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Deciphering response reports

If you send out monthly e-newsletters or e-blasts through a hosting service like Constant Contact, Emma, Exact Target or others, you've likely discovered the tracking and reporting feature to view the results of your campaign. Of particular interest to many is the open rate: the percentage of people who opened your email.

If you're like me, you've probably been a bit perplexed the first time you saw your open rate percentage: only 25% / 40% / 60% of the people on the list opened the email? What gives?

Well, first of all--there's a difference between receiving an email and opening it. A well-crafted email with few spam triggers should have close to 100% of recipients receiving the email in their system. Opening the email is a different story. To trigger an open response by the email hosting service, the recipient must select to load the images. So, for example, if someone reads the email on their pda or in Outlook with "load images" turned off, it will not be included in the open rate report.

So what's a good open rate? Opinions vary. According to MailChimp.com,  20-30% is a normal open rate; Clickz.com (a news and marketing resource for email marketers) says: "Average open rates for house lists are running in the mid-30s (34.3 percent, according to DoubleClick). The range I'm seeing, based on public sources and my clients' performances, is the mid-20s to just over 50 percent."

In my experience, the stronger your list--that is to say, people on your list signed up for your e-newsletter or have a close connection to your business--the higher the open rate. It's common to see open rates in the high 40s to low 50s for strong lists. Make sure to include an e-newsletter sign-up on your website!  


Still not impressed with your open rate? Here are a few tips:

• Test your subject lines: Test subject lines by sending out one version to half your list and a different subject line to the other half.  Review your reports to see which generated the higher open rate. Hint: keep your subject line simple, but direct. Describe the subject of your email. Make the first 15 characters the most descriptive.
• Evaluate your content: emails that are attempting to make a sale have the worst response rates. It's good to use an e-newsletter format to build trust/value with your clients and your brand over time.
•  Give it time: Most opens are within 72 hours. Make sure you wait long enough to analyze the reporting results 
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