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E-mail open rate ABC

Email Open RatesThere are equally many clients who ask “advanced” questions about e-mail marketing as there are clients who ask “beginner” questions. You know, there’s no harm in being new to something.

If e-mail open rates look like mere numbers and double-dutch to you, read on. We’ll explain.

What is an email open rate?

The open rate is the average of opened emails divided by the delivered sent emails.

We know when an e-mail is opened by placing a unique bacon HTML tracking code inside e-mails. The code downloads a tiny image or beacon from our webserver, which in turn signals that this particular e-mail is delivered. The statistic is then inserted in our database.

We count only delivered e-mails, while bounced e-mails are shown as bounce-reate in the statistics.

So, to reiterate, the average email open rate is the number of opened e-mails divided by the number of delivered e-mails.

Benchmarking email open rates

Broadly speaking, an open rate of about 20 to 40 percent is OK. The average open rates vary from niche to niche and heavily depend on the effectiveness of “subject” and “from” lines.

For example, the email open rates industry standard for health-related newsletters is around 30 percent, but people who receive e-mail from governmental e-mail lists usually open around 40 percent of their e-mails.

You can influence an e-mail open rate, but a number higher than around 70 to 80 percent would be, well, shocking. It’s not that people are disinterested in receiving e-mail; the number is like that because nowadays there is so much e-mail.

Besides, people who read your e-mail in e.g. Outlook, Gmail or on smartphones, often don’t show up in the statistics, because the e-mail browser doesn’t allow images to be included into e-mails.

The numbers can be quite plain-looking, especially if you realize that merely around 80 per cent of the emails are delivered at all. However, e-mail marketing is more of a middle way of marketing–it’s not based on masses, but rather individuals, yet not individually. That’s why an open rate, quite like the delivery rate, is not the most important statistic in e-mail marketing.

How to get a good email open rate

Well, here’s where the opinion varies; there are many techniques that will help you increase the respondents’ open rate. Some work better in one case, some in another.

  • First of all, send targeted e-mail. A targeted email list is bound to be more interesting to recipients, because the subject is interesting to them. Sending relevant email newsletter is, by the way, one of the “best practices” of e-mail marketing–so here’s to study more. You can target your users better by dividing them into segments.
  • Secondly, polish your “from” and “subject” lines. Of course, you shouldn’t retort to sending e-mail with a fake headline; such e-mail will make your brand’s trust diminish immediately. But try your best to spark the recipients’ attention.
  • Lastly, make long-term conclusions. There are external factors that influence the open rate–and even the weather can be one of them. If your open rate drops 2 per cent in a single campaign, don’t panic. If it does drop 2 per cent in the term of a year, maybe you ought to try something different.


A good email open rate doesn’t tell you a whole lot, but it is an important statistic, because email open rates can give you and edge against your competitors if you make the right conclusions.

For example, comparing two different types of e-mail you’ve sent, or evaluating your overall performance is quite easy if you have access to the average open rate.

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  • Bob Koeman August 17, 2012 09:29:53

    I think you’re forgetting something when you talk about opens: the number is getting less and less relevant because on a growing(?) number of devices pictures are loaded by default and nobody knows whether the device owner ever looks at the e-mails. You state that not showing pictures by the browser as a problem, but for the open rates they are a blessing. Why does everyone keep thinking open rates are so relevant? Even trend figures for the same campaigner can be very misleading!

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