Understanding Open Rates

Before reading too much into your Email Open Rates, it is important to know some background information on how this particular statistic is compiled and what it means.

First of all, it is important to understand how this information is gathered. Each email that is sent for you from Surefire has a tiny, 1×1 pixel clear image. Nobody can see the image, but it is always there. The image path is trailed by a unique identifier used by our servers to determine where the image is being accessed from. So each time that image is accessed from an email, we know exactly which email and who it was sent to. Sounds pretty straight forward right? Well here is where it gets tricky. You may have noticed in your email client (Outlook, gmail, yahoo, etc) that sometimes images in an email are not downloaded by default. You may see a warning dialogue like the one below:

As an Outlook user, if I don’t click on that warning bar and click “yes, download images”, then they don’t get downloaded. Basically, what this means is that any user can read an entire email, not download the pictures, and according to the statistics gathered they “didn’t read the email”. Even if you know for a fact they read it, they could even respond to you; if they didn’t download the images then your stats will not count them as a read.

This privacy/security functionality that causes the email client to not download images by default varies from email client to email client. Yahoo does it differently than Gmail which does it differently than Outlook, and so on. And to make matters worse, it can be changed on an account by account basis by individual email users. So there is absolutely no way to even guess what percentage of your recipients has this setting on or off.

So you can see that email Open Rates are not an exact science. Far from it actually. As a matter of fact, we debated back and forth for about a year before we even enabled this statistic in Surefire because it can be so misleading and is, by nature, flawed and inaccurate. But, it is an industry norm and people expect to be able to see this, so we caved and added this feature to our Surefire reporting.

Generally speaking most email marketing companies will tell you that 20-30% is about average for email open rates. This number can fluctuate drastically based on a lot of different things, but 20-30% is considered a healthy range. So what is happening to the other 70-80%? Nobody knows. Maybe they just deleted it. Maybe it went to their Junk Mail folder. Maybe they read it and didn’t download the tracking image. Maybe you have an incorrect email address for them. Maybe they read it on their phone which doesn’t support HTML or images. Again, nobody really knows what percentage land in which bucket.

Another thing to also keep in mind is you have to give it a little bit of time. Not everyone checks their emails every day. If you send to a personal account, they may not check that until the weekend. If you send to a work account over the weekend, they may not see it until Monday. Some people just don’t regularly check emails. So give an email blast a few days before looking at your open rates.

The good news is that you can be very confident those listed in your report as having opened the email, did actually open it. So while the statistic may be off as a percentage, this information can be useful in knowing which people for sure are paying attention to your marketing efforts.