Why Opens Aren’t Everything in Email Marketing

Marketers love the idea of high open rates on emails. Unfortunately, opens don’t necessarily mean conversions, and that means over-relying on them as a form of analytics can be misleading or even damaging to your campaign.

You, the valiant marketer on the other end, sees all those opens and assumes it means your content is on track and working. Your audience, on the other hand, still isn’t motivated enough to follow through.

Today, we want to help you understand exactly why opens aren’t everything in email marketing. We’ll also tell you what you should be paying attention to, and how you can tell the difference between success and failure. Success is possible!

 

Opens are Not the Goal

Here’s the problem: it’s completely possible to have a high open rate and not land a single sale or signup. Your audience is reading, and even interested, but once they land inside the email, what are they really doing?

The goal of every email marketing campaign is to:

  • Get people to see your email
  • Get them to open the email
  • Convince them to take action

Now, that action might differ depending on the nature of your business, sure. A newspaper obviously wants people to either subscribe to home delivery or click through to their website to subscribe online. A manufacturing company wants to attract clients who either call them or visit their website to order a service.

Either way, the end goal is the same: convince them to do something specific that (hopefully) improves your brand awareness or makes you money.

 

You Have to Open to Unsubscribe

Here’s a slightly terrifying statistic: 69 percent of email marketing recipients report emails for spam based on the subject line alone.

“That’s okay,” you’re thinking. “I have great personalized email subjects and tons of opens. It’s pretty clear it’s working.”

Or is it?

What many marketers manage to forget is the fact that most email programs require that you open the email before you can report it as spam or unsubscribe. Angry Dan Jones who just received your email and is totally going to report you now counts towards that successful open count you thought you had.

How many others are just like him?

Relying on open rates alone gives you a shallow picture of your success because it doesn’t tell you what your audience is actually doing once they’re inside. In this instance, leads tracking and monitoring unsubscribe rates might paint a very different picture of your campaign’s overall success.

Without tracking deeper analytics, you can’t possibly know whether Angry Dan Jones unsubscribed, reported you for spam, or reported it as a phishing attempt.

 

Previews Count as Opens

Some email programs, including Outlook and most ERP or business management software platforms, show a preview panel for emails. When an email comes in, the panel shows the reader a short, truncated view of what they’ll see if they open it further. The premise behind this is to reduce risks from email worms and viruses and allow the user to avoid reading junk mail.

Unfortunately, some email marketing programs and platforms count preview panel views as opens, especially if the user adjusts settings to show a significant portion of the email content.

It’s completely possible to have a high open rate even though your list isn’t even opening your emails at all. Instead, they’re glancing at them in preview, and then moving on or ignoring you.

This is a difficult issue to overcome, but we do have a few tips. Focus on being catchy and snappy in the first 25 percent of your email, and work hard to create personalized subject lines that really grab attention. Preview aside, a good subject and introduction should be enough to tempt them to click in for real.

 

High Opens + Small List = Sub-Par Results

This problem is particularly endemic to first-time email marketers and smaller businesses who don’t really have much experience with analytics. They see a high open rate and assume they’re succeeding, yet they’re only sending out emails to 120 people. Sixty percent of 120 is still only 72 people – people we aren’t even sure are turning into actual conversions.

So you, the new marketer, sees that your audience is opening your emails and assumes you’re succeeding. In reality, you forgot you added several employees and all of your friends and family to the list to help you get started. That’s great, but it’s probably not going to result in conversions or high sales anytime soon.

Remember that high opens can appear deceptively high when you look at percentages alone. Look at hard numbers instead; how many people actually opened your email? How big is your list? If it’s low, focus on growing your list further and then start factoring in opens when “high” has more impact.

 

Sudden Spikes Often Mean Trouble

Sometimes, it manifests in a slightly different format – a business sees a sudden remarkable jump in open rates and assumes the content they just sent out is the key to future success.

What they aren’t considering is the fact that the email they sent out contains a mistake. The product sale within it says the item is on sale for $0.99 cents, not $9.99, which is a highly motivating but totally incorrect figure.

“Boy, that’s some sale,” your audience thinks, “I better jump right on this.”

Then, one of two things happen:

  • They get inside the email and realize it was too good to be true
  • The email is wrong, too, and they click through, only to bounce away
  • Your site price is wrong, too, and you lose thousands due to the misprint

Incorrect pricing and typos happen (just look at this incident from Vibrant Body Company as proof). But this is just one example of why a sudden spike in email opens isn’t necessarily proof of success.

You could also offend people so seriously that they click through the email to report you for abuse. Or, maybe you used a trigger word and Gmail told them it’s a phishing attempt; they opened it to report it as such.

Then, there’s also the fact that all email marketing campaigns have occasional spikes. Sometimes, theses spikes help us identify trends and audience “loves;” other times, it seemingly happens because it’s a full moon. Take spikes as they are: a clue that may or may not be transient. Look at analytics success over time, not just from a single day, week, or month.

At Sachs Marketing Group, we know the value of patience, dedication, and holistic analytics in email marketing. If you’re struggling to get your start or just need some advice, we’d love to talk. Contact us using this link to get started.

SEO virtuoso, CEO @Sachs Marketing Group. Focused on being of service to business owners - helping to better position them in the eyes of their audiences.

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