Are Email Open Rates Accurate?

You may have heard how the recent iOS update may inflate your marketing metrics by recording higher open rates for email campaigns. Does this mean that open rates are no longer a valid means to measure the success of your emails? And, if so, are there alternative metrics to indicate whether your messages are actually generating interest? Here’s what we know so far.

People Have Questioned Email Open Rates Before

Email marketers have wondered about the accuracy of open rates for a while, regardless of the platform they’ve used. It’s probably safe to say that no email automation (AKA, the sender) has ever been one-hundred percent accurate, because every email service provider (AKA, the recipient) uses different software. There’s always the possibility that some inboxes could give false positives for emails being opened if the way those emails are scanned is interpreted as actual human clicks. Some inbox autoresponders may have the same effect. 

These false positives have often been easy to spot on a case-by-case basis if the automation you use records electronic behavior with lead scoring. Then you can identify odd behavior from those who seem a little too engaged: leads who supposedly opened your email ten times in five minutes, or clicked every single link repeatedly, for instance.  

Up until recently, this allowed you to weed out unreliable contacts while generally trusting the open rates of your email campaigns. Average email open rates of 12 – 25 percent were looked at favorably, depending on who you were emailing — prospects or qualified leads — as well as the industries they were in.

However, Apple’s release of Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) has cast doubt on the reliability of open rates for certain mobile devices. Emails are now downloaded by iOS prior to being opened, including the image pixels that automation platforms rely on to register those opens. This can make those platforms interpret incorrectly that recipients have been reading your outreach.

When you take into consideration that iPhones account for almost half of the smartphones currently in use, it’s understandable if you’re concerned about how this will continue to affect your email marketing benchmarks. 

What’s the Solution?

First, it’s important to note why marketers — us included — have long said that you should focus on how to improve your email open rates: they’ve been used to measure the strength of each email’s subject line. Presumably, the more leads who open, the better the message.

But not everyone was convinced. Even if lots of people were opening your emails, what were they doing afterwards? Going to your website? Responding to your questions? 

Or remaining silent?

That’s why businesses started to focus more on click rates. If leads were clicking on links and checking out your website, that indicated real engagement with your material — enough to take an action, even if it wasn’t a direct response, that pushed them closer to a conversation with you. 

The only caveat? Click rates can sometimes look pretty puny, because they’re often calculated by dividing the total number of unique clicks by the total number of people who received your email.

So what are the best email marketing metrics?

HubSpot would tell you that they’re click-to-open rates (CTORs), sometimes called clickthrough rates, which are the percentages of unique clicks divided by the number of unique opens, multiplied by 100. HubSpot’s reasoning for focusing on CTOR is because it “only accounts for the recipients who opened and read” your emails. 

That said, we recognize there will still be a learning curve if the open rates in that equation are inflated by iOS.

Other Factors To Keep in Mind

Even if CTOR replaces open rates as the go-to metric, it’s pretty clear that marketing emails aren’t going away anytime soon. They’re still the most effective means of avoiding gatekeepers and getting your foot in the door with the best decision-makers at other companies. 

That’s why it’s important to keep other factors in mind when it comes to gauging the success of your email marketing strategy and campaigns.

Direct Responses

Open and click rates being what they are, you obviously care more about the leads who are actually responding to your outreach and are ready to discuss new business. 

Keep an eye on which emails are eliciting the most responses, as those will indicate the language, subject matter, and even times of the day that are preferable to run future campaigns.

Avoid Looking Like Spam

It’s good email etiquette to avoid keywords that are more likely to get you flagged as spam. If you’re curious what those are, HubSpot has a pretty thorough list.

In that same vein, make sure that your emails are CAN-SPAM compliant. Use subject lines that reflect the content of your emails. Include a physical address in your signature line. Offer a clearly defined unsubscribe feature, and honor requests from those who choose to use it. Monitor your email bounce rates so that you remove contacts whose inboxes you aren’t able to reach.

Check Your IP Health

When you’re sending emails, include a team member on one or more of those email lists. Not only does this help you verify that campaigns have run correctly, it shows: a) whether your emails look like their test copies, b) whether your emails are recognized by your team member’s inbox, rather than their spam filter, and c) what IP address was used to deliver them.

Depending on your email automation provider, you may either have a dedicated IP address or a dynamic range of addresses that are used each time you launch a campaign. It’s important to monitor IP health in case you’re ever listed as spam. MxToolbox is a great resource for performing these checks, and offers proof that you can share with your automation provider when needed.

Use Email Best Practices

It’s also preferable to follow some of the tips we’ve shared before about how to draft effective marketing emails. Write messaging that’s brief, informative, and non-salesy. Ask two to three questions at most so that you don’t confuse or distract your leads. Make sure to send follow-up messages and different types of content to see which resonate more with your audience. 

Are open rates really dead? Not necessarily, but time will tell if other metrics like CTOR turn out to be better for marketers to focus on. That said, the steps above will still improve your chances that leads will open, read, and respond to your emails.

Do You Need Help With Your Email Automation?

Do you have additional questions about industry averages and email marketing campaigns? We’d be happy to share more of our thoughts regarding the latest iOS changes, as well as solutions for you to improve your own email automation. When you’re ready, click the link below to schedule a free digital marketing consultation. 

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