Open Rate: just an indication that your emails arrived

We all know that the “visitors to your website” figure is so broad that it’s worthless, but there are equally worthless statistics available for all sorts of marketing activity. A pet hate of mine is “open rate” in emails. There are two massive problems with this one. The first is that it’s notoriously inaccurate, and the second is that …well, what does it mean anyway? The email was opened. That’s merely confirmation on behalf of the emailing system that the email was received. Nothing more. It doesn’t mean that the email was even looked at, never mind read or acted on. The only difference between two emails before they’re opened is the subject line. So if you send two emails and one gets a better open rate than the other, it probably means that one had a more enticing subject line than the other. Don’t think that the statistic is in any way related to the quality of the content of the email, because to see the content, you have to open the email. Yet I’ve come across marketers who eagerly await the “open rate” figure on their latest email newsletter as if it’s a measure of how successful it was.

Then there’s the accuracy of the data. Normally, “open rate” is measured by hiding an invisible image in the email, which is stored on a remote server. When the email is “opened”, the invisible image is accessed, and the number of accesses can be counted. There are loads of problems with this. Many people’s email readers don’t show (and therefore don’t call up) any images as standard. Many people have a “preview” window permanently open, and flick through every email they receive – effectively opening them all – even if they’ve no interest in the content. “Open rate” is an indication that your emails arrived. Nothing more.

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