How I Raised Open Rates By 25%

Suppose I told you that I could show you how to increase your E-Newsletter open rate by 25%?

Suppose I told you that it could happen immediately, and that it wouldn’t cost you a dime?

Suppose I told you that every sentence in today’s newsletter was going to begin with the phrase, “Suppose I told you that?”

Well, my Labor-Day-weekend friend, with the exception of that last sentence, this is exactly what I’m telling you. With one simple step – a step I’m going to share with you today – you can instantly and significantly boost your open rate, just as I did this past June.

First, some data for the mathematically inclined (everyone else, go get a latte and come back in five minutes):

For the five editions leading up to June 12, the average open rate of this newsletter was 33.1%. For the five issues published since June 12 (the day I made the change), the average open rate has been 41.3%. That’s a 24.7% improvement (an 8.2 point increase over a 33.1 point base).

How did I do it? Simple. I deleted 1,955 names – a quarter of the people on my list; none of whom had opened a single newsletter over the previous six months.

So while the absolute number of opens stayed more or less the same (about 2,250), by cutting the list size from 7,335 to 5,380, the open rate jumped.

“Now hold on just a cotton pickin’ minute, you fast-talking, slick-walking, coast-hugging, E-Newsletter varmint,” you’re probably saying (assuming you’ve been watching old Yosemite Sam cartoons, as I have). “You may have increased your open rate, but what good’s it done, yer doggone fool?!”

Excellent point… it hasn’t done me any good. Because while the rate itself has indeed improved, as a practical matter, nothing has changed (yes, as a matter of fact, I do have an MBA).

I mention all this today, not to suggest that you should ignore open rate, but only to point out that, despite its rock star status here in e-mail marketing land, open rate is anything but perfect.

Some reasons why:

  1. It’s a relative number. Open rate isn’t a direct measure of readership (the thing we all really care about). It’s a measure of readership divided by delivered e-mails (the number of e-mails sent minus those that bounced). Consequently, and as my experience in June demonstrates, you can cause a drastic and immediate change in the numbers without doing anything to improve reality.
  1. It’s largely a function of the list itself. If your E-Newsletter is only sent to people who have explicitly asked to receive it, your open rate is going to be a lot higher than if it’s sent to every e-mail you can get your hands on. That makes sense: The people who want to receive a newsletter are more likely to open it than those who simply come across it lurking, uninvited, in their in-box.

    This suggests that while tracking your own rate month over month is a good idea, comparing yours to someone else’s (not advisable in many areas of life), is not very productive.

  1. It’s not accurate anyway. I won’t bore you with the details on how open statistics are captured and classified, only to say that the data itself has more noise than a senate subcommittee. Which means that despite their aura of precision, the open rate numbers you’re getting each month are just an approximation of what’s actually happening.

    (For more background on how open rates work, read this characteristically easy-to-understand and insightful post from e-mail expert Mark Brownlow).

Here’s the bottom line. I’m all for capturing data and measuring results. Keep in mind, however, that the numbers in your spreadsheet can sometimes do as much to hide the truth as to uncover it. Enjoy your latte.

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