Adam T. Sutton

Debate on Email Open Rate Rages On

July 28th, 2008

Even after about a decade, the jury is still out on email open rates. Some marketers disregard them as pointless. Others check them daily to guide subject line and content decisions. Personally, I think there is value in measuring open rates — even if it is limited.

Email open rates are usually calculated with a tiny, invisible image. A 1×1 pixel image is embedded in an HTML email. When the image is requested from the emailer’s server, the message is marked as opened.

There are some flaws to this system:

1. Some email software automatically disables images. Recipients who do not have their images enabled will not have their email’s marked as read — even if they read it for hours.

2. Software that previews email can automatically download its images. This can mark an email as opened even when the recipient had no intention of opening or reading the message.

3. Text-only emails cannot be measured. They do not have image capability.

The three flaws above fuel the angst of most critics. And you can see their point. This system of measuring could inflate an open rate, suppress it or not measure it at all. As an exact measurement of how many people open an email, the metric is useless.

But, there is still value in the metric as a relative measurement. Open rates are good indicators of your subject lines’ strength and of your audience’s faith in your content. If your headline’s don’t grab, or your content is less than outstanding, then you’re rates are going to be low –regardless of whether they’re being inflated or deflated.

Proof that open rates help to measure an audience’s interest can be found when a newsletter first launches. Open rates are sky-high for new newsletters. Subscribers aren’t sure what to expect from their new subscription. Their curiosity urges them to open.

Another argument against open rates is that they’re irrelevant and ROI is the only true metric. I totally disagree.

Measuring open rates, clickthroughs and conversions help to pinpoint areas where an email campaign can be improved. Sure, you care about return, but if that’s all you’re measuring and the campaign bombs, how do you know what went wrong?

Adam T. Sutton

About Adam T. Sutton

Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter, MarketingSherpa
Adam generates content for MarketingSherpa's Email and Inbound Marketing newsletters. His years of experience in interviewing marketers and conveying their insights has spanned topics such as search marketing, social media marketing, ecommerce, email and more. Adam previously powered the content behind MarketingSherpa's Search and Consumer-marketing newsletters and carries that experience into his new role. Today, in addition to writing articles, he contributes content to the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa blogs, as well as MECLABS webinars, workshops and summits.

Prior to joining MarketingSherpa, Adam was the Managing Editor at the Mequoda group. There he created content and promotions for the company's daily email newsletter and managed its schedule.

Categories: Research And Measurement Tags: ,

  1. natalia
    June 5th, 2009 at 11:51 | #1

    about conversion rates

    conversion rates refer to the number of clicks or to the subcriptions the costumer makes?

We no longer accept comments on the MarketingSherpa blog, but we'd love to hear what you've learned about customer-first marketing. Send us a Letter to the Editor to share your story.