Is the open rate a useful e-mail metric?
The gloves are off
Direct marketers are always searching for ways to measure the success of campaigns, but open rates may not accurately measure e-mail ROI. Our experts differ on best alternatives.
E-marketing strategist, Premiere Global Services
Eight years in e-mail marketing
The main flaw with open rates is that they are under-reported. Opens are recorded when a small image renders in the e-mail. When images are blocked, opens can't be recorded.
The accuracy of open rates improves by including people who clicked on a message, but didn't record an open. For example, if you send a campaign to 100 people and record 30 opens and five clicks with no opens, your open rate is at least 35%.
Open rates can be used to measure the effectiveness of subject lines. Use random samples for A/B split tests, and the under-reporting affects the test groups equally.
The rates are also helpful for evaluating engagement. Calculate a click-to-open rate to see how subject lines work along with creative.
You can also use open rates to measure branding efforts. E-mail still has value when people don't click — calculating opens indicates branding value.
Furthermore, you can use opens to segment your audience. For example, you should reconsider the message format sent to people who click but don't open. Maybe they don't like graphics or use a handheld device? Also, those who consistently record opens might respond to messaging with more graphics.
The open rate is a tool you can use to maximize your core success metrics such as clicks and conversions. At the very least, it's a directional metric that can aid your optimization efforts.
CEO and founder of SubscriberMail
Seven years' experience in e-mail marketing
We don't measure distance in fathoms or weight in stones — and the open rate, a traditional measure of e-mail marketing success, will soon join these antiquated standards.
In reality, nearly half of all e-mail recipients have their e-mail clients set so that images do not display. It is the default standard on many Web-based e-mail clients, and is usually set by most corporate network administrators. Without images on, the small pixel determining whether a message has been opened will not display, and the message will not register as having opened.
Many marketers have become alarmed by what they perceive as falling open rates. However, because the way open rates have been measured is no longer valid, marketers shouldn't make assumptions about the success or failure of an e-mail campaign by looking at this number.
As a stand-alone number, the open rate simply is not relevant. E-mail service providers only continue to provide it because it is a traditionally reported statistic.
The open rate may have some validity when comparing test cells, or when trying to understand relative interest levels between messages. However, it only indicates the presence of something — it does not provide anything in the way of details.
Perhaps the open rate should be given a new name, because calling it an “open rate” is simply a misnomer.DMNews' Decision
While Ayan believes that the open rate is antiquated, Gabrielson is more optimistic, suggesting that it is merely flawed and still serves a purpose when combined with other measurements. As digital channels evolve, marketers will likely always be on a mission to refine their interpretations of data they are able to collect, and cannot dismiss methods out of hand.
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