Your open rate is one of the most important performance metrics you can track, and not just so you can see how you stack up against the competition.
While click-through, unsubscribes, complaints, and forwards all play their part in an effective email marketing campaign, none of those things matter one bit unless your emails are getting opened in the first place.
Without a good open rate, the greatest campaign is a non-starter. That’s why, in this guide, we’ll share what’s a good email open rate and how you can improve yours if it’s less than stellar.
Before we get into what makes an open rate stand out, let’s briefly cover how to calculate an email open rate.
How to Calculate Your Email Open Rate
If you’re using any of the top email providers, they’ll have already calculated your email open rates for you.
But for your information, your email open rate is calculated by dividing the number of unique opens by the number of emails sent, minus the number of bounces:
So out of the people who actually received your email, your open rate is the percentage of people who opened that email.
Now that you know how to calculate your open rate, let’s get to the multi-million dollar question. What’s the average email open rate that you can expect to see?
What is the Average Email Open Rate?
Across all industries, the average open rate for the fourth quarter of 2018 was 29.4%, according to Epsilon.
However, when you take a closer look at the open rates for each industry, you see that there are some pretty big swings depending on which industry you’re in.
For example, Constant Contact reports that the average open rate for companies in the Education industry is 25.54%, whereas the average open rate in the marketing/advertising industry is 14.56%. That’s a pretty big difference.
For a better benchmark to measure against, you’ll probably want to narrow your scope to the average open rates for your particular industry.
Here’s a selection of the average open and click rates for Constant Contact customers by industry (as of March 2019):
These statistics are a good starting point, but remember that no two email lists are the same, even in the same industry. The way you’re going to get the most benefit from analyzing your email marketing statistics is by benchmarking and tracking your own email open rates and other statistics.
That way, you’ll be able to see what works—and what doesn’t—for your own email list.
5 Steps to Benchmark Your Open Rates
Even when you know the average open rates for your industry, you can’t set a truly realistic goal for your email open rates without benchmarking your current results.
Follow these 5 steps to benchmark your own email open rates:
Step 1: Chart Your Open Rates from the Past 1-4 Quarters
The first thing you need to do is go back and look at every email you sent over the past 3-12 months. Chart your open rates (and any other statistics you want to track, like your click rates, unsubscribe rates, complaint rates, etc.) for every single broadcast email that you sent.
Here’s an example of how you might chart your open rates and click rates by quarter:
Step 2: Establish Your Average Open Rate
Now, you can calculate your average open rate (and averages for other statistics) over the past 1-4 quarters.
To calculate your average open rate during a specific period, add up all of your individual open rates, and divide by the total number of emails sent during that period.
This is your baseline. Don’t forget to also establish a baseline for your other desired statistics.
Step 3: Identify Outliers
Next, take a look at any outliers, both good and bad.
Did a particular email perform really well or really poorly? If so, do you have a theory about why it did better or worse than the others? Make note of each of these outliers.
For example, in this chart, open rates improved fairly consistently except for Email 5, which took a dip:
We would want to take a look at that particular email to try and figure out why it didn’t do as well as the others.
Step 4: Look for Patterns
Next, look for any patterns that emerge. Does a particular topic do really well, or really poorly? What about your send time? Does a specific time of day do better or worse than average? What types of subject lines performed better or worse?
Take notes and use this information to improve your future campaigns.
Step 5: Set Goals
Finally, set a goal for your open rate (and all other performance metrics). How much would you like to improve your metrics over the baseline?
Now is a good time to go back to the industry averages and see where you stand. Don’t obsess over these numbers, however. Use them to help you establish a realistic goal for yourself.
4 Reasons Why You Have a Low Open Rate
You may find that your open rates are way lower than the industry average. If that’s the case, you may have a problem that needs to be addressed. Here are 4 reasons why your email open rates may be lower than they should be:
- Unqualified subscribers. If you purchased an email list, you can expect open rates well below the industry average. Never, ever purchase an email list! The same goes for lists that were acquired without properly qualifying subscribers.
- Not segmenting your list. If you send the same email to every single person on your list, you’ll never get the kind of engagement you’re looking for.
- Lots of inactive subscribers. If you have a lot of people on your list who are inactive and haven’t engaged with your emails for a long time, that will hurt your inbox deliverability and your open rates will plummet.
- Boring subject lines. If you really want to improve your open rates, you’ve got to focus on crafting enticing email subject lines.
These are the main reasons why you may have a low email open rate. Keep reading to find out how to solve these problems for good.
8 Tips To Improve Your Email Open Rates
So far, you’ve learned the average email open rate across all industries, and the specific open rates per industry. You know how to benchmark your own email open rates and you’ve also learned the top 4 reasons why you may have low email open rates.
Now let’s dive into 8 specific ways you can improve your email open rates.
1. Qualify Your Subscribers
Before asking anyone to join your email list, make sure to qualify them with a relevant lead magnet. Don’t try to attract anyone and everyone to your email list.
For example, avoid using giveaways that most people would want, such as an iPad giveaway. Instead, give away something that only your target customers would want, like a free sample of your product.
Your goal is an engaged email list filled with quality leads. A small list that’s engaged and interested is so much better than a large list that doesn’t care about you or what you’re offering.
2. Segment Your List
Most marketers broadcast all of their emails to everyone on their list. This is a lazy way to do email marketing, and it doesn’t work well.
To make sure that your emails are actually getting opened, segment your list based on interests, purchase history, location, etc. That way, your subscribers will be more interested in the emails you send them and will be more engaged with your email list.
In fact, segmented email campaigns perform 14.31% higher than non-segmented campaigns.
3. Perfect Your Timing
Sending your emails at the right time is really important for increasing your open rates.
In general, the best time for email opens is late afternoon, peaking at 3pm. Of course, you’ll want to study your own statistics to see when your subscribers are most active.
4. Use Both Direct and Curiosity Subject Lines
In a direct subject line, you tell the subscriber exactly what to expect in the email, and they open it because that’s something they really want. For example, “How to Get 1K Subscribers in 7 Days” is a direct subject line.
A curiosity subject line, on the other hand, entices people to open because they are curious to know what’s inside the email. For example, “I can’t believe this just happened…” is a curiosity subject line.
You should be using both types of subject lines in your email marketing campaigns. This way, you keep things interesting for your subscribers and they will be more likely to open.
For more help crafting subject lines that get opened, check out our guide on the 164 Best Email Subject Lines to Boost Your Email Open Rates.
5. Clean Up Inactive Subscribers
As we said above, if you have a lot of inactive subscribers on your list, your deliverability is going to suffer. Don’t be afraid to remove inactive subscribers from your email list.
If a subscriber hasn’t engaged with any of your emails in the past 6 months or so, send them an email campaign to attempt to re-engage them. If they don’t re-engage with you, then you’ll need to either unsubscribe them or move their email over to another list that you only email on rare occasions.
If you find that you have a lot of inactive subscribers, or you haven’t emailed your list in a long time, you should probably go one step further and use a list cleaning service such as BriteVerify or TowerData.
Not ready for a cleaning service? No problem! Check out our email scrubbing guide for a complete how-to.
6. Optimize Subject Lines for Mobile
Did you know that mobile email accounts for almost 70% of your email opens (depending on your target audience, product, and email type)?
To ensure that your emails get opened on mobile, keep your email subject lines brief. 6-10 words or 25 characters is the sweet spot. That way, even people on mobile will be able to read them.
You should also double check how your subject lines will appear on mobile before settling on them. Zurb has a really great, free tool called TestSubject that you can use to see exactly how your subject lines will appear on various devices.
7. Get Past the Spam Filters
Avoid keywords and phrases often associated with spam. Never use ALL CAPS (the equivalent of yelling through email) or excessive exclamation points. If you notice a particular email campaign has an unusually high bounce rate, check the bounceback records—they may provide insight as to why your email was caught in spam.
For more help getting past spam filters, check out our guide on 11 Reasons Why Your Emails Go in the Spam Box (and How to Make Sure They Don’t).
8. Effectively Use the From Field
If a reader doesn’t recognize the sender of an email, then they’re much more likely to delete it, or even hit the dreaded “Report as Spam” button. So make sure that you are using either your individual name or your brand name in the From field instead of just your email address.
For even more tips to improve your email open rates, check out our guide on 10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Email Open Rate.
That’s it! Now it’s up to you. Go ahead and benchmark your email open rates using the 5-step process above. Then take a look at your industry average to see how you measure up and set a realistic goal for improving your open rates.
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