Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The fall of Open Rate, and why it’s not a good metric to rely on

Written by Pauline Buil, Marketing Director at Deployteq

In the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing, metrics play a pivotal role in assessing the success of email campaigns. Among these metrics, the open rate has long been considered a key indicator of email campaign performance. However, it is high time we re-evaluate its significance and consider why it may no longer be a reliable metric for measuring the effectiveness of email marketing efforts.

The recent Email Benchmarking Report 2023 has been key in revealing various insights to the digital marketing community, concluding that performance marketing effectiveness has dropped across the board. 

The findings uncovered trends such as the open rates fluctuating across various sectors, with Retail, Finance, Publishing, and Travel all witnessing their open rates increasing to a large extent. On the surface, this might seem like a positive sign, but when you delve deeper into the data, a more complex story emerges. In parallel with the average open rates, click-to-opens have dropped across the board, even in sectors that appeared to be thriving. Publishing and Travel performed relatively well, but they too experienced declines. Perhaps the most concerning drop was in the Retail sector, which saw open rates plunge from 9.2 per cent to a mere 3.8 per cent year-on-year.

These statistics beg the question: is the open rate still a valid and useful metric for evaluating the success of email marketing campaigns? 

The answer, it appears, is not so simple. In turn, the limitations of the open rate need dissecting and exploring why it may no longer be the best standard for measuring email marketing effectiveness.

Limitations of Open Rate

One significant limitation of the open rate is its inaccurate measurement. Typically, open rates are tracked by the loading of a tracking pixel or the downloading of external content, such as images, in an email. This means that if a recipient’s email client blocks images or disables external content, their email may not be counted as “opened.” The recent introduction of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) has exacerbated this issue, as it prevents the automatic loading of images in emails. Consequently, the open rate has become increasingly unreliable, leading to an underestimation of open rates.

Moreover, the open rate fails to correctly measure engagement. It only tells you if an email was opened, but does not provide information on whether the recipient read the email, clicked on any links, or took any desired actions. An email could be opened and immediately deleted without any interaction, rendering the open rate a poor indicator of actual engagement.

Another challenge with the open rate is its inconsistency across devices and email clients. Different email clients and devices handle image-loading differently. Some email clients automatically load images, while others require manual approval from the recipient. This inconsistency can lead to variations in open rate data, making it difficult to draw meaningful conclusions about the success of an email campaign.

In light of these limitations, it’s crucial for marketers to review alternative metrics that provide a more comprehensive view of email campaign performance. This may include:

Click Rates

Click rates are on the rise as a better engagement metric. They measure the percentage of recipients who clicked on one or more links within your email, and unlike open rates, click rates indicate active engagement with content. A high click rate suggests that your email content and calls to action are effective in driving user interaction.

Unsubscribe Rates

Monitoring unsubscribe rates is essential to gauge how well your email campaigns align with subscriber expectations. A high unsubscribe rate may signal that your content or email frequency is not meeting subscribers’ needs. Tracking unsubscribe rates equips you a wake-up call and ability to make necessary adjustments to your email marketing strategy.

Conversion Rate

Ultimately, the goal of email marketing is to drive conversions, whether that means making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or filling out a form. The conversion rate measures the percentage of email recipients who completed a desired action after clicking on a link in your email, and provides a direct indication of how successful your email campaign is at achieving its objectives.

Closing Thoughts

The fall of the open rate as a reliable metric for measuring email campaign success is a wake-up call for digital marketers. Its limitations including inaccurate measurement, a lack of true engagement insights, and inconsistency across devices, make it an increasingly unreliable indicator of email marketing effectiveness. 

As we navigate the digital marketing landscape in times of economic uncertainties, it’s crucial to embrace alternative metrics that offer a greater and more precise view of our campaigns. By focusing on metrics such as click rates, unsubscribe rates, and conversion rates, we can better assess the impact of our email marketing efforts and make data-driven decisions to improve our strategies. The era of relying solely on open rates is behind us, and it’s time to embrace more meaningful metrics to drive success in email marketing.