The Story Behind Email Open Rates

The other day I was checking out the stats from one of our client’s email newsletters (who does not use Mailchimp or Constant Contact but instead iContact). I noticed an interesting statistic that I hadn’t seen before, and thought “Now THERE’S an argument for mobile friendliness!”

Out of curiosity, I went to look at some other email accounts, in Mailchimp specifically, to see if they had similar reports.

They did not.

The closest thing I could find was the following:

You may think, “wow, that’s way better isn’t it?” Mainly because it has a lot more detail.

Here’s the thing: that first image is from one email campaign, an October newsletter. The second image from the overall lifetime of the account, because this level of specificity doesn’t exist for an individual campaign send. So, it could be better, depending on what you’re looking for.

If you’re like me, at this point you might be curious as to how iContact can give individual metrics about individual campaigns but Mailchimp and Constant Contact can’t? After lots of digging and getting sucked into a black hole on Quora, I discovered that it’s not a matter of “can’t,” but “won’t.” In fact, Constant Contact used to have this feature until 2016. So why’d they get rid of it?

The answer is a little complicated, but it has to do with the math/science of the open rate. Open rates aren’t a perfect science. According to Comm100, “email open rate reporting can be off from anywhere from 11% to 35%” and it has nothing to do with the service you use and it’s “legitimacy.” Open rates are measured by a 1×1 pixel that gets inserted into the email, so every time it loads, it’s counted as an open. 

Which means if someone doesn’t load graphics for some reason, it doesn’t count, even if it does get opened and the text gets read.

Personally, if my phone is slowly loading an email I want to read, sometimes I’ll choose the HTML or text-only version, which means no 1×1 pixel image, which means my mobile user open doesn’t get counted.

Just because these statistics aren’t 100% accurate doesn’t mean they aren’t useful (just maybe the device-related ones). For instance, comparing your open rates for different campaigns works well (it’s kind of like using the same scale consistently to measure yourself). The other thing to pay attention to is whether you’re looking at unique open rates (based on how many of your subscribers open the email at least once) or total open rates (based on the number of times it gets opened overall), since you want to be consistent about how your open rate is calculated (more information about open rates here).

The moral of the story: don’t get overly wrapped up in your email open rate, no matter what service you use. Instead, consider paying attention to trends in your email marketing (i.e. if your percent opens are consistently moving up or down) as a way of measuring your success. And regardless of whether you look at overall account information or information from a specific month, making your email newsletter mobile friendly is the right thing to do.

Why I Use Mailchimp (Or Why I Don’t Use Constant Contact)

As someone on a computer all day, I’m often one of the first people to try a new piece of software. Email marketing software is one of them. I’ve tried Constant Contact and some others but Mailchimp is still my email marketing favorite.

Now Constant Contact is a more complete solution in terms of them having event marketing and other features. And that’s what it has going for it.


Most people worry that Mailchimp won’t be full featured enough for their company. Mailchimp has the same features Constant Contact does:

  • high delivery rates (95%+)
  • segmented lists
  • statistics on email campaigns
  • integration with Facebook, Twitter, and Google Analytics
  • ability to import data from spreadsheets or csv files, etc.

A few things Mailchimp has going for it that make it stand alone I think as the best choice:

1) Free– I’m not just talking monthly for up to 2,000 subscribers. If you want to have a subscription box on your website, Constant Contact charges you monthly for that. Want to display a list of links to your archives of past newsletter sends? Constant Contact charges you for that. Want to let people to subscribe from your Facebook page? Constant Contact charges you for that. With Mailchimp it’s all free. And if you run a Wordpress site, it has good integration with Gravity Forms, which means people can subscribe to your email newsletter while filling out a contact form (for example) on your website.

2) Easy to customize templates– Let’s say you want the background of an email newsletter to be white. For Constant Contact templates, each block of content is controlled independently, meaning you have to go to each one and select ‘white’. Very annoying. Mailchimp has styles that the whole newsletter can inherit. Like if you want the background white and all the headers blue, that’s two clicks. Constant Contact templates take me at least three times as long to make as Mailchimp ones and they don’t look nearly as good in my opinion. Click here to see what one of my email newsletters looks like if you want to get an idea of design.

3) Partnerships– Constant Contact is very insular. They want to do everything within their company. Mailchimp however has been really good at partnering with people like Eventbrite to offer better features that don’t cost extra.No matter what, you can always take your list and go home.

Both Constant Contact and Mailchimp have a way to export your list as a csv or other file format so you can move between them. In other words, if you hate Mailchimp, you aren’t stuck. And vice versa. It’s very important no matter what you pick for services that you can take your ball and go home whenever you want.

Are these your only two options? Of course not. And if you really are looking for a one stop shop, Constant Contact may be right for you. But I’m sticking with Mailchimp because for email marketing, it’s free, has great features, and puts out an excellent product. But if I run into something that works better, I’ll be sure to blog it! (Please note: I am not an affiliate marketer of either software so no one is paying me to have this opinion- I just do!)

By the way, you should sign up for my email newsletter on this website or on Facebook. It’s monthly, people have said they like getting it, and it’s free.