The internet is full of false best practices email marketing guides and tips. Why is that? There are two main causes:
1. the extrapolation of the results from the speaker’s tiny world to the rest of the world
2. the lack of basic email marketing knowledge.
Today I’ll focus on email open rates topic.
I’m going to reveal some easy to understand technical stuff that will help you detect alone many awful email marketing tips posted here and there.
First of all, please forget about misconceptions such as “my email open rates are calculated by X, the best email marketing company in the world, so why bother?”
What Is the Email Open Rate Formula?
Email open rate is expressed as a percentage and is calculated by dividing the number of email messages opened by the total number of email messages sent less those that bounced.
The number of emails sent and the bounces can be measured easily by anyone. What about the number of emails opened? How is it done? There’s no one sitting behind our subscribers and waiting to see whether they open our emails or not…
How Are the Opens Measured?
All email marketing hotshots (Aweber, GetResponse and the others everyone knows) use the same technology: a piece of code is inserted in the emails sent to the recipients.
When someone opens such an email message, that piece of code calls the sender’s server and downloads a tiny 1px x 1px transparent image. While that image is invisible to the recipient of the email, the sender’s server counts the download. In this simple way sender’s system finds out that someone has opened the message sent to the email address “x”.
This is the theory behind the process of measuring the email opens. However…
Theory and Practice Are Different
Irrespective of how awesome your email marketing company is, real life shows how imperfect the measuring technology is…
1. The recipient isn’t connected to the Internet
If someone opens the email while not being connected to the Internet, that piece of code cannot call sender’s server. In that case the open isn’t measured.
2. Some mobile phones and email clients download images by default
The tracking tiny image is downloaded by default even if no human being actually opened that message.
Consequence: even if the recipient hasn’t opened the message, the sender’s server counts the email message as being opened.
3. Some web-based email clients and Android-powered phones block images by default
If the recipient didn’t change the default settings, when the message is opened our wonder tiny image isn’t downloaded. Images are disabled by default. In such case, that piece of code is blocked and no download request is received by the sender’s server.
Consequence: even if the recipient opens the message, the sender’s server doesn’t count the email message as being opened.
4. Gmail’s special case
4.1 A Bug Maybe?
According to Official Gmail Blog, since December 2013 Gmail automatically shows you the images in your messages. This is valid for desktop, Android, iPhone and iPad.
I have more Gmail accounts. In one of them, some messages don’t display images by default. Even if my Settings tab shows this: “Images – Always display external images.”
Consequence: Since usually I don’t click the link “Display images below,” my opens aren’t reported to the sender.
4.2 Recipient’s Decision
If the recipient has a slow Internet connection or limited mobile data, that person may change their setting so that Gmail asks them before showing images.
Consequence: The opens aren’t reported.
Email Open Rate – Conclusions
As you already found out, email open rate is a metric that is far from being accurate.
Many email marketing companies correct the measured rate by applying the following simple and infallible logic: if a recipient clicked any link from your email message, then irrespective of any other measurement that person is deemed to have opened your email.
However, open rates corrected with the help of click-throughs are still different from real open rates. Use this metric with caution and don’t take decisions based only on it.
Bonus: How to Use the Tech Stuff You’ve Just Learned
Every time you read tips on email open rates, remember how they are measured and how different practice and theory are.
Example of a tip I’ve read on a certain business blog:
“Monitor your opens and unopens. If someone hasn’t opened your message in 3 months, it’s a safe bet that you can remove them from your list.”
What do you think now about this tip? Let me help you…
If your email marketing company doesn’t apply the correction mentioned under the heading “Conclusions” and the subscribers who haven’t opened your emails read their emails by using devices that block images … don’t even think about removing them from your list.
You don’t want to remove active subscribers whose actions were ignored by an imperfect technology, do you?
Monitor your CTR instead. That’s an accurate metric.
Actually the original so called tip is 100% wrong. Even if you use CTR instead, it’s still not a safe bet that you can remove inactive subscribers from your list. What’s the hurry?
Try to re-engage them before applying the final solution. Send a series of re-engagement emails – exclusive discounts (real discounts, OK?) and so on, use your imagination. Only if they still remain inactive, remove them from your mailing list.
To Your Email Marketing Success!
P.S. What do you think? Use the comment form below and let me know your view…