What's an Open Rate, And Why Should I Care?

When it comes to measuring the success of your email campaign, there are many metrics to consider. One of the most general, most important metrics is the Open Rate. Without going into too much detail, your email’s Open Rate measures how many of the people who actually received your email were interested enough to open it*.


Why It’s Important

The Open Rate can give you a general idea of if you’re reaching the best audience for your message. It’s a pretty important metric if opening your email is the first step in presenting your product or service to the marketplace. After all, if recipients don’t open your email, they probably won’t take the next step in reaching your email’s goal.


Why It’s Not Foolproof

An unopened email doesn’t mean an unseen email.
For example, the preview text on mobile phones may be all the information the reader needs to take action.

An opened email doesn’t mean a successful email.
Readers may open your email, but they may not be interested in your pitch. In that case, they count toward your Open Rate, but perhaps not to overall campaign success, depending on how you define success for your campaign.



Brand Engagement/Familiarity
Do you have a relationship with your email’s recipients, or are you completely unknown to them? Familiarity and engagement are key components of building a relationship where recipients know you and are interested in your message.

List Freshness
People who have already unsubscribed or are not engaged, or are on a list you bought from someone else instead of collecting yourself will have a negative impact on your Open Rate. Keep your lists clean with diligent management (most Email Sending Services have great tools to help you). And if you must use someone else’s email list (unlike many, I believe there are defensible reasons for renting email lists), be sure to adjust your expectations.

Subject Line and Preview Text
Your email starts at the Inbox, especially on mobile. Compose your subject line with the goal of getting people to open your email.

Time and Day
Time and day can play a big role in your Open Rate. Some markets work better early in the morning, others are best at midday or evening.

Industry-Specific Standard Open Rate
Open Rates differ dramatically by industry, just as sales rates do. While there’s no hard and fast rule, knowing the typical Open Rate for your industry can help you set expectations. Campaign Monitor and Mail Chimp have good, general charts of typical Open Rates.


The Open Rate can help give you a general idea of how effective your email was in getting to the right people at the right time, but it’s just one variable in a list of variables designed to help you measure each step in the success of your campaigns. Luckily, we have many other road-tested analytics to help us measure the next steps.

* Technically, the more or less accepted definition of the open rate is emails opened / emails sent – undelivered emails. I’m using people instead of emails because it applies human terms to an otherwise abstract concept. And ultimately, we are talking about people. While many people may have more than one email account, chances are you’re only sending to one of them for each person.