Email Open Rate Introduction

Email open rate

Is your email open rate good? How to calculate it? What affects it and, most importantly, how to increase it? We’ve covered all of these in this article.

About email open rate

Email open rate (OR) is a metric that shows how many people opened your email. There are 2 types of open rate:

Unique open rate. It shows how many people opened your message compared to how many messages were delivered.

Total open rate. It’s a percentage of opened emails (including those opened more than once) compared to the number of delivered emails.

For example:

5 people received your email. 1 person opened the email 3 times, 1 person — 1 time, the other 2 didn’t open it.

Your unique OR will be 40% (2 people out of 5). Total OR — 80% (4 opens out 5 deliveries).

So the total OR can sometimes be even higher than 100%. Now, that is confusing, right? That is why marketers mostly use unique OR. We’re only going to talk about unique OR in this article.

What is a good open rate for emails

What’s a good email open rate? Let’s see what the numbers say and if you should blindly follow them.

An average open rate for 2020 was 18.0% (according to Campaign Monitor report). In 2021, it has gone up to 19,84% according to Constant Contact report.

“So, is my open rate good or bad?”. Everyone who starts their journey in email marketing asks themselves this question. The answer is: it depends on the industry. Let’s take a look at how different industries perform.

Average email open rates by industry

Like we already said, an average email open rate depends heavily on the industry you’re in. Let’s look at the last 3 years’ statistics.

2019. According to Hubspot report, Computer and Electronics had the lowest open rate in 2019 (19%), while Education – the highest (25%)

Open rate statistics by Hubspot

Open rate by industry according to Hubspot’s own report. Based on analyzing the open rate of 19,033 customers from November 2018 – November 2019.

2020. In this chart by Campaign Monitor, you can see the data from 2020.

Campaign Monitor benchmarks report

2021. Constant Contact has a great overview for 2021 open rate stats.

Business Type Open Rate (Total) Click-Through Rate Bounce Rate
All Industries – Overall Average 19.84% 11.28% 9.42%
Administrative & Business Support Services (billing, phone answering, hiring, etc.) 16.61% 20.01% 8.13%
Child Care Services 23.27% 11.00% 6.54%
Civic/Social/Membership Organization/Political (Associations, chambers, clubs, etc.) 19.34% 12.66% 9.19%
Consulting Services (management, marketing, advertising, blogging) 14.03% 25.44% 11.21%
Dining and Food Services 13.78% 6.68% 8.13%
Education 34.12% 12.18% 5.30%
Faith Based Organizations 32.48% 11.22% 4.34%
Family and Social Services (government, adoption, pet care, elderly care, etc.) 21.90% 9.28% 7.42%
Financial Services (accounting services, bookkeeping, advisor, insurance and brokerage, etc) 15.12% 10.95% 10.11%
Health and Wellness (physicians, home care, dentists, mental care, nutrition, etc.) 16.05% 8.82% 8.47%
Home & Building Services (cleaning, landscaping, contractors, construction, etc.) 27.14% 18.95% 6.40%
Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers 34.40% 18.76% 5.79%
Legal Services 12.89% 4.41% 8.43%
Manufacturing 13.78% 13.55% 10.47%
Nonprofit 23.00% 15.31% 10.00%
Personal Care Services (nail, hair, skin, nutrition, fitness, etc) 15.32% 7.51% 12.46%
Real Estate 14.58% 8.56% 12.38%
Recreation, Sports & Entertainment (Yoga studio, bowling alley, etc) 29.23% 5.21% 3.20%
Repair and Maintenance 6.17% 5.09% 8.59%
Retail (Brick and Mortar & Online, wholesale and direct selling) 12.90% 9.61% 26.49%
Transportation Services (trucking, warehousing, logistics) 13.88% 6.39% 13.87%
Travel & Tourism (passenger transport, accommodations, travel agencies, etc.) 32.60% 10.30% 2.94%

It’s important to remember that we are looking at the reports made by 3 different email service providers, so the data can differ a lot from one ESP to another. But how do you know exactly if you’re doing great or not?

Many ESPs show how your open rate compares to other businesses in your industry right in your email campaign report. This is the closest you can get to the exact data. The average benchmark for your niche is given on the basis of analyzing the open rates of those businesses that are only within your ESP, but that’s good enough to make data-driven decisions. For example, this is how it looks in Mailchimp:

Mailchimp open rate statistics
41,22% open rate is way above the industry average in this case. Way to go!

With this tool from Campaign Monitor, you can find out how your emails perform compared to others in your industry and get actionable email marketing advice tailored to your niche.

How to calculate it

First, some good news: you don’t have to calculate your email open rate yourself! Email service providers will do it for you. But here is a general formula, in case you were wondering

Email Open Rate = Number of Emails Read / Number of Delivered Emails ×100

For example: if an email was delivered to 1000 people and 200 people opened it, your open rate is 20%.

open rate formula

Easy? Yes, but, if you’re a beginner, there’s a tiny thing you should keep in mind. It’s important here to take into account the number of emails delivered, not the emails sent. Emails tend to bounce, and you cannot ignore this. Some marketers say the formula goes # emails opened / # emails sent – # emails bounced. But let’s just be 100% clear that we only should consider those messages that landed into inboxes.

Factors affecting open rates

Let’s look at what affects your email open rate.

Event Triggers

It’s important to go beyond averages in your analysis of your email marketing so you can compare “apples with apples”. When assessing your email open rate, keep in mind that it depends a lot on the event that triggered your email. This will give you a better indication of performance.

Automated emails have higher open rates than other types of email. This is only natural as they are triggered by a certain action of a user, so this user is more likely to expect a reaction from you, open it and read it.

open rate by email type

Triggered emails perform best. Source: Email Marketing Benchmarks Report by GetResponse.

Brand recognition

According to The Consumer Email Tracker report from the UK Data And Marketing Association, brand recognition is the most important factor in opening an email. 68% of users open a message just because they recognized the brand. It turned out to be an even more significant trigger for opening an email than a subject line (59%). Simply liking the brand (46%) also turns out to be a key driver.

factors affecting open rate
The questions to the respondents were: “When you receive an email in your personal inbox(es), how important are the following factors for you to open it? (Rank by importance)”.

Brand identity and awareness are sometimes considered a sort of vanity metric. And we get why. It’s hard to measure if creating a brand book and sticking to strictly chosen colors, shapes, and patterns everywhere your brand is present brings you higher conversion. But this report showed that there is a strong connection between performance and brand recognition.

 

Subject line relevance

Subject lines are the second most important trigger for opening an email. There are several aspects to subject lines that affect the open rate.

When it comes to subject lines, small things matter. There is no one magic solution that would make your email open rate sky high. A healthy mix of them that will work best for your brand is what you need to strive for.

The length of the subject line. According to the GetResponse email marketing benchmarks report, the more characters there are, the higher chance your email will get opened (surprise!). But there are 2 fun facts about it:

  1. The connection between the length of the subject line and the open rate is not a straight line. As you can see on the chart below, a 241-250 character subject line has the highest open rate. But a 231-240 one has a lower open rate than a 221-230 one. Hmmm. Can you trust it completely? I’d say, no.
  2. The chart shows that many marketers tend to use shorter subject lines because they perform better on mobile devices (3 out of 5 users check their emails on mobile devices).
subject line length and open rate

Using emojis. Emojis, if used in a smart way, can give a boost to your open rate.

emojis and open rate

Source: Email Marketing Benchmarks Report by GetResponse.

Subject line personalization. The difference is slightly more than 1%, but if you’re talking about 1% of, say, 20 000 subscribers, that’s 200 people who won’t open your email (read “won’t click and buy”).

personalization and open rate

Source: Email Marketing Benchmarks Report by GetResponse.

Preheader

Preheader is what you see right after the subject line before you even open an email.

preheader example
This preheader explains what full Gmail storage actually means for me

Some brands make an effort and write a special preheader that develops the subject line. Some — not. The numbers say that adding a smart preheader does give a boost to your open rate.

preheader and open rate

Source: GetResponse

Time of day and day of the week

Day of the week. Let me guess. People are most active on Monday as they are fresh after the weekend and are at their highest energy level. And now let’s see what the numbers say.

days of the week and open rate

What? Friday? Yes, according to the Email Marketing Benchmarks Report by Campaign Monitor you can get the highest open rate on Fridays!

Time of the day. You can choose your best send time by A/B testing and experimenting with the times for different audiences. For example, it’s logical that you’d want to send B2B email campaigns during working hours and a weekend event digest — on Friday night.

List Quality

A quality email list will get more open rates than a list that is purchased or downloaded from social media. Here’s what we mean when we say “quality list”

  • Each subscriber on this list gave their consent to receive updates from you.
  • The list is segmented so the subscribers only get the content that is relevant to them.
  • The list is constantly cleaned from inactive subscribers and updates (old lists naturally give lower OR).

Expectation based on the previous open experience

If you managed to bring awesome content with great value to your audience in your previous messages, you earned yourself a good reputation. This means that your subscribers will be more likely to open your next email.

Here’s a personal example. I’m subscribed to the Really Good Emails newsletter. When I first started to receive their emails, I really liked how they structure their content and it gave me lots of value, too. Now I open each of their messages just because I somehow know that if it comes from them, it can only be good stuff.

How to increase email open rates

Now that you know what can really affect your open rate, let’s see what you can do to increase it.

Use personalization

Like we showed above, personalizing your subject lines can do small wonders. But personalization goes far beyond just saying “Hey, Helen!” in a subject line.

There’s a newsletter I’m subscribed to. Each time I see a message from them, I see them using my name. The first couple of times I opened their emails I clearly saw that my name in the subject line doesn’t mean there’s actually personalized content inside. Now, you have to know that they send their newsletter almost every day, and seeing my name in those subject lines every day feels like I’m being pestered by a friend who sees no boundaries. And the only thing I want is to actually see less of it.

too much personalization example
Evgenia! Evgenia...? EVGENIAAAAA!!

We recommend personalizing your subject only when your message has a personal offer to a subscriber (for example, a recommendation of articles based on a user’s browsing history or a personal discount based on their purchase history). If you connect a personalized “wrapping” (which is your subject line) with personalized content, your subscribers will learn that when your message contains their name, there’s really something valuable in there — and will be really willing to open it.

According to GetResponse, personalization in the email body can increase open rate by almost 3%.

personalization in email body

Tips

  • Do not put a subscriber’s name in all the emails. Do it only when the message you’re sending really contains a personalized offer.
  • Test how subject lines with or without names perform with your audience to be able to choose a strategy that fits you best.

Work on your subject lines

According to Finance Online, 64% of recipients open messages in their inbox based just on subject lines. 33% say they will open an email if it has a catchy subject line. Ok, it’s clear that subject lines are quite a trigger for opening an email. So what should you do to make your subject line work hard for you and maybe even make that conversion skyrocket? We put together a couple of tips.

Be clear rather than original. A big email subject lines study by Sean Bestor clearly states that it’s better to be clear and understood than to be provocative and risk not being understood.

He compared these 2 subject lines.

  1. “Free Ebook: 15 emails everyone should send”.
  2. “Why aren’t you sending these 15 emails?”

Surprisingly, the first one – simple and straightforward – won the Oscar and left no chances to its creative opponent.

simple vs provocative subject line

Keep it short. Did you know that hardly 11% of subject lines contain less than 20 symbols (a study by Aweber)?

subject line length study

If you keep it short, there is a good chance your message will stand out in the crowd.

According to The Ultimate Mobile Email Stats Overview by Email Monkey, nearly half (49.1%) of all emails in the world are read on mobile devices. In the USA, it’s almost the same — 48,38%. This is one more reason to make your subject line concise so it fully fits a mobile device’s screen.

Words to avoid and to use

When trying to come up with a subject line that will really wow your subscribers it’s easy to overdo it. We get it, your product is awesome and you might want to sell it by using the words like “the best on the market” or give your customer a little push by saying “click now before it’s too late”. Even if your product is the best on the market and that deal you’re offering really ends right now, using words like these is often a direct way to spam folders. That’s why they are called spam triggers.

Spam trigger words are keywords or phrases that email providers see as red flags. You’ll often find these words in emails that people mark as spam. For example:

  • 0% risk
  • 100% guarantee
  • Click right now!
  • Earn extra income
  • Guaranteed income
  • You have been selected (we all know this one, right?)

Active Campaign made a list of 188 spam trigger words you should avoid. We recommend however not to trust it blindly and to avoid those words at all cost. Approach it in a smart way: if your emails are well structured and have low bounce rates, a couple of these words won’t do any harm.

Now, let’s talk about the good stuff: the words that can increase your open rate. GetResponse explored if individual words in email subject lines can boost your open rate. Here’s what they found (top 10 results).

words to boost open rate

Does it mean you should use the word “newsletter” at all costs if your brand doesn’t even have a newsletter? Michal Leszczynski, head of content marketing at GetResponse, gives a great explanation about why this is not so black and white.

a quote on using specific words to boost open rate

Send welcome emails to get the highest open rate

Welcome email open rate is 50% or higher, which makes them 86% more effective than standard newsletters (GetResponse). Welcome emails are opened four times more than any other type of email.

welcome email benchmarks

It means that a welcome email is a big opportunity to get the highest open rate possible.

In this article, we gave 7 surefire tips that will help you make the most of your welcome messages and hand-picked great examples to inspire you.

Use double opt-in

We get it, you want both to build your list fast and have great metrics. That is what most businesses want. Now, single opt-n is a totally legitimate way to go. It gives you the fastest way to build a list: people just need to leave their email once, that’s it! But what about the quality of such a list? How many subscribers will actually open your emails?

With double opt-in, you know that every subscriber went the extra mile (that is, left an email AND clicked on the confirmation link) to make sure they receive your content. With this extra confirmation level, you know for a fact that these clients are genuinely interested in you, and that this is definitely their address.

confirmation email example

A confirmation email doesn’t have to be boring. This is a great example of how a brand explains why you need to confirm and reminds you that you’re on your way and all is going well. Source: Really Good Emails.

Benefits of double opt-in:

  • Your open rate and other metrics are higher.
  • Your subscribers are less likely to mark you as spam (because they said “yes” to your content two times).
  • Your sender reputation is enhanced (because your subscribers are more engaged), thus your deliverability will go higher.

Clean your email list

Building a list is not a straight road: you sometimes have to clean up the mess on your way. Here are the things you will most probably come across:

  • Inboxes that aren’t available anymore (temporarily or otherwise).
  • Inboxes with your message marked as spam.
  • Inboxes that are full and forgotten.
  • Subscribers that are no longer interested in your services (changed location, lost interest, no longer relevant, switched to competitors, etc).

All of these are bumps on your way to a high-engaging list with a good open rate. And you need to remove them.

Now, we know how much it hurts to remove something you’ve been collecting with so much effort. But you can also not call these email addresses useful, as there are simply zero benefits coming from them: no opens, no clicks, and no purchases. Moreover, you might be even overpaying your email service providers because of your list size.

In this article, we put under the microscope the email list cleaning process and gave expert tips on how to do it in a smart way.

Key Takeaways

Ok, let’s wrap things up.

❔ You ask 💡 We answer
Is my email open rate good? It heavily depends on your industry. Most ESPs provide open rate benchmarks for different industries. If your ESP doesn’t provide this, check one of the latest reports (for example, this one from Constant Contact) to see how you compare.
How to calculate my open rate? Email Open Rate = Number of Emails Read / Number of Delivered Emails ×100
What affects my open rate?
  • The type of emails you send.
  • Brand awareness.
  • Subject lines and preheaders (these two work together).
  • Send time.
  • List quality.
  • Expectations based on the previous open experience.
How to increase my open rate?
  • Use personalization only when you send personalized content, not every time.
  • Work on your subject lines: be clear and keep it short.
  • Be careful with spam trigger words.
  • Send welcome emails – they will give you the highest open rate possible.
  • Use double opt-in to make sure only genuinely interested people subscribe.
  • Clean your list every now and then.

What do you do to increase your open rate?

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