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Marketing Tips, Online Marketing

Open rates: why they’re less important for email marketing

Open rates have long helped marketers gauge the success of their subject lines and email deliverability rates. Ask most marketers what the item at the top of their email marketing analytics dashboard is, and they’ll likely go with email open rates. 

After all, if you’re blasting out emails to potential prospects and existing clients, a good (and easy) way to tell if they’re interested in what you have to say is by simply looking at how many of them bothered to open your email. Open rates are so helpful when tracking where and how emails are opened that nearly two-thirds of marketers use open rates as their primary metric to measure the success of their email marketing efforts. 

With Apple’s advancement of its privacy settings as part of iOS 15, however, marketers can no longer rely only on opened emails. And, whereas marketers in the past have tracked these metrics to use their data for future email marketing campaigns and more accurately connect and engage with their audiences, they now need to focus on email engagement and content. 

To that end, let’s take a look at open rates in 2023 to understand why they’re becoming less critical of a metric for email marketing. 

How mail privacy protection (MPP) affects email marketing

To better understand why open rates are becoming less important in the context of email marketing, it’s important to first dig into mail privacy protection — MPP, for short. Apple’s iOS 15 introduced MPP to prevent the collection of user-centric data. Basically, Apple’s MPP option prevents marketers from tracking email open rates and is actively transforming how marketers gauge their emails’ success. 

Considering that email marketers need analytics to continuously determine what’s successful and what isn’t, Apple’s MPP makes a marketer’s job of reporting their email performance much more difficult; MPP stands to impact processes that are important to marketers, like personalization and automation, that rely on features such as open activity and geo-tracking.

So, in light of the serious jeopardy into which MPP has placed open rates, is there any hope for open rates to remain meaningful to email marketers? Well, kind of — not really, though.

Can email marketers still succeed without access to open rates?

Some marketers are splitting audiences and sending campaigns to Apple users and then sending campaigns separately to other users. So for those that are not users of Apple devices, open rates are still relevant. 

Open rates are inflated, indeed, but some programs can actually separate the email opens that they believe are from reliable providers from those that they know are inflated or unreliable (Apple Privacy-Impacted Opens). As a growing number of Apple device users adopt MPP, however, email open rates will inevitably become a metric that is less meaningful to email marketers. 

There is, however, good news, which is that email open rates aren’t inextricable from long-term email marketing success. They have never been, anyway: open rates have truly only ever served as go-betweens that marketers used throughout their campaigns. Open rates are ultimately merely proxies that pave the way toward other, more meaningful metrics for long-term success, such as website visits and increases in revenue. 

So while, yes, open rates are certainly dying and nearly dead when discussing reliable metrics for long-term email marketing success, email marketers have plenty of creative alternatives at their fingertips that they can keep an eye on to gauge the performance of their campaigns. 

If you’re on the verge of losing your mind thinking about all the lost insight that MPP is responsible for by antiquating email open rates, fret not. Let’s check out some creative methods you can follow to measure the engagement of your audience, all without ever tracking your open rates.

Illustration of an opened email on a laptop

1. Define your audience with surveys

You can gain insight into your readers by giving them a survey to complete. By adding surveys to your emails, you both generate some clicks on otherwise-unread emails and give yourself an opportunity to collect first-party info. 

Gather data about things such as the industries in which your readers work and the locations they’re based. This will allow you to define your audience and, subsequently, improve and personalize the emails you send them.

2. Encourage more responses

Monitoring your audience’s engagement with the emails you send them is a lot easier when you’re tracking their replies. Encouraging replies are not only helpful when it comes to monitoring engagement, but it also helps your readers feel as if you’re interested in cultivating a more personal relationship with them. After all, people want to feel like they’re responding to emails that come from, you know, a real human being rather than a faceless business. 

Optimize this tactic by using a system designed to handle user responses — it makes more sense to request a response to a welcome email rather than request responses in a single email that you blast out to a big user list.

3. Monitor your site’s user activity

As you’ve probably gathered by now, running a successful email marketing campaign is about more than just getting more clicks. The deeper goal is to get people to do stuff after they’ve opened your email and (hopefully) read it. Maybe you want them to visit a blog or your company website, or perhaps you’re trying to encourage a sale. 

Ensure you have Google Analytics or another analytics service to monitor user engagement with your website. This is also a good time to make your website more engaging so people will buy products after they make it to your landing page.

4. Rely on click-through rates rather than open rates

Click-through rates show you how often your email recipients click on links within the email, demonstrating a level of engagement. 

Click-through rates, although not quite the same as open rates, are still useful if you’re trying to figure out whether people are interested in what you’re sending them over a period of time. You may also consider using click-through rates to gauge how your readership responds to your counts and link placements. Plus, using click-through rates in lieu of open rates makes it easier to avoid ambiguity and inaccuracy that come with open-rate tracking.

But note: clicks don’t offer an equal trade-off to open rates. In the past, email marketers used open rates to measure the effectiveness of subject lines, deliverability, and delivery times, as well as to verify that a customer was receiving the correct emails, but click rates tell us more about the effectiveness of the content and how engaging the content was.

Find the metrics that matter

There seems to be little doubt as to whether email open rates will remain relevant for email marketers. While it’s true that businesses’ marketing teams will need to get a little crafty with how they measure email campaign success in the short term, the incoming obsolescence of open rates also gives marketers an opportunity to sit down and ruminate on the metrics for long-term success that matter. As these metrics become clearer, it’s natural to assume that marketers will begin optimizing and reporting on these higher-priority measures of success.

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Gary Stevens avatar

Gary Stevens

Gary Stevens is a web developer and technology writer. He's a part-time blockchain geek and a volunteer working for the Ethereum foundation as well as an active Github contributor. More articles written by Gary.

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