While we’re on the theme of email marketing, I thought I’d explore a different topic: open rates. One question we were asked at a recent super online workshop is “what is a ‘good’ open rate for an email campaign”. Whilst we have our own experiences to draw from, I did some wider industry research and the answer, not surprisingly, is “it depends”…

On what? Firstly on your business, and a very close is second is on your database. It depends what you are trying to achieve with your email campaigns. Are your trying to sell? Or simply to inform? Are subscribers ‘followers’ or ‘customers’? I read an interesting article which talked about the fact that charities, causes or common interest groups (i.e. a sports club) often receive the highest open rates (between 60 and 80%) as the campaigns aren’t necessarily selling, only informing.

Your database can also determine your open rates, such as how often it is updated, whether the people are self-subscribed or you subscribed them (i.e. through a competition or you received their business card), or how large it is. The type of people on your database can also affect this, as I mentioned above. Are they busy business people, or stay-at-home parents? Are they older or younger?

Many factors can determine an open rate, such as the subject title of your campaign. It’s important to experiment with these to see how or if they affect your open rates, and many email marketing systems allow you to implement A/B testing (including ours). This means you can send a test campaign to a proportion of your database with half receiving one title (i.e. ‘Jack in the box turns 10′) and half receiving another (’10th anniversary for The Box’). The system then measures which one is most successful and uses the ‘winner’ as the title for your campaign proper.

Content also affects open rates, for example if you have a certain standard of content that keeps people reading it, week in, week out. Highly effective email campaigns are often those which provide information that can’t be obtained anywhere else, which is a good strategy for increasing a database. ‘If you’re not a member, you will miss out!’

Time of day, day of week, day of month and time of year also affects open rates. You have to consider when your database is most likely to be on their computers, reading their emails, and also have the time to open and view your campaign.

Of course, you also have to consider the issue of bounces, that is when your email campaign doesn’t go through. This can be for any manner of reasons, such as you have spelt the email address wrong, the email address no longer exists, the recipients’ inbox is full or the email system rejects the campaign for some reason. These also affect your open rates, which is why it’s important to monitor your bounces for each campaign and continue to ‘clean’ your database.

So all of this said, what is an average open rate? All my research suggests that between 20% and 40% is pretty normal. If you’re achieving more than 50%, you’re doing pretty well.

Is it possible to receive a 100% open rate? It can be, but these are more likely in scenarios when the database MUST open the campaign, such as communication with an employee group, committee, or board.

Importantly, though, the beauty of email campaigns is that they are measurable and allow you the flexibility to experiment, so use the data! Make a point of understanding your campaign reports and you will reap the rewards.