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How’s Your Email Open Rate? Here Are Two Reasons Why It Doesn’t Matter.

By October 11, 2013June 29th, 2015Email Marketing
How's Your Email Open Rate? Here Are Two Reasons Why It Doesn't Matter.

Sounds nuts, I know.

Especially coming from someone who regularly obsesses about my open rate. After Gmail tabs made their debut, I pulled gray hairs out as I calculated losses in a few percentage points.

But I also obsess about Klout, even though I know rationally that it’s a pointless thing to do.

And I count Twitter followers like a mad scientist.

It’s the numbers. They’re addictive, and we like to see them get bigger and bigger even though we tell ourselves that it’s an illusion and that quality trumps quantity.

Still, quantity is cool.

And still, I’m about to give you two reasons why your open rate doesn’t matter, so you can tuck them under your hat the next time you’re watching the numbers like I do. Because ultimately, numbers can be deceptive.

Open Rate Is A Function Of Technology

You may think that whenever someone views your email it counts as an “open”.

Not true.

The way open rate gets calculated is that your email service drops a tiny, invisible graphic into each HTML email that you send.

When someone downloads the graphics in your email, they also download the invisible tracking graphic and that gets counted as an open.

And thus the problems start popping up like weeds.

What if you send a plain-text email? No open tracking.

What if someone doesn’t download the graphics in your email? No open tracking.

Sadly, even if someone does download the graphics in your HTML email, that doesn’t mean they read it. It could just mean they clicked through on their way to that coupon for Pier 1.

Open rate can give you a general gauge of the relative success of an email campaign. If you’re used to 20% open rates and suddenly you see a drop to 5%, something is probably going on.

But instead of worrying that your rate is 20% and not 30%, you can be looking at other metrics, instead.

How about click rate? If you regularly add links in your emails, whether to your blog posts, sales pages or events, what you really want to know is how many people are interested enough to click through to find out more (and even convert!)

Who cares if 50% of your list opened an email if nobody bothered to buy your thing?

You can also track your responses. Are people sharing your email with others in their social networks? Are they replying to you when you ask questions or make requests? What kind of feedback are you getting from your readers?

If your relationships are growing, and you’re generating leads and sales, I bet you’d take that over a sparkling open rate any day.

Open Rate Reflects The Interests Of A Limited Set Of People

Here’s a thing I’ve learned about content that I produce, whether it’s in the form of an email or a blog post: sometimes people like it, and sometimes they don’t.

There are times I’ve written something that felt so awesome and profound, and that did get great feedback – from all six people who it resonated with.

Sometimes, the feedback has been so immediate and so delightful that I thought, “Wow, this is going be the best open rate ever! Everyone is going to love this!” And then I look at the numbers and they’re the worst I’ve ever seen.

Inevitably I find that the more I think people will like something, the less they do. But that’s not a bad thing. It just means that instead of speaking broadly and getting general interest from a general audience, I’ve really nailed something meaningful to a specific set of people.

Those are the times I meet the best people and do the best business.

Open rate? Not so hot.

Success rate? Much better.

So when you’re building relationships, generating leads, making sales… go ahead and count those numbers. If your open rate doesn’t quite match up?  Take the rest of the day off to worry about your Klout score, instead.

Do you worry about your open rate? Is it worth losing sleep over? Let me know! You should probably also sign up for our emails (from the sidebar) because they’re awesome. And be sure to open!

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Melanie Kissell says:

    I can vouch for your emails, Carol Lynn — “they’re awesome”! 🙂 So if anyone reading this post is on the fence … I say got off the fence and get in the opt in box … pronto!

    Really good points about open rates and I appreciate your outlook on this topic.

    Who cares how many people open your emails if they’re NOT taking any action?! Sure, it’s sweet to know your subject lines are eye-catching enough to get people to click them but so what?? What happens after they open is far more important.

    Off the topic a bit, but …

    I tried building a list of email subscribers for about five years. I ended up with a lovely bunch of coconuts … formally referred to as my “peers”. The good news? Practically everyone on that list opened every one of my emails. I was feeling good and flying high! The bad news? Your peers/colleagues/fellow blogging buddies don’t usually buy from you. I’ve since shut down that autoresponder service and plan to get back on board with list building in the near future. THIS TIME around I’ll be working to grow a list of my right people. 😉

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      I know I can always count on you to be a fan, Melanie 🙂

      I completely understand about building a list of “friends”. That’s always a danger, not just with emails but with social fans and followers, too. It’s easy to get our friends to like us! But you’re right, they are probably not going to buy from us. (And since we’re not selling widgets, we probably wouldn’t want them to, anyway… it’s not always easy not mix business and friends!)

      Look at it this way – next time around you’ll be a while lot wiser!

  • Hey Carol,

    I wasn’t much serious about email marketing. Sure, I setup a list, and I setup auto responders with long emails (I had a problem of writing long emails..I am hoping to solve that by using bullet points :D), but I never used them fully.

    So, I didn’t get to care about open rates/click rates (Technically, I was able to maintain a list for a few weeks, and during those weeks, I did care about the open rates, even though I knew I shouldn’t care about numbers. Frankly, I hate caring about numbers).

    I do appreciate you sharing this. Makes it easier to not care about open rates – when I start my new blog and list in December.

    Speaking of open rates, have you tried Signals App by Hubspot? It is supposed to track and inform when a person opens our email. I haven’t tried it yet. I just installed it, so I don’t know much about it. Perhaps we could use this app with our list, and get more accurate data?

    I don’t plan to put that many links in my newsletter. I am planning to keep a strict policy of not promoting my blog posts in emails. I may just mention it, and that is all. No links! I do plan to use affiliate marketing, so click through rates would be important. I am planning to experiment with the list; see how all of it goes.

    Anyways, thank you for sharing your insights, Carol 😀 Appreciate it!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      I think the important thing when you’re starting an email list is to understand what you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t plan to share blog posts or sell anything, what will the focus of your emails be? I think it’s a good idea to include some type of call to action, whether click, reply, read more, etc. Unless the email list is “just for fun” then ultimately it has to tie into revenue, by way of building relationships or sales.

      I have not tried Signals App, but if it works for you then that’s great. You always have to try and test new things!

  • Hey Carol,
    I use to obsess about the emails numbers and probably will again once I get back full-time at things, but right now it’s all about the Klout. lol…

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Admittedly, I still obsess about open rate 🙂 But I remind myself that it’s not the most important thing because I know that there are other things, too.

  • Sylviane Nuccio says:

    Hi Carol,

    Wow, this one was a short one according to your standards 🙂

    That happened to me many times before. You think people will love it and they don’t. You think that what you’ve written is not that great and people react a lot to it.

    I do not care too much about my opening rate, because I haven’t sold a thing to my lists in a while. Of course what I’m selling are my services and they could always either become my clients or refer me to someone, but I’ve not actively sold to my lists in a while.

    Thank you for letting us know that we shouldn’t seat that opening rate, anyway.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      I know, it was short and sweet (for me, anyway!) It’s tough to tell what people will like. Sometimes you nail it and sometimes you don’t. But the important thing is how well it’s building your business – not just your numbers!