Your Email Open Rate: Are Your Emails Being Read?

Email open rate is one of the most important metrics for any email marketer or campaign. It has profound effects on the size and quality of your list and your ability to reach your subscribers. But what do you we mean by the words “email open rate?”

What is an email open rate?

We email marketers like to assume our emails are being read, don’t we? We take the time to write a winning email, click send, and assume it’s going to be read.

But that’s not how it works.

Sadly, many of our emails aren’t read. They sit in subscribers’ inboxes, untouched, unopened and unread.

When a decent number of people open our messages, our email open rate is good. If only a small percentage bothers to read what we have to say, our open rate stinks.

Let’s say you send an email to 100 people. 80 of them don’t open your email. Your message sits in their inboxes untouched. 20 people do open your email.

Your open rate is 20 percent.

What is a good email open rate?

As with many things in life, the answer to that question is… it depends.

You will rarely ever see a 100 percent email open rate. Sure, it’s possible in extremely limited scenarios. If I send a message to a few people who are eagerly expecting what I’m sending, sure. I might see 100 percent of them open the email.

You will almost never see an email open rate of 100%. This is rare.
You will almost never see an email open rate of 100%. This is rare.

But that’s rare.

With a good, healthy subscriber list, you are more likely to see between 30 and 50 percent of your subscribers open your emails at any given point. The average open rate you see depends on several factors – including your industry.

“Wow,” you say, “that’s pretty low!”

Yes, a 30 percent open rate does indeed mean, necessarily, that 70 percent of your subscribers didn’t read your message.

Ouch. That stings.

But it’s also pretty normal. That’s one of many reasons you should be growing your list constantly. A 30 percent chunk of 100 people is only 30 people, but a 30 percent chunk of 1000 is 300.

Why does your email open rate matter?

Does it matter what your email open rate is? Yes. Absolutely.

Why? Two reasons.

A low email open rate means you’re wasting your time

Think about it. What good is an email that is never read? What’s the point of taking time to write out an awesome email that very few people will bother to read?

There isn’t one, really.

Imagine talking to a brick wall. What’s the point? Can the brick wall hear you? Does the brick wall care? Of course not. If your subscribers aren’t opening your emails, you might as well be talking to that wall and wasting your time.

Or, imagine pouring your heart out to someone you think is listening. You go on and on thinking they’re soaking up your words. When you’re finished, he looks at you and says, “Huh? Did you say something?”

Ugh. Insert facepalm here.

A low email open rate equates to wasted time and energy.

A low email open rate makes your email service provider suspicious

It’s no secret spam email is a problem on the Internet. Email service providers know this. They want to see people reading and interacting with your content. Otherwise they are likely to think you’re part of the problem.

Harsh, I know.

If your provider sees only a tiny portion of your subscribers opening your messages, they’re going to start thinking you never had permission to email these people in the first place. And emailing without permission is a prime definition of spam.

There are, of course, perfectly innocent reasons for your email open rate to be low, but many email service providers will play it safe and err on the side of caution – possibly even terminating your account.

Thus, it’s in your best interest to keep your provider happy by ensuring your subscribers open your messages.

Improve your email open rate

Clearly, you want your email open rate to be awesome.

  • You don’t want to waste your time writing to people who don’t read your messages.
  • Your email service provider wants to see people reading your emails so they don’t think you’re sending spam or don’t have permission to email your subscribers.

But what can you do to improve your email open rate? While it’s true that we cannot force people to read our emails, there are things we can do on our side to help the process.

1. Grab attention with great subject lines

Your subject line is the first thing your subscriber sees when you send an email. It’s not your funny joke in paragraph two or your awesome closing at the end that’s going to pull them in.

If your subject lines are lame, your email open rate will be awful.

Think about your favorite magazine or local newspaper. Why do they spend so much time and energy writing interesting headlines? They know that is what hooks people. That’s what draws them in.

Your subject lines need to scream, “Hey! Read me! Read this email! You know you want to!”

Be clever. Be witty. Be accurate. Don’t be lazy with your subject lines if you want your emails to be opened.

2. Provide real value with every email

Remember why your subscribers subscribed in the first place: value. They want something that’s worth their time and money. Every piece of email marketing content you send should be fantastic.

Reading an email is free, but it takes time, right? Right.

Why would I read your email if it’s not worth my time investment? Why should I care what you have to say if I feel like I’m wasting time reading your message?

I wouldn’t and I shouldn’t.

Let me put it this way… You buy a bag of chips. You pull out a chip, bite into it. It tastes like sand. Another. Same taste.

Are you going to buy another bag? Probably not.

Your emails are chips. If you teach your subscribers they taste like sand, they’re not going to keep reading them, and your email open rate will suffer dramatically.

Every email you write needs to be excellent.

3. Build a relationship with your subscribers

Your subscribers need to know you, trust you. Show them you want to help them. When they come to know you as a person and a marketer, they’ll be more inclined to want to read what you have to say.

Think about it. Are you more likely to listen to someone who barely know or someone you know and trust?

Show your subscribers you care about their success. Be open and real with them. There is a shortage of perfect marketers in the world. Be one.

4. Avoid the spam filter

Spam filters have improved amazingly over the past few years. That’s a good thing. But they also have a habit of flagging legitimate messages like yours.

Even your well-written, value packed emails can be caught in filters, hurting your email open rate. If your message is filtered out, it’s not read. If it’s not read, your open rate drops. So what can you do?

Never add someone to your list without permission.

Spam filters are good at picking up bought email lists. Never ever ever buy an email list, and never add someone to your list without permission. If someone didn’t choose to be on your list, he shouldn’t be on your list.

Use a reputable email service provider

Some email providers are better than others. Make sure they have a strict anti-spam policy and are doing their part to ensure emails are delivered well.

If you use code, make sure it’s correct

Bad HTML / JS code is ugly. But it’s also a clear signal to spam filters that something is wrong.

Encourage your subscribers to whitelist your email

When a subscriber whitelists your email address, he tells his spam filter, “Don’t block this sender. I want what he’s sending.”

Avoid common sales and spam words

Filters are good at picking up suspicious words. Spammers often use the same kind of language. Filters know this – so when they see it coming from you, they’re more likely to say “No thanks.”

SimplyCast has a great list of 100 trigger words you should avoid to give your email the best shot at getting through.

Use witty but not deceptive subject lines

Subject lines should be fun and witty, but they shouldn’t be inaccurate or spammy. Otherwise your email open rate will suffer.

Make it easy to unsubscribe

I know it sounds counterintuitive, but make sure it’s easy for your subscribers to leave. You actually want some people to unsubscribe for the good of your email list.

5. Send at the right time

Some email providers, like GetResponse, will deliver your message at the best time for your subscribers. Instead of sending 1000 emails at a time that works for subscribers in one time zone, GetResponse and others will wait to send your message until the right time for each subscriber. Pretty awesome.

6. Write well. Always.

Reading bad grammar and poorly-thought out content is painful. Don’t put your subscribers through that. Your message should be easy to read and easy to follow. Otherwise your email open rate will suffer.

7. Humor helps! A lot.

Be personable. I have a weird sense of humor, and I show that in my writing. At least I try to. Make your subscribers laugh. They will look forward to reading what you have to say and will be more likely to open your messages.

Don’t neglect your email open rate

I know email marketing can be word soup some days. There are so many metrics to watch and so much to learn. But this is an important one.

When I was starting out with marketing, I couldn’t care less about stats. I thought it was just a bunch of stuffy business-speak.

I know. Stupid.

But hear me here. If you neglect every other statistic, pay attention to this one. You need to know that your emails are being opened. If they aren’t, you’re wasting your time.

Even worse, your email service provider could very easily say, “thanks for the money, but we don’t want you here anymore,” if your open rate falls too much.

No, you can’t make people open and read your messages. That would be awesome – but weird and a little creepy. However, there are things we can do to make sure our emails have a fighting chance in the war of email vs the cyberspace equivalent of the missing sock in the clothes dryer.