Email marketing is a massive component of most small businesses’ digital marketing strategies. While marketing emails are simple to produce and have an enormous return on investment (ROI), your strategy never stands a chance of success if no one opens your emails. That’s why it’s so important to keep a close eye on your email open rates. By monitoring your open rates and testing different elements of your emails, you can improve your open rates on future campaigns, thereby ensuring that your messages are getting through and boosting your campaigns’ ROI.
An email open rate is the percentage of people who open your email out of the total number of subscribers. A good average to strive for with your open rate is 20 to 25 percent.
Raychel Kolen, marketing principal at MUSE Marketing + Design, said the open rate is one of the most important metrics to pay attention to when you’re implementing email marketing for your business.
Editor’s note: Looking for the right email marketing service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
“While there is some value in people simply seeing your email hit their box, if we can get potential customers/clients to open that email, they’ll be getting more of the information we want them to see, and they’ll be more likely to take the desired action from that email,” Kolen said.
According to data from Constant Contact, the average email open rate as of July 2023 across industries was 34.46 percent. The highest open rates were for child care services (43.87 percent), and the lowest rates were for technology services (18.34 percent).
Calculating your email open rate is pretty simple, as long as you have the correct data. The key metrics you need are how many subscribers your email was sent to, how many emails bounced back and how many of your subscribers opened the email after it landed in their inbox.
When you’re calculating your email open rate, don’t include emails that bounced back in your delivered send counts, since they weren’t actually delivered, said Krystle Church, founder of Krystle Church Copy Studio.
Here is the formula for calculating an email open rate:
Number of emails read / (Number of sent emails – Number of bounced emails) x 100 = Open
Good email open rates vary based on several factors, including the type of email and the industry. For example, very customized emails, like those with an order confirmation or a special offer for first-time customers, can get open rates above 70 percent, Kolen said. However, email newsletters have much lower open rates that vary by industry.
Generally speaking, you want at least 20 percent of recipients opening your emails, according to Church.
“Anything under 20 percent, I’d recommend looking at why and addressing the root cause to increase your email engagement,” she said. “Open rates between 30 percent and 40 percent are generally considered very good, and above 40 percent are great.
It’s often best to benchmark against yourself for continual improvement, said Justin Smith, president of OuterBox.
“If you’re just starting out with email marketing, use your initial campaign to create a benchmark, and then work to improve from there,” Smith said.
Subscribers are most likely to open emails on Tuesdays, and the best average open rates are at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
The email open rate is one of the most important email metrics you should be tracking. There are a few ways small businesses can do it, but the most popular is to have your email marketing program do it for you.
“Any email marketing program should provide this kind of tracking for you in its dashboard, as this is a very important and common metric marketers like to track,” Kolen said. “I also regularly input these into an ‘old-school’ spreadsheet so I can monitor changes over time. Keeping an eye on open rates by email/email type in each month can illuminate whether emails need tweaking or are working as is.”
Smith agreed that recording open rates in a customized spreadsheet is key to analyzing what’s occurring as your campaigns roll out. Smith also suggested tracking open rates against the time of day your emails are sent, what days of the week they are sent and other variables.
Some say email rates don’t affect the overall success of a small business, while others strongly disagree. Others think open rates are one piece of the overall picture.
Heather Roonan, content manager at GigSalad, said open rates, as well as click-through rates, are extremely useful in determining the success of your efforts.
“There’s no point in building beautiful emails if no one is opening them,” Roonan said. “If the purpose of your email is to educate or inform using the content within the email, then the open rate is the most important metric to watch and improve. If you also need them to click through to read more or make a sale, then open rates are half the battle. In that case, you need to be watching your click-through rate as well.”
Church said email open rates should be used as more of an indicator of how healthy your email list is. Those rates serve as a guide, informing you if your audience is interested in your company or perhaps indicating that it’s time to scrub your list and delete stale subscribers.
In addition to the click-through rate, conversions from email can indicate a successful email campaign.
Low open rates can indicate a few things, like disengaged subscribers, less-enticing subject lines or untargeted emails, according to Church. Here are some ways you can turn around low open rates:
Your subject line is the first thing people see. Often, it is the primary driver for opening an email, so make sure you’re writing the best subject line you can.
“If your email platform allows for it (which most do), try A/B testing your subject lines with a small subset of your total audience,” Smith said. “When doing an A/B test, make sure your subject line is the only aspect of your email that is different. If you’re trying to test multiple variables at once, you’ll never get definitive results.”
Also consider using A/B testing for the “from” field. “For example, do your email subscribers want to hear from your brand name or a specific person at the company?” Kolen said.
Test a couple of versions, and see which one performs better. However, keep in mind that it won’t be foolproof, because different segments of your list might want different things.
You can’t correct a problem if you don’t know the source of it. “If you’re consistently getting low open rates, consider how often you’ve nurtured your audience, what your ratio of value to sales email is, and if they’ve been promoted [to] a lot,” Church said.
If your marketing emails aren’t achieving your desired open rates, it could be because you’re sending them to too many people who aren’t interested in your offer. “Be sure to segment your list for offers or promotions that are relevant to only specific subscribers based on tagging and behavior tracking you’re able to do within your email marketing platform,” Church said.
Another trend is the use of emoji. “Of course, the more popular it becomes, the less your email will stand out against others, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. Just don’t overuse them,” Roonan advised.
If you notice that certain subscribers never open your emails, or they open them but don’t click any links, it might be time to incentivize these subscribers. You can do this a few different ways, but the most common is to offer a discount or free shipping. Create a separate email list comprising your inactive subscribers, and send the retargeting emails only to that list.
While all major email marketing platforms allow you to track your open rates, some make it easier to monitor open rates and make changes to improve them. We have reviewed dozens of email software options and have picked the best email marketing software platforms based on a variety of factors. Here are some of the top email marketing platforms for tracking and improving open rates.
Constant Contact has extensive reporting and tracking capabilities that make it easy to see your open rate and other metrics for each campaign. Because it has behavioral triggers and automated campaign flows (for example, when a subscriber clicks a specific link, the next email they get relates to that kind of content), emails can be extremely relevant to subscribers, thereby boosting open rates. Learn more in our review of Constant Contact.
Larger companies can benefit from the features in Campaigner’s Advanced plan, such as automation workflows, purchase behavior data and segment sampling. All of these tools help you drill down to the content your subscribers want to see, which will ultimately improve your open rates. Even the lower-priced plan allows you to conduct A/B testing to discover the subject lines and preview text that result in the highest open rates. Learn more in our review of Campaigner.
HubSpot’s email marketing can be bought separately or as part of its Marketing Hub. When combined with the other features of the Marketing Hub, the platform allows you to mine data from the rest of your marketing efforts, such as your blog, social media, landing pages and incoming leads. This means you can easily discover the subjects and keywords that resonate with prospects and use them to improve your email open rates.
Freshmarketer integrates seamlessly into Freshworks’ customer relationship management (CRM) platform, Freshsales Suite. The data from the CRM can be used to personalize emails, thus increasing the chance that subscribers will open them. In addition, Freshmarketer’s Freddy AI tool draws on customer data to help you craft creative and specific content that resonates with subscribers and compels them to open emails more often.
Jennifer Dublino contributed to this article.