Email Open Rate 101: What It Is And What Affects It

Email Open Rate 101: What It Is And What Affects It
29 June, 2023 • ... • 2270 views
Evgenia Budrina
by Evgenia Budrina

Is your email open rate good? How to calculate it? What affects it and, most importantly, how to increase it? We’ve covered all of these in this article.

About email open rate

Email open rate (OR) is a metric that shows how many people opened your email. There are 2 types of open rate:

Unique open rate. It shows how many people opened your message compared to how many messages were delivered.

Total open rate. It’s a percentage of opened emails (including those opened more than once) compared to the number of delivered emails.

For example:

5 people received your email. 1 person opened the email 3 times, 1 person — 1 time, the other 2 didn’t open it.

Your unique OR will be 40% (2 people out of 5). Total OR — 80% (4 opens out 5 deliveries).

So the total OR can sometimes be even higher than 100%. Now, that is confusing, right? That is why marketers mostly use unique OR. We’re only going to talk about unique OR in this article.

What is a good open rate for emails

What’s a good email open rate? Let’s see what the numbers say and if you should blindly follow them.

An average open rate for 2022 was 21.5%, according to Campaign Monitor.  This value is 3.5% higher than in 2021, which can be attributed to the 2021 iOS update.

How to tell if your open rate is good? First things first, new Apple Mail privacy protection features make it harder to track who actually opened your emails. That’s why click-through rate is a more representative metric. However, CTR is still loosely correlated with open rates: more opens (sort of) imply more clicks. So, if you want a short answer, it depends on the industry. Let’s take a look at how different industries perform.

Average email open rates by industry

As we mentioned, average email open rate heavily depends on the industry. Let’s take a look at the latest data that already includes the effects of the iOS update. Our list includes three email marketing services that collect and update their data regularly.

Campaign Monitor provided an extensive report on open rates across different industries.

Campaign Monitor email marketing benchmarks 2022
Source: Campaign Monitor

And here’s the latest data from GetResponse:

GetResponse open rate benchmarks 2022
Source: GetResponse

Finally, to wrap it up, let’s look at the freshest data in our selection — the report by Constant Contact from 2023.

Open rate by industries 2023 Constant Contact
Source: Constant Contact

It’s important to remember that we are looking at the reports made by several different email service providers, so the data can differ a lot from one ESP to another. But how do you know exactly if you’re doing great or not?

Many ESPs show how your open rate compares to other businesses in your industry right in your email campaign report. This is the closest you can get to the exact data. The average benchmark for your niche is given on the basis of analyzing the open rates of those businesses that are only within your ESP, but that’s good enough to make data-driven decisions. For example, this is what it looks like in Mailchimp:

Mailchimp campaign benchmarking
Source: Mailchimp

How to calculate it

First, some good news: you don’t have to calculate your email open rate yourself! Email service providers will do it for you. But here is a general formula, in case you were wondering

Email Open Rate = Number of Emails Read / Number of Delivered Emails ×100

For example: if an email was delivered to 1000 people and 200 people opened it, your open rate is 20%.

Open rate formula

Easy? Yes, but, if you’re a beginner, there’s a tiny thing you should keep in mind. It’s important here to take into account the number of emails delivered, not the emails sent. Emails tend to bounce, and you cannot ignore this. Some marketers say the formula goes # emails opened / # emails sent – # emails bounced. But let’s just be 100% clear that we only should consider those messages that landed into inboxes.

Factors affecting open rates

Let’s look at what affects your email open rate.

Event Triggers

It’s important to go beyond averages in your analysis of your email marketing so you can compare “apples with apples”. When assessing your email open rate, keep in mind that it depends a lot on the event that triggered your email. This will give you a better indication of performance.

Automated emails have higher open rates than other types of email. This is only natural as they are triggered by a certain action of a user, so this user is more likely to expect a reaction from you, open it and read it.

GetResponse types of campaigns affecting open rates
One-off non-automated campaigns get the lowest open rates. Source: GetResponse.

Brand recognition and loyalty

In 2021, according to  The Consumer Email Tracker report from the UK Data And Marketing Association, brand recognition was the most important factor in opening an email. 68% of users opened a message just because they recognized the brand. It turned out to be an even more significant trigger for opening an email than a subject line (59%). Simply liking the brand (46%) also turned out to be a key driver. 

However, in 2023 the situation is a bit more complex. According to DMA’s fresh report, the main motivation for subscribing to and engaging with branded emails is discounts and offers (48%).

Email subscription survey resupts 2023
Source: DMA

An opportunity to save money is one of the main reasons why people like marketing emails as well, along with relevant content and liking the brand — the latter has become much less important since 2023.

Why people like marketing emails survey results 2023
Source: DMI

It’s easy to conclude that brand recognition and loyalty is no longer important. However, according to the same report, consumers have a limited list of favorite brands they engage with. Both in 2021 and now, people on average are subscribed to around 10 marketing newsletters — and often, they use a separate address for branded emails. This implies that although customers engage with branded emails for personal gain like saving money, they still show some kind of commitment.

It’s hard to measure brand recognition and loyalty. These are often considered vanity metrics. However, both historical and present data shows the correlation between email engagement and brand recognition and loyalty.

 

Subject line relevance

Subject lines are the second most important trigger for opening an email. There are several aspects to subject lines that affect the open rate.

When it comes to subject lines, small things matter. There is no one magic solution that would make your email open rate sky high. A healthy mix of them that will work best for your brand is what you need to strive for.

The length of the subject line. According to the GetResponse email marketing benchmarks report, 61-70 symbols in a subject line yield the highest open rate. But the second best performers are over 100 or even over 200 symbols, so we doubt if there’s a correlation. Honestly, we’d rather treat this statistic like fun trivia not like an instruction.

Subject line length affecting open rate
Source: GetResponse

Using emojis. Here’s a surprising finding from GetResponse — emojis in subject lines can actually decrease your open rate by almost 2%.

Emojis affecting open rate
Source: GetResponse

Subject line personalization. Another interesting finding from the same report is that personalized subject lines are less clicked on, and these emails have a two times lower CTR. Does it mean you should give up personalizing? No — email personalization is still the key to success. But it depends on which email elements you personalize — consider putting your efforts into what’s inside your email instead.

Personalization affecting open rate
Source: GetResponse

Preheader

Preheader is what you see right after the subject line before you even open an email.

preheader example
This preheader explains what full Gmail storage actually means for me

Some brands make an effort and write a special preheader that develops the subject line. Some don’t. The numbers say that adding a smart preheader improves both your open rate and clicks.

Preheader affecting open rates
Source: GetResponse

Time of day and day of the week

Day of the week. Let me guess. People are most active on Monday as they are fresh after the weekend and are at their highest energy level. And now let’s see what the numbers say.

Day of the week affecting open rates
Source: Campaign Monitor

The latest data from Campaign Monitor confirms this! Emails sent on the first three days of the work week get the highest open rates, with Monday being the highest-performing. However, we’d take these findings with a grain of salt. There’s no such thing as the perfect day of week for an email — there are many factors affecting open rates, and different studies show different results.

Time of the day. You can choose your best send time by A/B testing and experimenting with the times for different audiences. For example, it’s logical that you’d want to send B2B email campaigns during working hours and a weekend event digest — on Friday night.

List quality

A quality email list will get more open rates than a list that is purchased or downloaded from social media. Here’s what we mean when we say “quality list”

  • Each subscriber on this list gave their consent to receive updates from you.
  • The list is segmented so the subscribers only get the content that is relevant to them.
  • The list is constantly cleaned from inactive subscribers and updates (old lists naturally give lower OR).

Expectation based on the previous open experience

If you managed to bring awesome content with great value to your audience in your previous messages, you earned yourself a good reputation. This means that your subscribers will be more likely to open your next email.

Here’s a personal example. I’m subscribed to the Really Good Emails newsletter. When I first started to receive their emails, I really liked how they structure their content and it gave me lots of value, too. Now I open each of their messages just because I somehow know that if it comes from them, it can only be good stuff.

How to increase email open rates

Now that you know what can really affect your open rate, let’s see what you can do to increase it.

Use personalization

It’s counterintuitive but the latest findings show that personalized subject lines decrease open rates. But personalization goes far beyond just saying “Hey, Helen!” in a subject line. 

There’s a newsletter I’m subscribed to. Each time I see a message from them, I see them using my name. The first couple of times I opened their emails I clearly saw that my name in the subject line doesn’t mean there’s actually personalized content inside. Now, you have to know that they send their newsletter almost every day, and seeing my name in those subject lines every day feels like I’m being pestered by a friend who sees no boundaries. And the only thing I want is to actually see less of it.

too much personalization example
Evgenia! Evgenia...? EVGENIAAAAA!!

We recommend personalizing your subject only when your message has a personal offer to a subscriber (for example, a recommendation of articles based on a user’s browsing history or a personal discount based on their purchase history). If you connect a personalized “wrapping” (which is your subject line) with personalized content, your subscribers will learn that when your message contains their name, there’s really something valuable in there — and will be really willing to open it.

As you can see, according to the same report from GetResponse, personalized email body does exactly the opposite.

Personalized email body affecting open rates
Source: GetResponse

Tips

  • Do not put a subscriber’s name in all the emails. Do it only when the message you’re sending really contains a personalized offer.
  • Test how subject lines with or without names perform with your audience to be able to choose a strategy that fits you best.

Work on your subject lines

Subject lines make the first impression of your email — they are quite a trigger for opening it. So what should you do to make your subject line work hard for you and maybe even make that conversion skyrocket? We put together a couple of tips.

Be clear rather than original. A big email subject lines study by Sean Bestor clearly states that it’s better to be clear and understood than to be provocative and risk not being understood.

He compared these 2 subject lines.

  1. “Free Ebook: 15 emails everyone should send”.
  2. “Why aren’t you sending these 15 emails?”

Surprisingly, the first one – simple and straightforward – won the Oscar and left no chances to its creative opponent.

simple vs provocative subject line

Keep it short. AudiencePoint estimated that 50–60% of emails are opened via mobile devices. The takeaway is, optimizing your subject lines for mobile devices means catering to a large part of your audience. Your emails will look picture perfect on mobile email clients, you’ll get more opens, clicks, and conversions. So, if you keep it short, you’re winning!

Words to avoid and to use

When trying to come up with a subject line that will really wow your subscribers it’s easy to overdo it. We get it, your product is awesome and you might want to sell it by using the words like “the best on the market” or give your customer a little push by saying “click now before it’s too late”. Even if your product is the best on the market and that deal you’re offering really ends right now, using words like these is often a direct way to spam folders. That’s why they are called spam triggers.

Spam trigger words are keywords or phrases that email providers see as red flags. You’ll often find these words in emails that people mark as spam. For example:

  • 0% risk
  • 100% guarantee
  • Click right now!
  • Earn extra income
  • Guaranteed income
  • You have been selected (we all know this one, right?)

There are many lists of spam trigger words online. However, we recommend you not to trust them blindly and to avoid those words at all cost. Approach it in a smart way: if your emails are well- structured and have low bounce rates, a couple of these words won’t do any harm.

Now, let’s talk about the good stuff: the words that can increase your open rate. GetResponse explored if individual words in email subject lines can boost your open rate. Here’s what they found (top 10 results).

Words in subject lines affecting open rates
Source: GetResponse

Does it mean you should always use the words from this list in each and every email? Michal Leszczynski, head of content marketing at GetResponse, gives a great explanation.

GetResponse Michal Leszczynski comment on email benchmarks report
Source: GetResponse

Send welcome emails to get the highest open rate

The average open rate of a welcome email is 63.91%, according to the latest findings of GetResponse. Welcome emails are opened four times more than any other type of email  — and their average CTR is higher too!

For you, it means that not adding welcome sequences to your email marketing routine is a missed opportunity to engage as many subscribers as possible. If you don’t know where to start, we wrote a definitive guide on welcome emails — check it out!

Use double opt-in

We get it, you want both to build your list fast and have great metrics. That is what most businesses want. Now, single opt-n is a totally legitimate way to go. It gives you the fastest way to build a list: people just need to leave their email once, that’s it! But what about the quality of such a list? How many subscribers will actually open your emails?

With double opt-in, you know that every subscriber went the extra mile (that is, left an email AND clicked on the confirmation link) to make sure they receive your content. With this extra confirmation level, you know for a fact that these clients are genuinely interested in you, and that this is definitely their address.

confirmation email example
A confirmation email doesn’t have to be boring. This is a great example of how a brand explains why you need to confirm and reminds you that you’re on your way and all is going well. Source: Really Good Emails

Benefits of double opt-in:

  • Your open rate and other metrics are higher.
  • Your subscribers are less likely to mark you as spam (because they said “yes” to your content two times).
  • Your sender reputation is enhanced (because your subscribers are more engaged), thus your deliverability will go higher.

Clean your email list

Building a list is not a straight road: you sometimes have to clean up the mess on your way. Here are the things you will most probably come across:

  • Inboxes that aren’t available anymore (temporarily or otherwise).
  • Inboxes with your message marked as spam.
  • Inboxes that are full and forgotten.
  • Subscribers that are no longer interested in your services (changed location, lost interest, no longer relevant, switched to competitors, etc).

All of these are bumps on your way to a high-engaging list with a good open rate. And you need to remove them.

Now, we know how much it hurts to remove something you’ve been collecting with so much effort. But you can also not call these email addresses useful, as there are simply zero benefits coming from them: no opens, no clicks, and no purchases. Moreover, you might be even overpaying your email service providers because of your list size.

In this article, we explained the process of list cleaning in great detail. If you want to tidy up your contacts but you don’t know where to start, don’t hesitate to check it out!

Key takeaways

Ok, let’s wrap things up.

❔ You ask 💡 We answer
Is my email open rate good? It heavily depends on your industry. Most ESPs provide open rate benchmarks for different industries. If your ESP doesn’t provide this, check one of the latest reports we mentioned in the article.
How to calculate my open rate? Email Open Rate = Number of Emails Read / Number of Delivered Emails ×100
What affects my open rate?
  • The type of emails you send.
  • Brand awareness and loyalty.
  • Subject lines and preheaders (these two work together).
  • Send time.
  • List quality.
  • Expectations based on the previous open experience.
How to increase my open rate?
  • Use personalization only when you send personalized content, not every time.
  • Work on your subject lines: be clear and keep it short.
  • Be careful with spam trigger words.
  • Send welcome emails – they will give you the highest open rate possible.
  • Use double opt-in to make sure only genuinely interested people subscribe.
  • Clean your list every now and then.

This article was originally published in September 2021 and was updated in June 2023 to make it more relevant and comprehensive.

29 June, 2023
Article by
Evgenia Budrina
Project manager, team leader and marketing aficionado. Entrepreneur at heart. I used to run a sports event business, that's exactly when I realized that managing complex projects is my true passion. At Selzy, I write occasional articles, build teams, launch new projects and experiment a lot.
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