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Email Open Rates Depend on 5 Factors

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Email marketing open rates are remarkably consistent for anyone with a decent knowledge of how to market.

Industry reports and my own experience show that open rates usually range between 15 and 25 percent of total emails sent.

Monthly results are more important than weekly, and weekly results are more important than daily.

This is especially true of email marketing because lists tend to be smaller than the average visitors to a website.

Small numbers fluctuate more on a daily basis than weekly or especially monthly.

Five factors that impact open rates include:

  1. The industry or affinity group being targeted
  2. The quality of the subject line
  3. The quality of the email content
  4. The quality of the list (did they opt-in or did you buy the list?)
  5. Time of day (earlier is better than later)

Industry or Affinity Group

Different industries have different volumes of content they can send out. Some can send it out daily, such as news media and their headlines. Others may send only monthly such as retail.

Likewise, subscribers fall into certain customer categories or affinity groups with specific wants and needs about how much information they want and how often they want it.

A email newsletter publisher in any industry may decrease the open rate simply by sending too many emails with weak and unappealing information. An even greater risk than low open rates is a high unsubscribe rate.

It is better to send emails with a conservative frequency in the beginning and gradually increase the frequency based on subscriber response rates.

Subject Lines

My industry — media and publishing — has an average open rate of 18 percent, according to MailChimp, a leading provider of email marketing tools.

A daily email containing news headlines with the links to the full stories on a media website is more likely to be opened if the subject line is a headline for a major breaking news story.

If no major story is available, the next option is abbreviated versions of several headlines that appeal to a wider range of interests.

The worst possible subject line is generic and doesn’t change each day, such as “Daily Email Newsletter from MySite.com”.

Email Content

The next factor that increases the open rate is the quality of the content in the newsletter. The best email marketer I have ever known was a great copy writer.

She made the content of every newsletter — a weekly entertainment guide — a commitment of passion and personality.

Subscribers loved what she wrote. It became the work of a columnist who brought a combination of humor, timeliness and useful information.

When subscribers come to expect that kind of quality, the open rate goes up.

List Quality

A great way to build a bad list is by tricking people into subscribing. Buying a list is another path to low open rates and high unsubscribe rates. Happily, spamming is much harder to do anymore because of the quality of spam filters.

The usual two options for building lists is via a form that has either opt out or opt in.

Opt out means a box is already checked. The “subscriber” needs to uncheck the box to avoid getting the email

Let’s be honest, opt out is mainly used with the hope that the individual on that page will overlook it or simply not care.

The quality of such a list is suspect. The open and unsubscribe rates are likely to be higher

Opt in means you have persuaded the individual to subscribe.

Opt in works when you have great reasons for subscribing such as a sample of the newsletter, proof of quality, etc.

The open and unsubscribe rates are likely to be lower.

Time of Day

Logically, it doesn’t make sense to send an email to a business list at 6 o’clock at night. Thinking about the target’s behavior, habits and availability will increase the open rate.

Certain groups may benefit from receiving the email at noon if they are likely to do personal activities on a computer during a lunch break.

Finding the right time of day is harder than writing a good subject line or good content because there is no obvious answer. It’s better to experiment with different times. It’s also wise to move the times in small increments, such as an hour or two.

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