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Why you should be optimizing your open rates to increase clicks and conversions

by Jason Haydon, Sales Manager

So first up, it’s probably helpful to explain exactly what an open rate is. This will likely be nothing new to you but, simply put, your open rate is the measure of unique opens for a campaign you send out.

Right, so that’s out of the way. Why are opens important?

Well, if people aren’t opening your emails then they won’t be seeing your content and certainly won’t be clicking through and converting. To quote one of our lovely customers, N Brown Group, “There’s no point in sending an email unless people open it.”


So, in that way, opens are a key top-of-the funnel metric – the more people we pull into the top, the more we’ll see converting at the bottom. They have a direct impact on your bottom line for email.

But that’s not all – open rates also give a good indication of how your audience is engaging over time. By keeping a close eye on your open rates from campaign to campaign you can start to spot any worrying trends. For example, if you see the rate start to drop… then something’s wrong. Maybe your audience is fatiguing – that is, growing disengaged from either your content, or worse, your brand.

Now with recent changes many people are, once again, decrying “email is dead” and “open rates are bogus!”. While the metric landscape is a little noisier now, the fact is that email is still one of the best ways of engaging with your audience and to do that effectively, you still need people to open your emails.

Really, it doesn’t matter how good your clicks and conversion rates are… if you’re not getting the opens that drive those metrics, they don’t really get to come into play.

So, with a direct positive correlation between the number of people opening an email and the number of people clicking, clearly open rates are something worth putting some focus on.

Think of it this way: if you have great clicks and conversions, increasing opens will compliment those and drive lots more revenue. If you don’t, then laying the groundwork to optimize opens will later free you up to focus on your down-funnel metrics – safe in the knowledge that you’re getting as many people as you can seeing your content.

Win win!

When it comes to optimizing opens, there are a number of complementary strategies you can put in place. Things like segmenting audiences… because not everyone in your whole database wants to see your “50% off Phrasee Branded Sliders” offer. (To the Phrasee marketing Pholk, if you’re reading this – we need Phrasee branded sliders.)

But one of the most effective strategies is optimizing your subject lines. At the least A/B testing subject lines, but ideally taking that up to anywhere in the region of 5-10 variants. Language performance varies so much, you should be testing as many variants as makes sense for a given campaign.

Subject line testing is an absolutely crucial strategy in keeping your open rates high – again, going back to your audience, you are highly unlikely to find the perfect subject line that resonates with your entire database.

"There's no point in sending an email unless people open it."

Jenny Morris, N Brown’s Head of Marketing (Customer and Trading), N Brown Group

Why use open rates when we’re testing subject line effectiveness?  

By nature you’ll always have significantly more opens in a campaign than clicks (again, you can’t have a click without an open), so your test is more likely to have statistical significance (where you have enough data to know that the difference in opens between the winning subject line and the baseline ‘control’ line in our testing is not just due to chance) than when using your down-funnel metrics. Therefore, in any given timeframe for testing, we have a much higher probability of generating a correct outcome (i.e. finding the actual highest performing subject line) with opens as our key performance metric.

With opens we‘ll also have a lot less “noise” in our results, as we have larger sample sets. The impact of anomalies like a butt-click, or someone who usually opens your emails losing their phone, is significantly reduced.

Consider Campaign Monitor’s latest Email Marketing Benchmark statistics. Across all industries for 2020, open rates averaged at 18% while clicks (note, not click-to-opens) were at 2.6%. You would need an absolutely massive list size to be able to optimize effectively (that is, reduce noise and reach statistical significance in your testing) when looking at just clicks.

Because of this, the benefits of open rates are two-fold.

First up, accuracy. Let’s say you test 10 subject lines with every campaign. We’ve found that over time on a list of 200k, using open rates as the target performance metric, you’ll have 93% accuracy rate in determining the actual best performing subject line, vs just 27% for clicks.

This percentage does increase for clicks as your list size increases, and your sample size per variant gets bigger – eventually hitting the 90s when you get to something like 5,000,000 subscribers per send. To see how accurate your list size would be, check out our awesome tool!

But consider this – by optimizing for opens, as your sends get bigger you can actually reduce your sample. Maybe you test on 20% or even 10% of your audience instead, leaving a very healthy audience size ready to receive your best performing line.


Hello Revenue!


Imagine if there was a technology that could maximize your open rates from campaign to campaign, and even learn what your audience is responding to…

And then imagine combining that power with dynamic content optimization to drive clicks… and you’re in the email marketer’s nirvana of consistently high-performing campaigns.

Phrasee uses Brand Language Optimization to revolutionize your customer experience, and partners with awesome brands like Movable Ink to find that email marketing sweet spot.


Hello Bonus!


So, get optimizing those opens – they’ll sort your down-funnel metrics out and make sure that all that awesome content you and your team have worked so hard putting together actually gets seen. And once your audience has seen it… they’d be crazy not to convert, right?!