What Are Open Rates and Why Are They Important? A woman opens an envelope.

What Are Open Rates and Why Are They Important?

Shane Herring
Shane Herring

Course Developer at Atomic Education

Last Updated: August 20, 2020

For people using email as a marketing tool, there seems to be a lot of focus on open rates. For some people, it’s THE metric they focus on. But open rates are a small part of the email marketing metric picture and they’re not that accurate.

In this article, I take a deep dive into open rates and why you should and shouldn’t focus on the numbers.

In this article
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    What is an open rate?

    In email marketing, open rate is a metric that measures the percentage of emails that were opened for a specific campaign. There are many factors that influence the open rate, but the subject line is considered one of the key influences. Having said that, it can be a misleading metric.

    How are open rates tracked?

    Determining if an email has been opened can only be done in HTML emails. This is because they include a tiny, invisible image called a tracking pixel that is displayed when the recipient opens your email. When that image is downloaded the email service provider records that as an open.

    Open rates can be over- or under-reported. Various spam filters will download all images to determine whether the image should be blocked or not. This will increase the measure of email opens. If the recipient’s email client can’t display images or viewing images is disabled, an open can’t be recorded because the image wasn’t downloaded.

    What is a "good" open rate?

    Across most industries, big and small, an average open rate of around 22% can be considered good. Personal interest topics (religion, hobbies, photos, etc.) trend higher while marketing topics (ecommerce, coupon offers, and so on) trend lower. Interestingly, emails from government agencies have some of the highest open rates while daily deal type emails have the lowest open rate of all.

    If your open rate is average for your industry and location is average or above, there’s no real benefit in investing resources to improve the numbers.
    On the other hand, if your open rate is significantly below average, then it’s worthwhile investing in resources to improve it.
    Open rates vary across locations as well. Here’s the average open rate for all industries by continent.

    (Source: Getresponse)

    Why are open rates important?

    There are two main reasons as to why email open rates are important.

    The first is that if your recipients aren’t opening emails, they’re not engaged with your business and they’re not taking the actions you want them to take to move them along your sales funnel. You know, that call to action that keeps them engaged, gives them high perceived value, click links to posts, get discount codes and many other calls to action.

    The other reason is that if your recipients are not opening an email, this is one small step away from them unsubscribing. When recipients don’t open emails, this is an indicator to services such as Gmail, Outlook.com, and others that you’re not delivering anything of interest. That it’s getting increasingly likely that you’re sending spam. So, increasing your open rates can help you stay out of the spam filters.

    When should you measure open rates?

    There’s a lot written about what open rates are and how to improve the numbers, but little written about when to measure this metric.

    Research shows that 23% of all email opens occur during the first hour after delivery. After 24 hours, an email’s chance of being opened drops below 1%.

    Now you know that you should measure your open rate 24 hours after you send the campaign.

    How to measure an open rate

    How depends on the service you’re using. If you’re using a spreadsheet and mail merge out of your local email client, I can’t help you there. I don’t think anyone can.

    If you’re using one of the services below, I’ve included some basic guidance.



    From the left menu, select Campaigns.
    To the right of the campaign, select View Report.
    The open rate is list in the Summary panel.

    Automation email

    Open the automation.
    For the email you want to measure, select View Report.
    The open rate is list in the Summary panel.


    In the top row, select Campaigns the Reports from the dropdown.
    To the right of the campaign, select View Report.
    In the Campaign benchmarking section, you’ll see the Open Rate.


    In the left hand menu, select Campaigns.
    The open rate for each campaign is shown on the right.

    Why open rate is a misleading metric

    After you get an email to a recipient’s inbox, you may think that getting them to open it is the next most important metric to focus on.

    You’d be wrong.

    It doesn’t matter how many people are reading your emails. What matters is how many people are advancing through your sales process and converting to buyers. You could have a 90% open rate but if none of those recipients are clicking a link, using a code, visiting your shop, making a purchase, it’s all for nothing. On the other hand, if you have an open rate of 10% and every one of those recipients end up purchasing, that’s a good result.

    What open rates can tell you is how engaged recipients are with your brand. That you’re providing them with things they value. That they’re willing to take the time to read what you have to say. When your open rates increase, trust in your business can be increasing.

    How to improve your open rates

    Improving your open rate is as much about avoiding mistakes as doing the right things.


    If you send 1,000 emails and only 10% of those make it to the inbox, this will have a negative impact on your open rate. Only 100 people will see you email in their inbox. If 22 of these people open your email, that not a 22% open rate, that’s a 2.2% open rate.

    They key here is to make sure as many emails make it to the inbox as possible.

    From address

    You to build trust. Part of building that trust is what they see in the from address. For example, for me, you see Shane from Atomic Automation. You know it’s from me and the business I work in. Think about those from email address that say no-reply. Hardly enticing you to open them.

    Subject line

    Once your email lands in an inbox, you need to get it opened. The subject line plays an important role here. Some tactics include:


    Personalisation starts at but isn’t limited to using the recipient’s first name. You can also personalise based on the ideal open time, previous products purchased, visits to specific web pages and a lot more. You can also use words or phrases that they can relate to. Words that will increase email opens include:

    Avoid spam words

    Even if an email makes it past the spam filters, there are words and phrases that will encourage the delete option rather than the open. Words or phrases such as:

    Pre-header text

    This is the text you see next to the subject line in email clients such as Gmail and Outlook. Think of it as expanding on the subject line but not relying on the message content to attract the open. If there’s no pre-header text, the client will use text from the email content. Have a minimum of 35 characters up to around 100 characters in the pre-header text of your email.

    Consider the small screen

    Make sure your email can be viewed correctly on a smartphone or other mobile device. If people aren’t able to comfortably read your message, you will lose trust and potentially see an increase in unsubscribes.

    Clean out your list

    Cleaning your list of recipients who are never opening your emails or otherwise engaging with your business is a great tactic to increase your open rate. If you’re not sending people who aren’t engaging with your business, they can’t influence the numbers.

    Segment your list

    Sending emails that are relevant to the recipients will increase the chances of your emails being opened. If you’re a web developer and your sending emails promoting your design service to people who have already used you, they won’t open your emails and will probably unsubscribe. But, if you sent emails to those people on how they should maintain their site, or how recent events can affect the speed, it’s still of value and they’ll either advocate for your business or use you again in the future.

    Wrap up

    You can see that while it’s important to measure and track your key email marketing metrics, there can be few things to consider for some of them. With open rates, it’s helpful to understand how this metric can be affected by disengaged recipients and that a low open rate isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    If you know someone who is struggling with open rates, use the buttons below to share this page and don’t forget to tag them.

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