Email best practices
What is a good open rate and how to improve it
Open rates are one of the most important metrics to track for email success. Learn how to measure and increase your open rates. Learn more.
We’ve all been there. Standing in a cocktail bar with some great friends, talking about email strategy. When the topic of open rates comes up, you excuse yourself because you just know that your sad average of 8% simply won’t stack up. Jerry always comes in over 20% after all. We may not be able to help with your social anxiety but we may be able to help (even just a little bit) with your open rates.
Table of content
Increase open rates with A/B tests
Increase open rates with clean contact lists
Table of content
Let's start with the basics: an open rate is the proportion of emails that have actually been opened by your recipients after sending out a campaign. This percentage is calculated simply as the number of emails opened divided by the number of emails delivered.
The number of emails delivered is the number of emails that have reached your recipients' inboxes, out of all the emails that you actually sent.
Once you know your open rate though…what do you do with it? Well, first off, understand how your stack up against competitors and against your own past open rates. Next, start to implement new tactics and strategies to start to move the needle. Let's dig in.
What is a good open rate?
As consumers, we place greater importance on transactional emails because they will, for example, allow us to immediately reset passwords and access the content we want. This explains why transactional emails generally have higher open rates. It is important to note that not everyone necessarily opens these transactional emails (e.g. "Order confirmation" messages) since the message may not be crucial to them every time. While monitoring transactional email open rates is important to ensure nothing out of the ordinary is happening, it’s more important to pay attention to marketing emails since this is where you can have a much bigger impact.
The honest but unsatisfactory answer is that open rates for marketing emails depends on several factors: the size of your contact list, how often you send messages, the industry you work in, and so forth. On average, a good open rate is between 20% and 25%. Sectors known to have great open rates (over 25%) include religious organizations, government, artists, and sports teams while those that come in is lower (less than 20%) include consulting, gambling, personal care, and e-commerce. You can find 2018 industry benchmarks for open rates here.
These are just general guidelines, what’s important is to not only understand where you rank amongst your competitors but more important how you rank against your own campaigns last week, or last month. This not only shows positive growth for you and your team but Internet Service Providers will also recognize this growth and reward your domain reputation.
What you can do to increase your open rates?
The only elements visible in the inbox before you open a message are always the same: the sender's name, the subject of the email, and the pre-header. Below is an example of Mailjet’s customer Product Hunt’s daily digest, an email sent to millions of users every day.
So, to boost your open rates, look at these elements carefully to encourage your readers to take action: devise an intriguing subject line, add an engaging hook in your pre-header, choose a clearly identified sender who will instill confidence in recipient. Too many brands will put generic sender names such as “Marketing Team” that doesn’t stand out, or they will create subject lines that give too much away. Remember, the first goal is to get them to open your email, not to sell anything. Once they open your email, then you have a new goal...but there are many other articles to help with that.
Whatever happens, we cannot reiterate enough: test different approaches to see what works for your audience.
Increase open rates with A/B tests
You can use A/B tests to identify which version performs best. This involves sending several versions of the same email to a sample of your contacts list. There are two approaches you can take with A/B Test, depending on whether you are looking to send the best email to the most people right now, or if you continuously trying to learn how to improve your results.
The first method is to send an A/B test initially to a subset of your contacts (for example 30% as shown below), and the version that generates the best statistics is then automatically sent to the rest of the list a few hours later. At Mailjet we recommend setting the delay time to a minimum of 5 hours before the remainder of emails are sent to ensure you have received all the necessary stats.
However, if you need to get all your emails out immediately but still want to test different subject lines of pre-headers, there is another approach. When you conduct an A/B test, this time instead of sending to a subset of the recipients, you can send to 100% so that your entire list will receive your message when it’s sent.
While you may not be optimizing that exact email, you will be able to review the stats afterwards and make improvements on how you approach subject lines, pre-headers, and sender name in the future. You could, for example, experiment with emojis in the subject line, personalization in the pre-header, and creative names for your sender.
Whichever variable you are testing, always make sure you keep the other variables constant if you want to be able to compare the statistics. If, for example, you want to test the subject, the sender and pre-header must be exactly the same in the two versions of your campaign.
Increase open rates with clean contact lists
The contacts list is also a key factor in determining your open rate. You might think that the more contacts you have on your list, the greater the chance that a high number of people open your emails. But no, unfortunately it doesn't work that way - in fact, quite the opposite.
More important than growing your contact list, is ensuring your current contacts are engaged. How does this work? First, it is vital that you gather the express consent of your contacts (especially now that the GDPR is in effect). Your recipients must have given informed consent at the outset to receiving your communications. Then, make sure you clean up your lists depending on your contacts' engagement by identifying customers who have not opened your emails recently and remove them from your lists. That may be scary but let's be honest: if they have not opened your messages in over 6 months, you’ve already lost them.
In Mailjet, you can create a segment that automatically filters out those users who meet a specific criteria, such as not opening your email in a few months. Simply select the contact list, and the filter, to carve out those users who you no longer want to contact.
When many of Mailjet’s enterprise customers first join, the first thing our Customer Success team does is clean up their lists and we’ve seen contact lists drop from 1M contacts to 100K while total opens actually increased. Not only did open rates increase 10x but again, total opens actually increased. This primarily because when you are sending to a highly engaged list, your deliverability rates increase.
Here is a summary of the main points to bear in mind about the open rates of your email campaigns:
Always monitor your open rates because this is a good proxy for the overall effectiveness of your email strategy.
Compare your open rates with those of companies working in the same industry as you, but try to aim for 20-25%.
Even more important than comparing to your competitors is comparing to your past results. Always look for positive growth.
Take pride in the sender address, the subject line, and pre-header, and above all, test these different elements with A/B Tests.
Ensure that the contacts you add to your lists have given their express consent to receiving your communications and if you are not getting positive engagement, never hesitate to clean your lists and delete unengaged contacts.
We’re off to work on our personalization strategy - what are you going to do to increase your open rates?
Do you have any particular marketing techniques to increase your open rate? Tweet us your creative ideas and opinions!
Former Strategic Marketing Manager specialist and French Marketing Manager at Sinch Mailjet
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