Why Email Open Rates Mislead Marketers (and 5 Other Metrics to Consider)
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Why Email Open Rates Mislead Marketers (and 5 Other Metrics to Consider)

Open rates really don’t tell us much, and now, with iOS 15, they’re pretty much useless.
Primer team
Updated on
April 25, 2024
Published on
January 22, 2024
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For a long time, email marketers have cared a ton about open rates. They’ve used it as their main way to judge if an email campaign was successful. But open rates really don’t tell us much, and now, with iOS 15, they’re pretty much useless.

Here’s the deal – iOS 15 has a new privacy feature that stops senders from seeing if an email is opened or not. So for anyone with an iPhone, open rates are now pointless. Google’s also going to block open tracking in Android.

The time has come to say bye to open rates for good. They never really showed how engaged someone was anyways. But now, with iOS 15, open rates are ancient history. If you’re still paying attention to them, you’re way behind the times.

The Problem With Open Rates

Let's dig deeper into why open rates have always been flawed:

  • An open doesn't mean the email was actually read. People could open it and then instantly close it or never scroll down. Open ≠ read.
  • Preview panes in webmail let people peek at emails without opening them. So opens get over or under-counted. Still, personalization of previews and letter copy matters for 1:1 email efficiency. Check our article about personalizing paid ads and outbound emails to see how it pays off.
  • Spam filters sometimes cause emails to open automatically to scan for threats before delivery. More inaccurate counts.
  • Open rates encourage lame tricks like empty subject line hype and exaggerated send times. But these rarely drive true engagement.
  • Open rates are completely disconnected from what happens after the opening. Did the person click, share, or buy? No clue.
  • With mobile opens rising, open rates are even more misleading. They tell you nothing about how content displays on small screens.

See the pattern here? Open data is flaky and reveals almost nothing about how recipients actually engage with your emails. It’s a vanity metric that provides no value.

But the final nail in the coffin came when iOS 15 blocked all open tracking for Apple Mail users overnight.

Why iOS 15 Killed Open Rates

Here’s how the new Mail Privacy Protection in iOS 15 completely demolished open rates:

  • The new privacy feature blocks senders from detecting if an individual email is opened in Apple Mail. All open-tracking pixels are now useless. In fact, new privacy practices smashed the efficiency of tracking cookies across channels. 
  • Over 50% of emails are opened on mobile devices. A significant portion of that mobile email audience uses iPhones and now has open tracking blocked by default.
  • Even separating out iOS 15 users no longer works. Overall open rate data is irreversibly corrupted. With a large subset blocked, open rates cannot be compared historically or industry-wide.
  • Spam filters and preview panes already threw off open data accuracy. Now a huge chunk of users are removed from tracking entirely.
  • More privacy changes are imminent. Google plans to join Apple in blocking open tracking in Android Mail. Email privacy is only increasing.

The time has come to retire open rates and stop pretending they provide meaningful data. Between inherent limitations and iOS 15 blocking opens completely, open rates need to be left behind for good.

5 Meaningful Engagement Metrics

Now, let’s switch gears to metrics that actually show how subscribers engage with your emails. Here are the stats you should focus on instead of meaningless open rates:

1. Click-through Rate (CTR)

CTR shows what percentage of recipients clicked on links or buttons in your email. Clicking demonstrates they actually took action rather than just passively opening.

CTR reveals how compelling your content and call-to-action are. It’s a measurable sign of interest rather than just a vanity number. Aim to optimize your emails for higher CTRs rather than open rates.

2. Time Spent Reading

This metric provides valuable insight into how long subscribers spend engaging with your email content before closing or leaving.More time spent is an indicator that your content resonated with the recipient’s interests. Very short time periods may reveal content that didn’t capture attention.Analyze this data to create emails that spark genuine interest rather than just opens. This drives greater subscriber satisfaction long-term.

3. Goal Completions

For emails focused on specific conversions, track the percentage of recipients who complete your desired goal.If your email is promoting a sale, what % of people purchased? For webinar signup emails, how many registered?These goal completion rates show whether your emails are successfully driving target actions. Much better than just open data!

4. Subscriber Retention

Keep an eye on long-term subscriber retention rates. How many subscribers consistently engage over time vs. frequently unsubscribing?Rising retention means your emails are providing ongoing value. Falling retention is a warning sign that you need to improve subscriber satisfaction.

5. Surveys

Well-designed email surveys provide direct feedback on what your subscribers like/dislike most about your emails.Ask for ratings on your designs, subject lines, content, and more. This insider intel can help continuously refine your approach.

The Privacy-Centric Future

The email marketing landscape is shifting as users demand more privacy-focused experiences. Open tracking goes against these expectations.

Apple’s iOS 15 update is just the start of growing restrictions on how user data can be collected and leveraged without explicit consent.

Brands that embrace this new privacy-centric era will gain an advantage with consumers. As opposed to those who resist change and cling to outdated practices.

Rather than relying on intrusive tracking like open rates, focus on optimizing content for genuine engagement and conversions. Provide subscribers value, not invasion of privacy.

The brands that adapt fastest will build more meaningful relationships with subscribers. They’ll win trust and loyalty in the process.

Key Takeaways

Let’s recap the core lessons on why open rates are now defunct:

  • Open rates have always provided misleading and incomplete data. They are a vanity metric that reveal little about engagement.
  • Recent privacy changes like iOS 15 have rendered open tracking totally pointless for much of the mobile email audience.
  • Marketers should shift focus to more meaningful metrics like clicks, time spent reading, goal completions, and long-term subscriber retention.
  • The future is privacy-centric. Brands need to align email strategies with respect for user privacy and consent.
  • Optimization should be based on driving engaged experiences, satisfaction, and conversions rather than shallow opens.

The bottom line is open rates are now obsolete in light of privacy concerns. Prioritize more substantive metrics based on real human actions. This will set your brand up for email success in the modern landscape.

The mobile and privacy revolution is here to stay. Smart marketers will embrace this shift rather than resisting change. Approach your email strategy with an eye on engagement, conversions, and subscriber relationships. Then you can confidently hit send on meaningful metrics and say "peace out" to antiquated open rates.

Expand Your Outbound Emails to Your Paid Social Audience

Primer allows you to reach your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Ads audiences via email. You can transform your ad audiences into outbound lists and serve these prospects with highly personalized 1:1 emails

Map their wants and pains by enriching initial contact data: source missing data points from a wide range of trusted B2B data providers. Then, address those specific needs through personalized email and win outstanding open rates and click-throughs.

We’re ready to take you on an onboarding tour anytime – request a live Primer demo today.

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