What's Going On, Open Rate?!

One of the most frequent, panicked questions I get from clients are:

My open rates are down! Did something happen?!

Mayyyyyyybeeee. Here are seven reasons your open rate may be lower than usual, in order of most common to more rare examples:

  1. Did you email a larger-than-normal list? This tends to dilute open rates when you open up your lists and send out less-targeted content. An extreme example is comparing your open rates for a transactional email vs. a promotional email.
  2. Was the promotion/message not particularly engaging? ?
  3. Did the timing of the email coincide with a long weekend, seasonal low, etc.?
  4. Did you experience any delivery issues at a particular mailbox provider? For example, Yahoo (or any combination of mailbox providers or spam filter providers) may have blocked your mail, throttled your mail over a long period of time, or put all your mail into spam folders.*
  5. Are any of your IP addresses or sending domains listed on a blacklist?*
  6. Did you recently add a new list acquisition source that could be adding duds to your list?
  7. Did you change the location of your tracking pixel in your email creative? Pixels must load with your other images to register an open. Sometimes if your pixel is placed at the bottom of your email, it may not have a chance to load and track the open.

A word of caution: The chase for higher open rates may be appealing, but beware. You can easily achieve an open rate of 100 percent by sending your email to your single most engaged user, but the end of the day, it would only result in 1 open. Lower open rates aren’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if your revenue and ROI increases. This can happen in scenario 1 (above) where your open rates decline, but the total number of opens, clicks, conversions, and/or revenue are higher due to the sheer increase in email volume being sent out. This may be a worthwhile risk if you can balance the risk between maximizing your revenue and managing your email reputation.

If you can think of other reasons that open rates may be negatively impacted, please leave them in the comments!

*Note #4 and #5 can be monitored with our Inbox Monitor and Reputation Monitor tools. I’ve personally seen one mailbox provider process a 24-hour flash sale over 60 hours. This throttling alone severely impacted the open rate.

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