Are your open rates declining?

Have you been checking your open rates lately?  I used to, and in fact I used to check them all the time.  If you have been checking them over the last few years I bet you notice that they have consistently dropped.

What am I doing wrong?  Why aren’t my subscribers opening more of my emails?  Maybe it’s my subject line. Maybe I need to split test more.  Maybe, the emails are too long.  Maybe too short.  Maybe I’m sending too many emails, Maybe I’m not sending enough. Maybe I’m sending them out the wrong day or the wrong time of day.  So you play around testing and testing and what do you find out?  Nothing really makes that much of a difference.  Sure you sometimes get a percentage pop here and there but nothing you can sink your teeth into.

Did you ever think that maybe open rates are not the metric you should still be using?  The problem is open rates are no longer the valuable metric to evaluate the effectiveness of your campaign.  So what happened to open rates anyway?

Why Are Email Open Rate Metrics Unreliable? from Hubspot (http://www.hubspot.com)

The fundamental reason email open rate metrics are unreliable is that the metric relies on a tiny image in the email being downloaded by the person reading the email.  When this image is downloaded from the web into the person’s email reader, the software counts that email as being read.  This is the only way that anyone has been able to figure out how to track if someone opens an email, and all email marketing systems use this method. Here are some examples of the impact of this technology on the open rate metric.

  1. Outlook. For a few years now, the most popular business email client, Outlook, has been blocking images by default.  This means that as more people upgrade to more current versions of Outlook, your open rate will decline, even if people don’t really change their behavior.
  2. Web Email. More and more web based email systems like Gmail and Yahoo are also blocking images.  Again, this means that more and more people will not show up as opening your email even if they have not changed how often they read your email.
  3. Mobile Devices. Many mobile devices (like the Blackberry) read email in text format by default.  In text format, no images are downloaded, so if someone reads your email on a Blackberry, it is not counted in your open rate.  So, if the people on your list have been using mobile devices to read email more, that would decrease your open rate.

Are you getting what the problem is here?  Messages that have images in them are the only messages you can track open rates.  Yet most mail programs block images from getting through. That means that if they block the images even if people are opening your emails you won’t know it.

Then there are a couple of other problems.  First are Spam filters.  Spam filters are more common, and some are set so high, you need a Marine Battalion to break through.  Plus, because so much of the Spam email that sells you cheap prescription drugs and simple ways to enlarge your genitalia use images, Spam filters are more likely likely to filter out emails with images in them that text emails.  Have you noticed that the really top marketers only send text email and no longer include images?  They figure they would rather get to your inbox without being able to check the open rate, than run the risk of going right to Spam since it is unlikely you can check the open rate anyway.

Then there is the overwhelming quantity of e-mails that people receive.  People read emails with one finger on the delete key. They may not even finish the first sentence before they flush the email.  Of course, if you have an image in it, and if (a big if) it does get through, people may see the image and assume it is Spam that just got through and delete that email just as fast.

So what are the alternatives?  That is a topic for a different day, but first we want to get your feelings about the topic.  Feel free to post a comment below and let us know if you have continued to send images in your emails.  If you have noticed lower open rates and if you have already switched to text only emails.

By the way if you have not already signed up for our marketing tips feel free to fill out your name and email in the form to your right.

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5 Comments
  1. I am only just beginning to use email, therefore, I know nothing about whether or not the effectiveness of the rate of them being opened is on the decline.

    However, I can tell you that my rate of opening emails is on the decline because I am feeling overwhelmed with the number of emails.

    Therefore, if the title or the sender is not high on my priority list, it gets deleted without being seen.

    Debra

  2. Many people have the same thoughts as you, that is why email should only be a part of your marketing, and of course the great reason for the Cross Platform Widget.

  3. Dr. Alan,
    I believe what ever you say. I’m not joking. It’s true. You are always looking out for us. Your mission is to help our businesses prosper while we help more people.
    I try everyday to incorporate more of what you say.
    Thanks for helping us!

  4. Dr. AL, the information sounds good and even though I haven’t even run email campaigns, it is always good to know things up front about what to expect.

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