For years, marketers have told you that your open rate is the golden metric to look at when gauging the effectiveness of your email campaigns. However, your open rate never truly told you the whole story—it definitely doesn’t now with increasing privacy rules. In this article, I’m going to tell you why open rates aren’t as important as you might think and what metrics you should look at instead.

Why Open Rates Aren’t Reliable

First, let’s look at what has happened to open rates since recent privacy changes were put in place. You may have noticed that, starting around October 2021, your open rate increased by several percentage points. Unfortunately, it’s not because your emails suddenly got great—the way open rates are measured just changed. And it’s happening across all the biggest platforms—MailChimp, Constant Contact, Aweber, etc.

What’s happening is that every time you send an email, your recipients’ email provider (Apple, Outlook, etc) sends a small amount of data (a crawler, if you will) to inspect your message to see whether or not it should be sent to Spam or the Inbox. Once that action takes place, MailChimp, etc. recognizes that as an open and counts it towards your rate regardless of whether or not your human being recipient actually opened it.

Additionally, open rates don’t track the reason why someone opened your email. Maybe they just opened it to unsubscribe?

What Metrics to Look at Instead

While you can still look at your open rate to see how various campaigns performed (you can still expect percentages to vary by a few points with each campaign), looking at these two metrics can give you a more complete picture:

  1. Click rate: You can cross-reference this with your Google Analytics, but checking your click-through rate to see how many times a link within your email was clicked can be a good indicator of how many people truly looked at your email. It can also tell you what content people found more interesting.
  2. Unsubscribes: While you can expect to have a number of people unsubscribe with every email you send, keeping an eye on the number of unsubscribes with each send can tell you how people are responding to seeing you in their inbox.

One Last Point

One aspect of email marketing that can’t be measured is the simple ROI you get from people seeing your name pop up in their inbox. Even if they don’t open your email, whether it’s because they don’t have time or aren’t interested in the featured subject matter at that moment, seeing your firm’s name pop up will remind them of who you are and how you can help, which keeps you top-of-mind and increases your odds of being the first firm they think of when a need arises.