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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.



Do I Need To Know When Someone Opens My Email?

I’ve recently installed an app called Sidekick that tells me when someone has opened an email I sent. (Note: this doesn’t really work with group emails accurately, which you would guess but also would think to be especially handy.) Now I am not into selling Hubspot’s website building software (see blog post about open source about that) but I don’t think they are a terrible company so I am not opposed to trying their other offerings like this one.

It’s been about three days since I’ve installed it. I have the notifications turned on in my browser, which means a little IM-like window pops up and tells me when someone has opened my email. This is both assuring and creepy.

This appears in the sidebar of every email I open. I can see when it was opened as well as how many times.

This appears in the sidebar of every email I open. I can see when it was opened as well as how many times.



Like ‘waiting for the boy to call’ all over again.

Now picture knowing that someone has opened your email. And now wait for them to write back.

There is a reason email didn’t come built with this, I am convinced, because honestly the wait can be agonizing.

The feeling of excitement-dread is a lot like when I used to wait for my seventh grade boyfriend Frank to call me. (I have always voted Frank my ‘Most Likely To Succeed’ exboyfriend and you can see him being awesome here.) After middle school, I realized I didn’t like sitting around waiting for phone calls so I just started calling whoever I wanted to call…or would go do something else. Maybe I can learn a similar lesson here.

Gulp, I’d hate someone to know this about me. 

Sometimes I think a lot about an email before sending it. Do people need to know how LONG I’m considering my response? Gosh, I hope not. In a higher stakes situation, my hesitation or re-reading an email over and over could cost me a contract or a friendship.

I am of the school ‘don’t knock it until you try it’ but I’m just going to say it: I’d rather not know. And I’d rather it not be known about me either. I think I’ll be kicking out Sidekick real soon… but to those of you who have tried it who aren’t creeped out, please leave a comment below about some benefits you were able to notice in using a technology like this!

 

The State Of The Mobile User

People like us are always telling people to think of the mobile user.

I know it seems like we are making up just how important this group of people are and it’s easy to assume that it’s only young people using their phones. This, my friends, is the state of the mobile phone user.

Mobile use is ticking up, are you thinking about how your website fits in?

Mobile use is ticking up, are you thinking about how your website fits in?

Mobile users are spending time on their phones.

The most frequent thing I hear (usually from older people while I meet with them face-to-face): “It’s only you young people who care about mobile phones.” They have clearly never watched my mom and her friends on their iPhones and iPads. Some facts:

The average user spends 3.3 hours a day on their phone.

85% of people (this is all people, all ages) say that mobile devices are a central part of their everyday life.

60% of social media time is spent on smartphones and tablets. 

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Mobile users are making purchases.

This is clearly the thing businesses care the most about and as much as I don’t want to hit people in the wallets, sometimes that is the way to get people thinking about their website on a mobile phone:

The more consumers are considering a purchase, the more likely they are to use their smartphones to find product information and reviews.

67% of shoppers were more likely to buy from a mobile-compatible website.

37% of consumers are more likely to buy from mobile-optimized websites.

67% are shopping online and 43% are planning a trip on their mobile phone.

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Most websites fall short for the mobile user.

So if up until now, you’ve kept your head down and pretended that mobile users don’t exist, for awhile that was fine… but now, it’s giving people not only a reason not to make a purchase but to have a bad taste in their mouth about your brand:

73% of users accessed websites on mobile devices (only 20% of companies have mobile optimized websites).

88% of online consumers won’t return to a website after a bad mobile experience.

55% of companies are currently conducting user experience testing. (85% of user experience problems can be solved by testing with 5 users.)

87% of Fortune 500 companies have an easy to find search field on the homepage of their website.

27% of consumers will leave if you don’t have a mobile-optimized website. 

Am I saying this because I am a jerk who wants to scare you? Of course not! I just want you to think about your mobile user, who wants to buy things from you and like you!

So do yourself a favor and get five people to try out the mobile version of your website and get feedback from them. According to the stat above, that’ll fix 85% of your problems and it’s a relatively simple thing to do. 

Sources:

25 User Experience Facts and Stats (SkyhookWireless.com)

73 Smartphone and Tablet Facts Every Marketer Needs (Heidi Cohen)

Social Media Engagement: The Surprising Facts About How Much Time People Spend On The Major Social Networks (Business Insider)