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Jun 24, 2008

New Chart: Why Marketers Should Think Twice Before Changing Email Based on Open Rates

SUMMARY: The open rate for email is not what it seems. In fact, the stalwart of email marketing metrics is flawed because image blocking reduces the ability to measure an open rate. So, it’s limited in its usefulness for email marketers.

This is why email marketers should think twice before making changes to their strategies and programs based solely on open rates.

New Chart: Open Rate for Email Blasts Continues Five-Year Decline
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Click here to see larger, printable version of this chart

In the ‘measureable’ world of online marketing, marketers can easily become overly concerned with flawed metrics. Why? Simply because the metrics are available. One such metric is a stalwart of email marketing – the open rate.

First, a quick reminder about how email ‘opens’ are measured. A line of code resides within an email that asks the server to deliver a single pixel image. When that image gets served, it’s called an open. The problem? If the email client (Outlook, Yahoo! Mail , etc.) doesn’t allow the image to arrive, the open doesn’t get counted.

This week’s chart shows the five-year decline in open rates for business-to-business email. On the one hand, we have some corroboration that the number of people reading the average newsletter or email blast has declined. It’s almost impossible, however, to tease out the degree to which this is a result of true decline or a reduction in our ability to measure opens.

In that same time period, the vast majority of business users (and most consumers) have adopted email clients or services that automatically block images. Think about your own email reading patterns. How often do you read an article or scan an offer without enabling images? Probably quite often, if you’re like most recipients.

In fact, Sherpa’s Chart of the Week newsletter is a good opportunity to explore the reality. Since it is based on the chart, there’s an incentive for readers to enable images – and open rates have been as high as 70%. In short, when the image block is removed, response can spike.

Key takeaway: Open rates are of limited usefulness. Email marketers should think twice before making changes to their strategies and programs based on this metric.

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