Metrics Mayhem: Why Your Open Rate is Decreasing

Open rates are a key metric for most marketers, allowing you to measure how successful your email campaigns are. Watching your open rates drop continually is likely to cause a bit of panic, but keep calm and read on.

The open rate indicates only the number of emails opened from the total amount sent, not those that were actually delivered. Now, you’ll need to ask yourself, are your emails being delivered to the inbox? When mail isn’t being delivered to the inbox, your messages won’t be seen by subscribers, let alone engaged with.

Declining deliverability will culminate in fallen open rates as fewer customers are seeing your messages. To see how your program is being affected, compare the inbox placement rates for your campaigns to their open rates to find any correlations. When inbox placement rates and open rates drop for a campaign, you’ll need to focus on improving your deliverability. Having access to only the delivered rate doesn’t provide much insight into where the mail is landing, though. Return Path’s Email Optimization solution gives you visibility into how you’re performing across major mailbox providers (inbox placement, spam, and missing rates). You can also investigate potential reputation and deliverability issues by checking your Sender Score.

If you determine that deliverability isn’t the root of declining open rates, there are some additional possibilities:

  1. Opens can’t be collected on plain-text messages, as it can only be tracked if images are downloaded. (Want to know how to track opens if you send text-only email? Check out this blog post by email data and deliverability expert Tom Sather.) Some mailbox providers disable images by default, so even if those subscribers are reading your mail their opens are not recorded. Outlook automatically disables images (see below for a Banana Republic email without images turned on) and Yahoo has also implemented this method in certain situations.
  2.  A simple way to resolve this is to get your subscribers to add you to their address book or the safe sender list. Once you’re in, graphics in your emails will automatically be enabled and opens will be tracked.
  3. Emails with uninteresting subject lines will not entice customers to respond. According to the DMA Email Tracking Report (2014), three out of every four consumers will at least occasionally read the subject line and then delete the unopened email, and two out of five do this regularly. Your subject line is the first thing a subscriber sees, so make it count! Make them want to open your message. Sending too much volume or too many of the same emails can also water down the value of your message and lead to list fatigue. Perform A/B split testing on every aspect of your email program (subject line, offer, design, and cadence) to find what strikes a chord with your audience.
  4. If the subject line isn’t enough to entice the subscriber to open, then the preheader text is your last shot. The preheader text is the line of copy after the From name and subject line. Not optimizing this valuable real estate could mean a lost opportunity for you since it’s another way to lure subscribers to open. Check out these five tips on how to Increase Your Open Rate with the Right Preheader Text.
  5. If you’re not suppressing inactive users, then your open rates may continue to decline. These inactive users may end up on your list because they never bother to unsubscribe from your mailing. As your list ages, the number of inactive users increases. These older email addresses may not be as engaged with your brand as they were from the beginning or these mailboxes aren’t being used anymore. The preferences and demographics of your list will shift over time, as a result your products or services are no longer relevant to them. Send this group win-back campaigns to get them excited about your brand again, and those who still don’t respond should naturally fall off your list based on your suppression rules.
  6. Relevancy ties closely to open rates. This means segmenting your list based on specific categories or criteria and sending targeted campaigns to these groups of people. There are numerous approaches you can take to bucket your list: age, gender, location, purchase history, and more. When the subject line or your brand resonates with subscribers, your engagement metrics will increase, which is especially crucial for major mailbox providers in determining whether to filter your mail to the spam folder or block it altogether. The 2010 Lyris Annual Email Optimizer Report found that 39% of marketers who segmented their email lists experienced higher open rates, 28% experienced lower unsubscribe rates, and 24% experienced greater revenue. The more you can segment and target, open rates are more likely to increase.  

There’s no one-size fit all approach to improving open rates, which is why we recommend that you test, test, and test to find what works with your audience. It’s critical to note that tracking accurate open rates can be a long, grueling struggle. Open rate is not the be-all and end-all metric of measuring an email program. Instead, most marketers are evaluating email effectiveness through metrics like click-through, unsubscribe, and conversion rates.

Download the Guide to Email Marketing Metrics to learn more.

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