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How can you tell if your email newsletter 'open rate' is normal or not?

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Sending email newsletters can be a weird experience... sure, you’ve got some numbers telling you how many people have opened your message – but what do the numbers actually mean?

Sending email newsletters & email campaigns can be a weird experience. You have a feeling that you’re doing the right thing by keeping in touch with your clients... but how can you tell if they’re actually having an impact? You've invested a lot of time and effort in making your newsletter or email campaign look good, it would be nice to know this is paying off - right?

How to deal with the Great Online Void

First of all, if your email newsletter campaigns feel like a Great Online Void, you need to remember why you’re sending the emails in the first place, and that reason is to stay in touch with your customers, and therefore stay front of mind. It’s all about communicating with them; making them feel valued; and maintaining a relationship with them.

If that doesn’t give you warm and fuzzies, then the fact that these newsletters are likely to be producing repeat business and also referrals should definitely leave you feeling good!

Tell me about facts, not just about emotions...

Facts are vital when it comes to email newsletter campaigns, and that’s why using professional email newsletter software is so important (rather than just your local email software).

The software measures your campaigns, and gives you data, with one of the key measurements being the “open rate”. That is, how many people opened your email newsletter.

But what does this open rate data mean?

Having the open rate data by itself can be meaningless.... how are you meant to know if the numbers are “good” or “bad”? You need something to benchmark against.


Here’s that all-elusive benchmarking information...

a good email open rate is considered to be between 20% and 40%.

If you’re in a business-to-business industry, then the open rates should be at the higher end of that scale; and if you’re dealing with consumers, then the open rates are usually at the lower end of that scale.

But wait a second, that seems really low – most people aren’t opening my newsletters!

Ah, but let’s remember WHY you’re sending your newsletters. That is, to keep in touch with your customers so you stay front of mind, and you’re doing that just by them seeing your company name in your In Box.

OK, so it’d be nice if they were to open your newsletter, but it’s done its job to some extend if...

  1. your customer has seen your name, and
  2. they don’t Unsubscribe.

Of course, it would be nice in the ideal world if everyone were to open your newsletters all the time, but we don’t live in that ideal world. We have to be happy with what we’ve got, and work our darnedest to improve things by continually sending top-quality newsletters. It’s a constant effort to maintain (or increase) those open rates.

What does it mean if open rates start dropping off?

If your open rates are falling issue after issue, don’t panic straight away. There are a number of different reasons as to why open rates decline:

  • The database is ageing: open rates tend to fall over the years, as people tend to switch jobs and make other changes in their lives, meaning that their email address becomes invalid, or that they don’t need your product or service any more. That’s totally normal.
  • You’re not attracting new subscribers: the issue in the previous point is enhanced if you’re not regularly attracting new subscribers. Gaining new subscribers takes continual effort.
  • The subject lines are boring: many people will decide whether to open your email or not based on the attractiveness of your subject line. If your subject lines aren’t enticing, many people will stop opening the emails. Great subject heading lines are vital, and some split-testing around this will help you discover which subject lines work best for your target market.
  • The content is falling short of expectations: if people aren’t enjoying your content, they’ll stop reading your newsletters. However, this is the first conclusion that many business owners jump to, yet you need to look at the previous bullet points first of all before making any radical decisions about your newsletter content.


If you do spot your email open rates dropping off, the above list gives you a remedial tool kit to work through. However, don’t be tempted to change everything at once – you could be throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Do some tweaking and testing over a number of issues to see how that goes, and if you’re not getting anywhere, then try something else.

The main thing is that you do keep communicating with your customers, despite any hiccups in your open rates. Keeping the relationship going is vital. Remember, you’re communicating with the Great Online Void: you’re communicating with your best customers.

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