Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A mini-guide to email open rates

As email marketers, we're always looking for new and innovative ways to improve our campaigns. We're often so wrapped up in the planning and creative aspects of email marketing, however, that we forget to really analyse the results of our latest send. 
Before you plan what you want to achieve from your upcoming email, think about what you achieved from the latest one. If it out-performed the targets you'd set for yourself, that's great; objectives need to be realistic and achievable. But while click-throughs, unsubscribes and conversions are vital metrics, none are possible without your email first being opened.
open rates 
If you're not currently using an email platform which provides you with the relevant statistics, allow us to briefly explain what the open rate is, and how it's calculated.

The open rate is a measure (expressed as a percentage) of how many people opened the email out of the list you sent your email to. This must also take into account both the hard and soft bounces your email will suffer from, so it's calculated using only the recipients to whom the email was successfully delivered.

Open rate = emails opened / (emails sent - all bounces) X 100

Therefore, as the open rate is the first port-of-call metric after delivery, it's always a figure you should be looking to improve. 

Some key open rate findings

We have researched the results of more than 40,000 email campaigns and 900 million emails in a year that we sent for 150 of our clients. Here's what we found:

Best time to send emails by industry:


Automotive       7-9pm
Charity             4-6pm
Education        7-9pm
Events             8-9pm
Finance           7-10am 
Green/Energy  12pm-3pm
Hotels             10-11am
Leisure            10am-12pm or 10-11pm
Marketing         5-7pm 
Publishing        7-8pm
Retail               10-11am or 4-6pm
Travel               3pm or 10-11pm
Technology      12pm-3pm

Which devices are most popular for email opens?

8% of emails are being opened on tablets
20% of emails are opened on smartphones
72% of emails are opened on computers

Top opens on mobile devices by industry:
1. Finance with 36% opens
2. Retail and healthcare with 32% opens
3. Publishing and recruitment with 30% opens

Worst opens on mobile devices by industry:

1. B2B with 23% opens
2. Energy with 24% opens
3. Data and property with 24% opens

Types of campaign

Different types of email campaign will generate different results, so it's important you're able to apply the appropriate expectations. The first email to a cold prospect that has had no prior contact with your brand, for example, will have a far lower open rate than a monthly newsletter that your email list has signed up for or a special offer email for a product the recipient has previously purchased.

Types of campaign include:

Cold acquisition emails - these are emails sent to a cold list of prospects, using a list that has presumably been purchased from a data supplier. Therefore, while the prospects become familiar with the brand, you can expect the open rates to be lower than other emails.

 - these are emails (usually sent weekly or monthly) to a list of subscribers, usually to update your audience with company goings-on and other relevant content. As they have signed up for this email, you can expect the open rates to be higher than other emails.

Dedicated emails - these are emails that usually stand-alone, and contain information about a particular event or offer. Once you have a template for these emails, building new emails for your latest offers is simple. Open rates should be consistent and depend on the quality of the offer and subject line.

Trigger emails - these are emails which are sent automatically to a recipient who perhaps has downloaded a guide, made a purchase or filled out an online form. They are usually personalised and part of an automated workflow of emails designed to nurture leads, sent over an extended period of time. Open rates rely on constant monitoring and tweaking of the workflow.

Thank you emails - these are emails sent after someone has performed an action, such as making a purchase, downloading content or completing a form. They usually contain a call-to-action to keep the recipient engaged with the brand.

What impacts the open rate?

Subject line
If you're wondering why your emails aren't getting the open rates you're after, just think about your own email inbox. We all suffer from an overload in today's fast-paced business world, so it's easy for things to get overlooked and lost in the crowd. Therefore, you need a subject line that is up to the challenge.

Your subject line should engage the recipient immediately, either by being unique (avoiding cliché words) and by offering clear value. Whatever you say in your subject line should convince people that opening your email will improve their circumstances in one way or another, be it their personal life or business. Then you just have to make sure your email lives up to it!

From name

The name your email appears to come from is often not given the same consideration that subject lines get, when in fact it's equally important. A lot of the time, recipients will check out the 'from name' before scanning the subject line. If they don't recognise the name, that email is likely to be deleted!

Therefore, it's important to remain consistent with the 'from name' you use for your campaigns. Some brands use the company name, others use a person's name; the important thing is that your recipients become familiar with the name you use, they begin to trust the sender, and understand the quality of content they'll get when they open.

Email marketing isn't just about creative design and a quality send list, it's also about timing. Your email might be perfect, but if you send it at the wrong time - when it won't see an immediate flux in opens, and ends up lost in traffic - then your hard work will not reap the rewards it deserves.

So when's the best time to send your email? Scroll back up and check out 'Some key open rate findings'.

Test test test
Most importantly in all aspects of email marketing is the need to test, test and test again. You can take ideas from industry averages, but you'll never truly know what works best for your brand unless you A/B test different aspects of your email.

Subject line tests
Before sending your email to your list in its entirety, take a small percentage (perhaps five or ten per cent, depending on how large your list is) that's big enough to give you a decent sample size. Then split this list into different sections - one for every subject line you want to trial. Send these emails first and use the results to determine which subject line you use for your final send.

Time tests

Similarly, split your list up and send test emails at different times throughout a day or week until you feel you have found the time that works best for your emails. You might be surprised to discover when your recipients are the most receptive and more likely to engage; for example, emails from the finance sector are most likely to get opened in the early morning (7-10am), whereas emails from travel agents are more likely to get opened late at night (10-11pm).

It's far too easy for email marketers to become discouraged by the results of their campaigns. The objectives you set for yourself MUST be realistically achievable otherwise you're setting yourself up to fail. Having said that, you've still got to do what's being asked of you, and most of the time that means delivering high-quality leads (in B2B) or online conversions (B2C).

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