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Open rate

Mark Brownlow over at Email Marketing Reports has been talking about open rates for a while. His point, one I fully agree with, is that open rate is not what you think it is. At best it is a measure of who is rendering your email. Today he links to a post from ReturnOnSubscriber. In this post, the author demonstrates that by using an alt tag saying “don’t you want to save 40%”, the open rate for an email increased 27% over previous sends.
But. Wait.
I would argue that there was no change in the number of emails that were opened and read. In fact, an alt tag can only increase your open rate if recipients are already opening and reading your mail. What is really being measured here is the number of people who load images, not the number of people who are reading your mail. Those extra 27% of people opened and read that email before they loaded an image. They had to! If the alt tag was to have any effect on open rates, then people had to read the alt tag!
Now we have this great increase in a statistic, but what does that actually mean? I know that open rates make marketers feel all warm and fuzzy, but HUF did not actually increase the number of people opening and reading his mail. The only increase was in the number of people rendering images. Much more interesting would be actual clicks or even sales. Does the increase in people loading images in an email translate into actual revenue? That’s the really critical measure.

4 comments

  1. DJ Waldow says

    Laura –
    I think that you make an excellent point. I love Alex’s “test” of using a creative alt text CTA, but you are correct – this only shows how many subscribers download images. To really prove the value, I’d like to see an A|B split on this one. Or….why not forget all of that and just design with images off in mind? Creating bulletproof buttons – http://blog.emailexperience.org/2008/03/make_it_pop_the_bulletproof_bu.html – would be a start.
    dj at bronto

  2. Christal says

    I see your point, but wouldn’t having an alt tag make a difference if the image in question was placed at the top of the email, so that it could be seen in the preview pane? If someone is previewing emails with images turned off, the alt tag should still show up if the viewer scrolls over the message… then they’d say to themselves “yes, I want to respond positively to what this alt tag is asking me,” and open the email, thereby increasing open rates… unless I’m confused, which admittedly is possible. I definitely agree that it would be nice to back up this “open rate” statistic with stats on CT rates/sales.

  3. laura says

    It really depends on what you think you’re measuring by “open rate.” If you’re measuring “how many people load images” than sure, it’s a change. If you’re measuring “how many people read the mail” then I don’t think there is really any difference because of the tag.

  4. Spam or not spam at Word to the Wise says

    […] and marketing mail, from vendors. Even if they do not “open” the mail (read: load images in the email), they may be opening, reading and acting on the offers in the […]

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