Ignore Your Email Marketing Open Rates

It often surprises me when I ask email marketers, “How is your campaign going?” and they answer with something similar to “Very well! Our open rate is 30%, which is above the industry average by 10 percentage points.” I cringe. Not because the open rate isn’t important, but because using it as your key primary indicator (KPI) often misleads your email marketing campaigns.

What’s wrong with the open rate metric?

It’s not 100% reliable, to say the least. The open rate is counted when a small 1×1 pixel image is loaded by the subscriber’s email client. A preview pane in Outlook counts if the images load. Thumbing through emails where your image loads counts. These examples show your recipients may be opening it but haven’t seen any of your content. Open rate does not mean they read your email.

Knowing this you can then logically deduce what constitutes a non-open. Simply, the image not loading. If you read it as TEXT on your Blackberry, you didn’t “open” it. If your Gmail blocks images, then you’re an unengaged subscriber to the marketer. You could have read all of the content by clicking “View as web page”, reading it in your browser, and the email would remain “unopened”.

What can you learn from the open rate?

Assuming you’re measuring it correctly… Emails Delivered / Unique Emails Opened = Open Rate … the open rate can tell you some interesting things about your campaign. Comparing it over time, you can make some high level guesses (I’ll explain later why I say guesses) about your emails. You can see if your contacts are becoming more or less interested in your content. You can A/B split test two emails against each other to see which subject line helped push it higher. You can get an overall performance of what percentage is engaged, as long as you remember the chance of error up or down as previously pointed out.

Many assume that there is a direct correlation between subject line and open rate. Mostly because there isn’t a great alternative if you’re using open rate as your primary KPI. Marketers will slave over the subject line attributed every up and down to the power of the subject line. The problem is that all of the invisible factors get ignored and decisions are made on the subject line alone.

Below are some other factors that affect the open rate:

  • Time of day
  • Day of week
  • Holidays
  • Last email received (did it make a good or bad impression)
  • From alias
  • From address
  • Workload of recipient
  • Amount of email in recipient’s inbox
  • Mood of recipient

Look at your own email habits.

As marketers, I’m guilty of this, we get so caught up in the numbers and content that we forget about our own habits. Sometimes I subscribe to an email newsletter because I dealt with the company or wanted to receive their content. Over the next few months, they send me emails here and there. I don’t unsubscribe because I still value the relationship, but often don’t read the emails either. I delete them from my iPhone because I compulsively avoid the small red circle with numbers telling me I have alerts. But the images loaded before I deleted it and as a result the email marketer is patting themselves on the back because they have a large list of people who are “opening” their emails. Their running to their boss saying “Look! Look! We’re making a difference!” But are they? Take a look at your own email habits and accept that it’s probably similar to your subscribers.

What’s better than the open rate metric?

Anytime you can get closer to the “sale” or at least the conversion, the better. A click… Emails Delivered / Unique Emails Clicked = Click Rate… is better than an open. A registration is better than a click. A lead is better than a registration. A sale is better than a lead. These other metrics are sometimes ignored because they are often small. It seems more important to report large numbers. It’s impressive to say we have a 45% open rate versus saying we have a 5% click rate. I’d argue that you can learn much more about the 5% that clicked on the email than you can about the 45%. What link did they click on? When did they click on it? How many times? You can’t get that with an open rate. But you can use this information to improve your email as I hope you believe, the most important factor is the content. Try this thought experiment. Would you rather have 100% open rate and 0% of the people engaged with your content (i.e. clicked) or 0% open rate and 100% of the people clicked. Yes you can have a click without an open, per our definition above.


The purpose of this post is to challenge the open rate as the primary KPI. If you’re an email marketer who is currently using open rates to make tactical or strategic decisions about your emails, I’d caution how much information you actually have. There is an infinite number of reasons on why someone opens an email but a much more limited number of how many engage with it by clicking on the content or following up with the company down the line in the sales funnel. Be aware of the open rate as a trend guide, but don’t rely on it to prove your campaign is successful. When asked the question “How’s your campaign going?” I’d hope you answer along the lines of “Very well. We saw 25% of our engaged customers click on a whitepaper in our last monthly email newsletter. Of those 25%, we’ve converted half to buy more from us.” Good luck!

3 Essential Web Metrics to Monitor

If you own a website or blog then naturally you should be monitoring whether it is accomplishing your goals or not. Of course, that’s easier said than done in today’s world of endless numbers.

Do you monitor your bounce rate, number of page views, sites referring your traffic, views on mobile, inbound links, outbound links, page rank? Well yes, but not necessarily every day. There are just too many numbers to consistently watch if you’re only one person. Even a team can have trouble distinguishing the nice-to-have from the need-to-have.

What’s important about these metrics is that they aren’t the end game. I don’t look at them and say “Oh, that’s nice.” They are a starting point and are worthless if you don’t use them to take a step deeper by asking questions. What was this number yesterday? Why is it so much higher or lower? What caused the spike or drop? Was their one or many causes?

The purpose of watching these numbers allows you to dive deeper and gain some real learnings. These metrics below allow you to do that.

Below are 3 key website metrics that I watch every day:

  1. Daily Visits (Google Analytics) – Although you’re thinking this is an obvious choice, you’d be surprised at how it’s overlooked. This metric will tell you a lot about the trends of the people visiting your site. You’ll see what days your visitors primarily focus on. Some retail sites tend to see an uptick on the weekends. B2B companies have a skew towards the workdays. Dive in deeper to see what hours of your most popular days cause the most transactions or leads. Use this information to target your content to people on specific days or focus your advertising during those core purchase hours. Longer term, are your daily visits going up or down? If you’re consistently publishing new content and your visits are going down then you may be losing traction. Figure out which of these visits are new versus returning and gauge whether you’re being successful.
  2. Search Queries (Google Webmaster Tools) – If you’re making an effort to increase your search engine rank in Google, Bing, or any other major search engine then you need to pay attention to your “Search Queries”. This metric showcases the most common search queries pointing to your site, as identified by Google. It allows you to see how many times your site is being found, being clicked on, and your average position. You can compare the queries driving to your site with the list of keywords you’re actually trying to rank against. This is a quick and easy way to judge the success of your SEO efforts.
  3. Links to Your Site (Google Webmaster Tools) – The currency on the web is valuable outbound links to websites you value. With that in mind, you should be measuring how many websites are “voting” for you. Quality is much more important than quantity but this number should continuously be going up nevertheless. You should consistently be creating and promoting your content on relevant blogs, partner websites, and associations. Leverage your industry expertise in news articles and press releases. Promote your deals and discounts on social media sites like Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Always link back to your site. Even better, link back to specific pages and deeper URLs.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of metrics that should be analyzed when optimizing a website and a business. Spend time to quarterly or yearly pull together a full analysis and competitive review of how you’re doing. Look into the path your visitors are taking, the pages that cause the biggest bounce rates, and the browsers most used by your local customers. But don’t get overwhelmed and ignore the key metrics that you should be focusing on daily. Keep yourself  informed quickly and easily by only looking a few.

What are your most important metrics?

Inbound Marketing Guide [Infographic]

I wanted to share this fantastic and easy to understand infographic I came across outlining the Inbound Marketing Process. It was created by an agency in Wallingford, CT called Impact Branding & Design. According to their website, Impact Branding & Design is a “Creative team of inbound marketing professionals which develops and executes highly effective online marketing campaigns.”

The Inbound Marketing Process infographic can be found on their original blog post here.
I’ve outlined their 6 step process in the infographic below.

Step 1: Develop a successful marketing strategy

Determine the purpose of your marketing by establishing clear goals, objectives, and challenges. Without a marketing strategy you won’t be able to optimize and measure your inbound marketing efforts.

Marketing is an investment in the growth of your business, not an expense – Impact Branding & Design

Step 2: Create & maintain a powerful website

A website is a tool for your customers and prospects to interact with your brand and content. This tool should add value to the experience of doing business with you. Basic website principles go a long way: Easy to navigate, professional appearance, search engine friendly, mobile ready, easy to update.

An effective website is the hub of all your online marketing and lead generation – Impact Branding & Design

Step 3: Generate more traffic

Promote your thought leadership through a blog, social media, SEO, and PPC.

  • “A blog gets you 55% more traffic!”
  • “400% more indexed pages are produced by blogging”
  • “Nearly 2/3 of U.S. internet users regularly use a social network”
  • “20% of monthly Google searches are for local businesses”

Step 4: Convert traffic to leads

Leverage your website in order to get the visitor’s information and start your sales process. You can’t do business with an anonymous web browser. Also, visitors providing their information should get a fair exchange. Give them something of value in order to collect their email and information. Solve a problem for them and start the relationship right off.

Step 5: Convert leads to sales

Leverage marketing automation tools to identify your high value leads and route them to your sales force. If your budget can support it, set up a system such as Eloqua.com, Hubspot, or Marketo (to name only a few) and connect to your customer relationship database (CRM). Score them, segment them, and send targeted and thoughtful communications.

Step 6: Measure everything

You can’t optimize if you don’t track the right numbers. Figure out how well you’re doing by measuring every step of the process. Utilize your website analytics, your media purchasing data, your social media metrics, and your sales conversion rates. Close the loop by determining your return on investment (ROI) and focus on spending your dollars in the right places.

Now, below is the infographic:

Social Media is Complicated [Infographic]

As introduced to us by Business Insider, Buddy Media’s Social Enterprise Software is a suite of products is “designed to help brands build and maintain relationships with consumers to accelerate their business.”

Why do brands need help with this? Well, it’s complicated.

To demonstrate that complexity Buddy Media created this image that shows all of the brands/companies involved including: analytics, social scoring, ad networks, facebook apps, content curation, twitter apps, photo sharing, social TV, and URL shorteners… to name a few.

Click the image below to enlarge.

Buddy Media Social Marketing Infographic

So what does this mean to companies and marketers who want to break into the social media space and start utilizing this industry without getting overwhelmed?

  • Start small – if you’re just starting to test social media and determine if it’s appropriate for your clients or business then pick a few partners and go from there. Start sharing content and use social media as another channel to amplify it. Remember, social media is a conversation used to build relationships. It’s not a shouting match between competitors.
  • Stay informed – as you can see there are a lot of moving parts and companies that are either becoming a social media network themselves or helping enhance the use of those sites. Stay productive, but also stay up-to-date on the latest case studies of companies that are doing a great job in social media – Zappos, American Express, Allstate, Oreo, NBC #TheVoice, Xbox… to name a few.
  • Jump In – stop wondering if you can benefit from social media and just do it. Follow the leaders in your industry or blaze your own trail. Build champions in your company and get them on-board. Show them how they can distribute content, connect with fans, and measure results.