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Open rates climbing, click rates dropping

Ken Magill reported on a study published by Epsilon (pdf link) on Tuesday. This report shows open rates are climbing but click-through rates are falling.

Average e-mail click-through rates dropped 0.1% in the fourth quarter of 2008 from the third to 5.8%, the lowest ever recorded, according to a study released today by Epsilon. […]
They are down from 6.1% in 2007 and 6.5% in 2006, according to the marketing services provider. […]
According to the study, average open rates increased for the third quarter in a row to 20.9%, up almost 6% from the fourth quarter of last year.

The real factoid that jumped out at me about this is that it clearly demonstrates what a useless metric “open rate” is. As more and more people are, supposedly, reading commercial bulk email fewer and fewer of them are actually clicking on links.
What does this tell us? It tells us that open rate is not a way to tell you anything useful about an email campaign. If a sender can get more people looking at a particular email, and fewer people actually following through on the call to action, then clearly the problem is not that no one is seeing the email. There are lots of reasons why the clickthroughs might be decreasing, but it seems clear from the Epsilon study that simply getting more eyeballs will not fix anything.
Can we now stop using “open rate” to measure anything relevant?

3 comments

  1. Richard says

    Laura,
    Agree with you on the irrelevance of open rate as a metric.
    What really peaks my curiosity in these numbers is how they contradict common thoughts on the impact of image blocking in most email clients. In today’s environment, where images are most commonly turned off by default, I’d expect a drop in click rate to correspond to a drop in open rate (because the open rate is so often inferred from click activity). This seems to counter that logic and makes me wonder — are more people learning to change the setting to enable images by default?!?
    R

  2. laura says

    The ISPs make it easy for users to enable images, and many users are used to hitting the “display images” or “add to addressbook” for mail from friends and family. I think, too, senders are setting themselves up for success in this area a little more than they used to. 2 years ago, most of my clients sent every email with a different From: address, or would randomly change the From: address. Senders are a lot better at being consistent and that can only help image rendering.

  3. Béate Vervaecke says

    I’m surprised by the higher open rates as well.
    Is it because of services as Senderscore Certified and Goodmail?
    Also, I’ve noticed that live.com sometimes just renders images, even without any certification or being in the contact or safe sender list.

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