How to Increase Your Email Open Rate: 1 Pros Advice

I recently contributed this advice for an article on increasing your open rates.

Open rate is always the wrong metric because open rate is always wrong. Don’t misunderstand, the open rate on any given campaign can be useful for indicating if something significant has gone wrong. Think of it as the check engine light of your email marketing. When a client team tells me that they get measured on their program’s open rate and that their bonus depends on it, I cannot decide if I should feel bad for them because their bosses don’t get it or if I should envy the way they were able to ensure they all get a good bonus. The simple answer to getting a better open rate is to only send emails to people who open You want to get a great open rate, just send to your mother.

Sorry, rant over. Let’s break down a little more logically. David Ogilvy famously said, “We sell or else.” This brings up the first problem with looking at open rates; they do not generate revenue. In twenty years in email marketing, I have only ever had one client that made money from opens (a publisher that sold ad space in the email). For that client we would work very hard and spare no expense to maximize open rates. I have seen some brilliantly targeted campaigns with an absolutely perfect subject line that generated very low open rates. How do I know the segmentation and subject line was so good? Because the open to click and the click to conversion rates were both in the high 90’s. In other words, people self-identified if the offer was for them based on the subject line; those that were interested opened, clicked and bought straight away. Those that were not interested, did not waste time “checking out the offer.”

The second problem is looking at rates. Percentages are very useful for comparing the results of different campaigns, especially if they went to different sized audiences. Using them as a measure however, can lead to very bad decision making. Which would you rather have: a 50% open rate on a campaign that went to 100 people or a 10% open rate on a campaign that went to a 1,000? If your bonus depended on it you would lean towards the 50%. The stakeholders in your organization however would go for the 10% almost every time.

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