Email open rates are one of the most misunderstood metrics in marketing. For most email marketers – their open rate is the only thing that matters. They focus way too much on it. They split test subject lines, and email copy, and images and everything else they can in order to move the needle.  This often shows their lack of understanding of what the open rate really means – and how they can actually use it to be a better marketer.

Want to know how to use it?  Keep reading my friend…

So why are open rates a crappy metric?

Simple – it’s because people misuse the metric.

  • It’s not a measure of success or failure of an email – that’s what your click rate is for.
  • It’s only a fair comparison between two emails that were sent to the same exact list/group of people around the same time
  • It’s also extremely inaccurate – almost every email provider is blocking all of the stuff that email marketing programs are using to track whether the email was opened or not.

Let’s think about your email recipient’s journey with your email for a second.  Like most people in the world – they’re logged into Gmail, Yahoo, or something like that.  They see something like this:



A ton of emails, and a few that haven’t been read yet.  So what do they do – first they look at who sent it.  Then if they care about the email – they look at the subject line (Gmail conveniently bolds it for you) then they see the first bit of text from the email.  At that point if they want to read it, they click on the line for that email and they open it.  They start reading, and (if you did it right) they click on the link to the thing you want them to do.

So they opened your email. Awesome.  What did that really tell us?

Really it only tells you 2 things:

  1. They recognize you (the sender) and cared enough to take the next step which is to read the subject line
  2. The subject line/first few words in the email were compelling enough for them to open your email

That’s it.  That’s all the open rate tells you.  Nothing more, nothing less.  If you try and make more out of it than that – you’re doing it wrong.

So how do you use it?

  1. To determine whether or not people on your “list” actually want to hear from you as often as you are sending to them
  2. To determine whether or not you had an effective subject line

That’s it.  Don’t try to make more out of it than it is.

Do you think I’m right or wrong? Tell me why in the comments below…