In Defense of the Email Open Rate (sort of)

Over the past months, many have proclaimed that the email open rate is obsolete and utterly useless.  The poor open rate has become a persona non grata, and while not as risky as trying to defend the AIG bonus structure, I do think someone needs to stand-up for this email metric.

While I completely agree that clients often focus too much on the open rate, it can be misused, and it isn’t as relevant as it once was because, among other reasons, email clients are more likely today to suppress the image that is used to track an open, I do believe that the open rate still provides value and it is worth following.

Ask any professional football coach what the most important measure of success is and he will tell you that it’s all about wins and losses.  However, he will also acknowledge that when analyzing a team’s performance, you need to go beyond the end result (win/loss) and look at diagnostic metrics like how many yards you gained on offense, how many yards you gave-up on defense, how many fumbles and interceptions you had, how many penalties you incurred, etc.

I believe you take a similar approach with email marketing.  While, if I am an online retailer, I am most concerned about conversion rates and sales, metrics like the open rate provide value.  Obviously, before someone can purchase as a result of your email, they must click on a link, and before they click on a link, they have to open the email.  If you aren’t getting the email to the inbox and the subject line isn’t compelling or engaging, you aren’t going to get a conversion.

I believe that the open rate can still provide insights that will help you improve your email marketing.  If the conversion rate was significantly different between two emails and the open rate for the better converting email was much higher (and assuming the emails were sent within a reasonable time of one another), I might conclude that the subject line, whether it be the way it was written or the offer communicated, was the culprit.  Obviously, I would look at other metrics and analytics but the fact that the open rates were so different would likely impact my conclusions.  Open rates have also been helpful in identifying deliverability issues (when clients didn’t have inbox tracking) and enagement by various segments of a list (e.g. when comparing recent subscribers to ones that have been subscribed for over a year).

So what do you think?  Is it worthwhile to track the open rate or is it ready to go the way of the buggy whip?

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 18th, 2009 at 4:54 pm and is filed under E-Commerce, Email Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.