May 17, 2016

Is it worth looking at open rates?

Do you ever delve around in Google Analytics?

Everybody installs Google Analytics, and almost universally nobody knows how to use it. Most people, when they do actually log in, just wander about in the maze of metrics wondering what it all means.

Metrics are everywhere in Google Analytics. Hits, unique hits, time on site, bounce rate, percentage of new visitors… there are so many metrics you can almost swim in them.

In my experience everybody seems more intent on talking about metrics than actually measuring them. And even if you do measure them, how do you select the right ones to measure?

When it comes to email everybody is obsessed with open rate. Everybody wants to know what a ‘good’ open rate is.

My sceptical answer is “I dunno… did the people who opened do what you want?”

We shouldn’t completely dismiss open rate, but like click through rate in AdWords it is only a signal of initial engagement. High open rates alone are useful, but are not going to solve your problems.

Open rates only become useful when you compare one email to another. If you have 1000 people on your list and your typical open rate for those people is 30%, then that becomes a useful basis of comparison. Email copywriter Josh Earl emailed me following the attention article to say:

I find a really good subject line will bump my open rates by 2-5%, maybe from 23% to 26%.

Imagine you were going to a horse racing meeting. You already have your ticket, but on the way in to the racecourse guards are handing out betting vouchers.

They hand some people more vouchers than others. The higher your open rate the more betting vouchers you get, so the better your chance of winning.

Open rate is only useful as a comparison metric. You can use it to compare the attractiveness of different emails to the same list, and you can use it to compare the overall engagement of different lists.

Open rate is not useful as a stand-alone metric. Please do not email me to ask whether 25% is a good open rate. Without comparing it with similar emails and reviewing your conversions I cannot possibly know.

You should consider also that not all opens are actually measured. Most email marketing platforms will measure opens by including a one-pixel image within the HTML version of the email. An ‘open’ is then only counted when images are downloaded.

Even in a highly engaged list of 100 prospects some of those contacts will manage to read the email without downloading images, especially if your email itself is image-free. This means that even if everyone ‘reads’ the email you may only see an 85% open rate. This becomes irrelevant when you are using open rate as a comparison metric.

I had a diagram in my AdWords Survival Guide course called the AdWords Profit Funnel.

AdWords Profit Funnel

The point behind the AdWords Profit Funnel was that clicks and conversions are interim measures, yet everyone assumes you buy clicks and get conversions.

The equally-badly-drawn Email Profit Funnel looks like this:

Email Profit Funnel

Each step in the funnel only works if you have succeeded at the level above. You only get opens if your emails are delivered. You only get clicks if people open. And so on.

The metrics at the top of the funnel (delivered, opened, clicks) are easy to measure. The metrics at the bottom are harder, especially when we consider that a prospect who ‘converts’ on your website may have visited six different times all by different traffic sources.

Still, if someone clicked on a link in your email and made their first purchase wouldn’t you like to know?

Wouldn’t you also like to know how much that person spends with you over the next ten years?

As long as your open rate doesn’t suck those are the questions you should be trying to answer.

You answer them by getting good at Google Analytics and storing referral information in your CRM system.

If getting good at Google Analytics sounds about as fun as sticking pins in your eyes get someone else at your company to take the Analytics exam. Tell them you want a report each month on which emails generate the most sales, and let them get to work.

How often should you review your numbers? Monthly or quarterly is probably enough. You should review though, or else how will you improve?

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond runs the Maze Marketing Podcast and Maze Mastery. Rob specialises in content production, ad creation, storytelling and CRM systems. He has two published books, Magnetic Expertise and Simple Story Selling, affordable on Amazon.