The 5 Stages of Recovering from Low Read Rates

In email marketing, engagement describes subscriber activity with an email. And what is more indicative of engagement than an email being read?

The read rate allows marketers to distinguish successful campaigns that grab subscribers’ interest from the failed campaigns that are ignored (not opened, deleted without reading, etc.). The read rate differs from the typical open rate in that it does not require a pixel to fire to record an open, making it more accurate as it accounts for all email viewed, regardless of image rendering.

Mailbox providers use a combination of positive and negative engagement metrics—like the read rate—in addition to other ‘hidden metrics’ when deciding if an email is legitimate or spam:

  • Positive engagement occurs when a subscriber reads an email, replies to an email, clicks a link, or rescues an email from the spam folder.
  • Negative engagement occurs when a subscriber deletes an email without reading it or marks the email as spam.

See a trend there? Let’s talk about it! Welcome to the 5 stages of recovering from low read rates.

Stage 1: Pre-contemplation
Oftentimes, those in the pre-contemplation stage have yet to find out that the problem exists—or they have to admit to themselves that they have a problem. Having the information and acknowledging that low read rates are having an impact on your deliverability leads to the next stage of recovery: contemplation. Marketers can move on to the next phase once they have collected and analyzed their subscriber data and recognized that there is potential for improvement.  

Stage 2: Contemplation
At this point, the marketers have accepted they need to make changes, but they are not only struggling to understand the root cause of their low read rates and are unsure how to move forward. It is easy for marketers to remain in this stage for months as they begin to think about potential courses of action. The end of the contemplation stage is characterized by deeper analysis on their email program and thinking about an action plan. Once they get to this point they are ready for the next stage.

Stage 3: Preparation
Those who have reached the preparation stage have made concrete plans on how they are going to address low read rates. Once they have committed to a plan of action, they are likely to move on smoothly. By now they are fully aware of the factors influencing read rates, of the significance of this metric, and have made valuable observations.

They know from Return Path’s 2019 Hidden Metrics of Email Deliverability benchmark that the average read rate in 2018 was 24 percent and that their industry has its own benchmark they should be working against.

Stage 4: Action
This stage of recovery is relatively self-explanatory. During the action phase, marketers begin the process of implementing recommendation and strategies in order to improve their email program. This stage usually requires the most effort, but it is also one of the most important. The action stage is the foundation for long-term good deliverability.

  • Data is being collected and analyzed
  • Based on these results content relevancy is being improved to better meet subscribers’ needs and expectations
  • Mobile device rendering is being optimized to make sure that subscribers using a mobile device are having a seamless experience when reading the email
  • The subject line is being compared to trending subject lines in the same or all industries and is being tested in Return Paths’ Subject Line Optimizer
  • Lists are being segmented with various tests (send time, frequency, etc., ) being performed. Even a couple of emojis are thrown into the subject lines to grab attention.  

Stage 5: Maintainance and best practices
One of the most overlooked phases may be the maintenance stage. Recovery takes a great amount of time, hard work and dedication—it is a process, not a single event. At the close of the action phase, every marketer should move into maintenance, continue best practices, and be mindful of their read rates among other metrics and success indicators.


minute read

Popular stories



BriteVerify email verification ensures that an email address actually exists in real-time


The #1 global data quality tool used by thousands of Salesforce admins


Insights and deliverability guidance from the only all-in-one email marketing solution

GridBuddy Cloud

Transform how you interact with your data through the versatility of grids.

Return Path

World-class deliverability applications to optimize email marketing programs

Trust Assessments

A revolutionary new solution for assessing Salesforce data quality


Validity for Email

Increase inbox placement and maximize subscriber reach with clean and actionable data

Validity for Data Management

Simplify data management with solutions that improve data quality and increase CRM adoption

Validity for Sales Productivity

Give your sales team back hours per day with tools designed to increase productivity and mitigate pipeline risks in real-time