Email marketing is one of the most powerful ways for brands to connect more intimately with customers and prospects. But the effectiveness of email marketing campaigns is entirely dependent on whether people read the emails to begin with. Email open rates are therefore a crucial metric for understanding the success of your email program.
But email open rates are hard to understand without a broader understanding of email marketing metrics. How do you know if the numbers you’re seeing are good or bad? How can you better understand the thinking behind those open rates—why did people ultimately decide to click?
Let’s first identify what a good open rate is, how it varies across industries, then identify some best practices to implement that can increase the likelihood of someone engaging with the email content and boosting your average email open rate.
The average email open rate
The best way to improve your email open rates is to first identify some benchmarks for average email open rate for marketing emails. The answer to what’s “normal,” though, varies based on who’s doing the research. Recent research on the average open rate from three different sources found the following, which ranges quite a bit:
If your email open rates fall somewhere between 12% and 25%, it’s safe to say you’re within the average range.
Average email open rate by industry
Knowing the overall averages can be helpful for email marketers, but it’s even more useful to know the benchmarks as they relate to your particular industry— what’s considered normal can vary even more based on the vertical. Here’s how average email open rates look across a few main industries:
16.25% according to Constant Contact
22% according to MailChimp
24.65% according to GetResponse
13.23% according to Constant Contact
21.72% according to MailChimp
24.83% according to GetResponse
12.69% according to Constant Contact
19.77% according to MailChimp
33.10% according to GetResponse
9.64% according to Constant Contact
21.29% according to MailChimp
24.17% according to GetResponse
12.58% according to Constant Contact
20.44% according to MailChimp
22.79% according to GetResponse
12.06% according to Constant Contact
18.39% according to MailChimp
22.38% according to GetResponse
13.49% according to Constant Contact
19.17% according to MailChimp
25.48% according to GetResponse
What is a good open rate for email?
Having an idea of the average email open rate can give you a lay of the land, but it’s not exactly the same as a “good” open rate.
Determining a good open rate depends on many factors, such as your goals for an email, the type of email, and the particular context in which it was sent. For example, a strong email open rate doesn’t pack as much of a punch if your main goal was to increase clicks and engagement with the content, and the click-through rate remains low. Or, perhaps you notice that people are opening the emails, but the bounce rate for the content therein is high. This could indicate that the subject line was tempting enough to prompt a click, but the content and links provided did not deliver on the promise. Furthermore, if your company has historically had a much lower open rate than average, an increase from past metrics may still be a success, even if it doesn’t align with the averages shared above.
The type of email you’re sending and the audience for it makes a difference as well, according to Jennifer King, senior director of engagement marketing at Zendesk. There are many different types of emails, all of which are sent at varying cadences:
- A customer newsletter, the most popular type of email from companies.
- One-off emails, like promotions to support a marketing campaign or timely initiative
- Lead-nurturing emails, which are usually part of a larger marketing program. These emails often have the goal of graduating leads into marketing qualified leads, or MQLs.
- Transactional emails
- Welcome emails
- Cold emails
Customer newsletters and welcome emails tend to perform well. Newsletters are the most popular type of email, according to King. And welcome emails tend to perform the best because those emails are expected and come from a brand known to the customer. A user took an action—such as subscribing to the blog—and an email lands in their inbox with resources and links to content they might be interested in. Cold emails, by contrast, tend to perform the worst. The user is not familiar with the brand, is unsure why they were contacted in the first place, and therefore is unlikely to open the email at all. One-off emails about promotions can fall somewhere in the middle of the extremes; recipients could still be put off by the message if they’ve had minimal interaction with your brand.
Since every business is unique, looking to your own past metrics for the success of different email types can be as valuable as understanding these general benchmarks.
How to increase email open rates
No matter how your current email open rates compare to the averages, getting those numbers up is always a good goal.
Keep your email list up-to-date
Does your email list only include people who actually want to see your emails? Building an email list isn’t entirely a numbers game. More subscribers is only better if all of your subscribers actively care about hearing from you. Your open rate, conversion rate, and click-through rate all depend on a quality email list of people who trust your brand and want to engage with you.
Be picky about who you add to your email list. Set up double opt-in for new subscribers to give them a chance to confirm they want to hear from you, which helps avoid getting caught up in spam filters. Pay attention to your email bounce rate, and remove outdated email contacts. And check your metrics periodically to spot contacts that aren’t engaging with your emails. Contact them to check if they want to keep receiving your emails, and take them off your list if you don’t get a response.
It feels counterintuitive to remove people from the email list you worked so hard to build. But keeping your email list up-to-date will improve all the email metrics that matter most.
Write strong subject lines
Your subject lines are the main thing recipients see when deciding whether to click. As such, they’re one of the most important factors in open rates. Think about your email from your audience’s perspective—what’s the most important thing they’ll get out of it or the primary action you want them to take? Make that the focus of your subject line. Also:
Keep subject lines short and to-the-point—40 characters or fewer. Many of your readers will be on mobile devices, which have a limited number of characters they can display, so it's better to err on the side of brevity.
Be clear and concise; attention spans are limited, and you shouldn’t expect readers to put in extra effort in guessing what you’re trying to say.
Another rule of thumb for subject lines is to avoid words likely to get caught in spam filters. Email deliverability—meaning the rate your emails actually reach recipients’ inboxes—is an important component in open rates. Your audience can’t open emails they never see.
Write useful preheader text
This is the other text recipients can see before deciding to click on the message, so use it well. You’re less restricted in space and characters with the preheader text, but you’ll still need to use what little space you have wisely. Use this area to expand your case for why the recipient should click, putting the most important information first for those on small screens, for whom most of it will get cut off.
Send an appropriate number of emails
Email frequency—how often you send emails—is key for open rates, but it’s a tricky balance to strike. If you send too many, people will get annoyed. Too few and they may forget you. But figuring out the right number of emails is complicated, because it depends on your audience. Test different frequencies and check your analytics to see what seems to work best for each segment of your list. You might even ask your audience directly how often they’d like to hear from you when they sign up—there are often options for subscribing only to specific types of emails—or by periodically sending surveys.
Share helpful content, not just promotions
Promotions are OK sometimes, but they shouldn’t be all you send. Think about how to be genuinely useful with every email message. What resources or types of content will be helpful to your readers? How can you make their lives easier, save them time and money, or entertain them? Team up with your content marketing colleagues for this. They’re already creating relevant content you can promote.
Let personalization into your emails
Not all of your subscribers will have the same needs and interests. Email marketing software makes it possible to set up segmented lists, so you can send relevant content to each list every time. If you sell different products, customers of one don’t need emails about the others. If you have more than one target audience for your products, tailor the emails to each based on what you know about them.
Use any information you have to make the emails you send that much more useful to subscribers. If every email they receive is relevant to them personally, they’re more likely to open the next one as well.
Email marketing success depends on open rates
Email marketing is the best way to connect directly with customers. But you won’t get any of the benefits of it unless your customers care enough about your emails to open them when they come through. Pay attention to your business email etiquette, email open rates, and work to ensure you’re providing value every time you send an email so subscribers keep wanting to hear from you.