to break this to you) aren’t sitting with their laptops and mobile phones open, waiting for your email to pounce on and have a read. They have lives and will open as and when they want to and when they have the time.

That means (unfortunately) they won’t open every email. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not engaged. It’s like not picking up a call from a good friend or answering a text message straight away when you’re busy, it’s not a good time right now, but when you’re free, you’ll pick up the phone and find out what they wanted.

I’ll apologize now if I’m bursting your bubble here, but opens aren’t perfect; they’re flawed. And yes, Apple’s forthcoming changes will make our noisy metric a little nosier and less reliable and accurate, but that doesn’t mean we should stop using the metric altogether. It would appear that Apple will be serving up a false open for all active users of its Mail Privacy Protection. Still, a positive byproduct of this could be if Apple flags your email as open, indicating that this email address is alive, well, and active. Every cloud ay. 

All this being said, an open will not deliver what we need, the more important question to be bear in mind should be…

What is your fundamental objective?

Whenever we hit that send button and our emails travel across the internet, what are we hoping to happen? If you’re saying an open, you’re mistaken. Well, not entirely, yes, of course, we want our recipients to open our emails, but that’s the end game. We want a link to be clicked, a document downloaded, a forward to a friend, products viewed on our website or landing page (so we can track them), a demo booked, purchase, or donation. We want engagement. Whether you consider yourself a pure-play commerce marketer or a non-commerce marketer, an open won’t do any of that for you. But it will get the ball rolling.

So as I said, don’t give up on them. Keep working on making each subject line more engaging than the last. Of course, ensure that your deliverability is as strong as it can be. At dotdigital, we have a fantastic deliverability team who are always happy to lend advice and consult on what can help your emails perform better and make sure everything is working as it should. 

We need to consider working on our email design and driving the recipient to our CTA(s) and deliverability. That conversion, whatever it may be, is not going to happen in your email. Even if your email is an abbreviated version of war and peace, and your plan is for the recipient to read it, you still want that person to pop to your website for more good stuff after that epic read. So make your intentions clear, and let your recipients know what to do next. If it’s not apparent, you need to go back to the drawing board. 

Ok, now what?

Ok, Gavin, if you’re so bright, how do we know people are engaged if we can’t see that they’ve opened our emails? Well, that’s an excellent question, reader, and I’m glad you’ve asked.

  • Focus on clicks
    If you’re looking for engagement, and believe me, you are. Clicks are where it’s at. If your recipients click on a link in your email, you’ve hit the jackpot. They’ve read your email, want to know more, or your creative is so on point they were drawn to the big shiny button, and the rest is history.
  • If you build it, they will open.
    Have faith. You’ve not just started sending emails; hopefully, you’ve had a bit of a head start. You have an idea of what’s hitting the mark and what isn’t. The playing field may have changed slightly, but the game is still the same. All the techniques you’ve used will work again. You’re going to have to make sure that your content is on point. Cutting corners will not do. This leads me to…
  • Zero party data
    Like any good relationship with a partner or your best friend, the more you’ve listened to what they have to say about themselves, the better you are at buying them gifts or inviting them to concerts; you know it’ll resonate because you know them well. So ask what your customers want, and give it to them. But take an interest in what they tell you. The more you listen, the more you’ll learn about them, the more relevant the content, and the better the conversion rate.
  • If it ain’t broke…
    Similar to my first point, but specifically referring to subject lines. A particular format, addition of emojis or personalization, even a bit of humor will still entice people to open. The inbox isn’t changing; the name of the game is standing out. So…
  • Get creative, be the purple lightsaber.
    In a previous Star Wars-themed blog, I referred to Mace Windu’s lightsaber. It’s purple, and everyone else has a green or blue lightsaber so that you can spot him a mile off in a crowd. That’s what you’re striving for. But it’s not just great subject lines you want. Show-stopping creative, strong imagery, GIFs, interaction from carousels and the like, and collapsible sections are all things to incorporate into the campaign itself. This kind of stuff will make your recipients form a wry smile because they know something special has hit their inbox.
  • Give them more than one outlet.
    If you can communicate with your customers on more than one channel, you’re guaranteed to make them stickier. 

For more information on iOS 15, read our blog.
Alternatively, you can watch our webinar on the same topic here.

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