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Is email open rate a good metric or is it unreliable?

Email open rates have been declining for the past few years, according to Marketing Sherpa's weekly data. But there are actually two major factors driving this trend. First is technology trends that lower email as a medium overall - fewer people want to receive or view emails anymore, which would then lead to less responses and fewer opens over time; second is changes in how open rate data is gathered itself: more automated filters such as SPAM blocking software from Google make it harder for marketers who rely on testing different subject lines and writing styles with potential customers through their email campaigns because those interactions now get caught up by these same automated filters before they even hit your inbox!

What is an open rate?

Open rate is a metric that relies on a tiny image in the email being downloaded by the person reading the email. When this image is downloaded from the web into the person's email reader, the software sending the email counts that email as being read. This is the method used by all email marketing systems to report on Open Rates.

Why Are Email Open Rate Metrics Unreliable?

There are some changes to the world of email marketing that arrived with Apple's Privacy updates for iOS 15 and their popular Mail app as of September 20th, 2021. These changes aren't specific to any email marketing provider and impact you no matter which platform you're using--so it's worth taking some time to get familiar with them.

What is Mail Privacy Protection (MPP)?

Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) is an Apple Mail feature that prevents marketers from collecting information about recipients through email design features such as invisible pixels. It requires users to download and install the software update for their devices in order to take advantage of this feature. As it give a pop-up to activate, we can assume that most Apple users will activate the Mail Privacy Protection feature.

In the past, email data was only loaded once - when the recipient opened an email. This meant that your email provider could detect when emails were opened, what device they were read on, and sometimes even where they had been sent from when someone opens them. With Mail Privacy Protection, Apple Mail preloads images and content of emails you send - including the tracking pixel - regardless of if the recipient actually opened it or not.

This makes the data from these pixels, like open rate, unreliable as a performance metric.

How does Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection affect email marketing in general?

Apple Mail is one of the most popular email clients in use today because it's the default email app for all Apple devices. In 2021, according to Litmus, Apple devices accounted for approximately 52% of all mail opens.

While no email lists are the same, we can do some estimations and educated guesses on how this affects the general mailing list.

If the number of subscribers using an Apple email client to read your emails is about 52%, with 96% opting in for additional privacy protection (based on how many that opted into the app tracking that came with iOS 14.5), you can estimate that 50% of your list will likely use Mail Privacy Protection, and that 50% of your data around open rates are unreliable.

You need to be aware of this if you want to use email marketing successfully. Remember, these numbers aren't specific to any provider, but they impact the world of email as a whole and no matter what platform you use for your emails.

The numbers aren't specific to any provider, but they impact the world of email as a whole and no matter what platform you use for your emails.

Email marketing is a powerful tool to use when used properly. It can lead to new customers, sales and retention. While for example social networks first need to engage people before they can become your customer.

Are unreliable open rates only relevant for Apple users?

No, even before the iOS 15 update there were things in play that affects what happens to an email even before the intended recipient sees it.

Spam flagging of emails by the mail provider

Email providers want to protect their users against spam, and might flag your email as spam before the intended recipients get a chance to consider if it is spam or not. There could be many reasons for this including your overall domain reputation, alt-text in pictures, shortened links, “flagged” keywords and more.

Gmail filters emails into folders

Google Mail / Gmail already filters incoming emails into default or user-defined folders. By default, gmail is set to filter incoming emails and they are using algorithms to do so. In addition to this, users can set up their own filtering rules. With this, your emails might not be as visible as you would have wanted them to be.

Is the Mail Privacy Protection good or bad for the end-user?

The general advertising industry has become very dependent on tracking to optimize its advertising and the right people with relevant content. This is great for the end-user as it should also prevent marketers from sending irrelevant content.

Unfortunately, there are too many marketers and businesses out there who are just not that good at targeting the right recipients with the right content - this is what becomes spam and gives email marketing a bad reputation!

At the same time, email marketing is still very efficient when done correctly and not very costly and something that can support other marketing initiatives as well.

Need help with your email marketing strategy? Let’s chat!

What Email Marketing Metrics Should You Evaluate Most?

Click-through rate

Looking at how many people clicked through to your landing page is a valuable metric to look at. The amount of people who click through is an indicator of the quality, relevance and effectiveness of your message. A higher number would indicate that you were more successful in reaching out to them with relevant content and/or appealing offers.

Leads or Responses

You should also track the number of people whom you send an email that actually becomes a lead or completes a desired action. By tracking the cost or conversion per lead or per response/action, you can figure out how effective each marketing campaign is. This can not always be done straight from your ad platform, as purchases are not always made shortly after a click.

Increased visits to pages and landing pages used in email campaigns

You should be able to see a general increase in visits to pages and landing pages that you are using in your email campaigns. This will still be a reliable metric as the page visit would be measured on a real page load, which means that the person actually visited your page.

Conclusion: It looks like people are engaging when they are not

The moral of the story is that open rates are becoming less reliable and it will look like recipients are engaging when they are not. This is something that marketers need to take into consideration when they are measuring the effects of their marketing, use automation or AI that are considering open rates when making decisions, and when evaluating the quality of their mailing lists or database.

Using metrics are still important, but awareness of the quality of that data is still of the essence.

Want to talk more about email marketing? Let’s chat!



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