What to Know About Email Open Rates

Updated February 2023

What is open rate?

Email open rate is a measure of how many people open or "view" a specific email. It is usually given as a percentage that is calculated by dividing the number of email messages opened by the number of emails delivered.

Most email software relies on image loading to track opens (ie., the image is stored on their website server, and it registers an email opened when that image is called from their website). With the rollout of Apple's privacy protection, we also see many false opens. Some user settings and some email clients block images by default and opens may not be registered unless they allow the images to load. Because of these factors, open rate isn't very accurate. However, it is still something worthy of tracking for patterns as a health indicator. 

Accuracy aside, open rate is a component of ensuring email deliverability, so it's an important component of a healthy email program.

How do I increase my open rate?

1. Get permission.

One of the most common mistakes in email is sending out emails to people without their permission. Don't assume that just because someone attended your event, bought something from you, or performed any other action that they want to get emails from you.

Get clear permission from your audience to deliver quality and relevant emails to them. This can be through a signup form on your website, a check box requesting emails on a paper form, or other methods. The key here is to ask permission instead of asking them to opt out of emails. E.g., don't bury an auto-opt-in message in your customer journey. In many countries, sending email without permissions is also against the law.

When you ask for permission, you increase the number of engaged and interested people in your list. This in turn will increase the number of people who will be likely to open your emails.

2. Do not buy lists.

This ties into tip number one about asking permission. Don't buy lists of customers. This will put you on a fast track to ending up in spam filters and other problems with delivery.

Remember, there are no shortcuts to building a quality email list.

3. Send at the right time.

There are many studies that indicate the best times to send emails to improve open rates. According to Coschedule, weekday mornings and weekends frequently see the best metrics.

Keep in mind, however, that the best time to send email will depend on a number of factors like:

4. Segment your list.

Since open rates rely on the number of delivered emails, it's key to send out your message to only relevant people. One of the best ways to increase your open rate is to segment your list.

Segmenting your list can be simple or complex—from creating interest fields in your sign-up form to complicated algorithms that depend on how recently someone performed an action like visiting a specific webpage.

How you segment your list depends entirely on your message content. You will increase your open rate if you only send relevant and valuable content to interested people in your email list.

5. Make the subject line and preview text interesting.

The single most important items that affect open rates are your subject line, "from" name, and preview text. These elements are where you have the opportunity to inspire curiosity, grab attention, and build trust.

Subject lines are one of the best places to A/B test to increase open rates. What makes a compelling subject line? Well, there are countless opinions on this topic.

According to Digital Marketer, the most effective subject lines create curiosity, include an offer, or speak directly to the self-interest of your reader. This could mean that you don't reveal too much information about the content of your email, but only hint at what could make it an interesting read.

Other ways to make your subject line interesting include making it timely, like coordinating your message with a holiday or important event. You can include a sense of urgency, news, or a catchy phrase.

Your chosen subject line should also remain consistent to your brand voice. Make sure that you're not being too cute or funny if you're a serious and authoritative brand. In contrast, make sure you're not being too boring if you're a young or vibrant brand.

The most important takeaway here is to test, test, and test. Try something new and see how it performs!

6. Make opting out easy.

Allowing subscribers to opt in and unsubscribe easily is key to having an engaged list. You may be thinking, "But I worked hard to get those email addresses!" That may be true, but if people don't want to receive your emails, you're at risk for breaking CAN-SPAM laws, irritating your customer (who may eventually return), and you reduce the usefulness of your email spend.

Let people unsubscribe if they want to. Make it easy.

If you absolutely can't stand the idea of letting your user opt out easily, offer them the option to snooze your emails or reduce the frequency they receive them. You have to give users the power to control their inbox or they will leave you.

7. Re-engage inactive subscribers.

Depending on your email software, there are different ways to pull a list of inactive email addresses on your lists. You'll need to scour your list periodically (either manually or with built-in functions) to send re-engagement emails to.

What is a re-engagement email? It's an email (or series of emails) that reminds readers on your list of the value you provide. Whether it's a simple message saying "We've missed you!" or something more in-depth like a special offer, reaching out with these kinds of emails can help maintain and improve your open rates.

8. Weed out inactive subscribers.

When all else fails and your re-engagement campaign hasn't worked, it may be time to remove inactive subscribers to your list. Have you checked your lists for subscribers who never open or click through on your emails?

Why on earth would you willingly give up a subscriber you ask? Not only will it improve your metrics and diagnostics reports (open rates, click-throughs, etc.), but it can save you money that you can use on other active customers.

Check your email software for specific methods on list hygiene methods.

9. Make sure you're getting delivered to the inbox.

One other area to check when your open rate is low is to see where your emails are landing. Do they go straight to the spam folder? Just because your bounce rate looks fine, that doesn't mean people are actually seeing your message.

If your message isn't being delivered where you hoped, it's time to do some diagnostics to figure out why. You may have something in your messaging that's causing it to look like spam, such as:

Do you need help with your email? Contact me and let’s discuss how I can help you achieve your business goals.