Every now and again we are asked if you can see open rates for e-Newsletters. The open rate is a number meant to show the percentage of e-Newsletters that are opened by recipients. Unfortunately, it is now generally accepted that open rates are so inaccurate that they do not provide a useful metric.
The problem is a technical one. Services such as Mailchimp try to determine the open rate by including a small transparent image within each email. When this tracking image loads in the email, it is served from the Mailchimp server and therefore counted as an open. This tracking activity occurs whenever people accept the prompt to 'download images' from email applications such as MS Outlook.
Because open rate tracking relies on people downloading images, it isn't very accurate. For example, if someone reads the text in your e-Newsletter but doesn't download images, the tracking image isn't loaded, so this isn't counted as an open, even if the person does actually read your email. Conversely, iPhones and Gmail are set to download all images by default, even if the person doesn't read your email. That means all these emails get counted as opens and so falsely inflate your open rate.
Also, it is common for people to clear email on both their mobile as well as on their computer. This further distorts the open rate, especially if their mobile happens to be an iPhone and therefore loads the tracking image and counts it as an 'open' even when the person doesn't really read your email.
So, we believe that open rates from applications such as Mailchimp are inaccurate. But the good news is that it doesn’t really matter. Although the open rate might seem like a useful number to include in a management report, the reality is that even a 100% open rate does you no good if no one clicks through to your content or call-to-action.
A better number to focus upon is how many people click on content within your e-Newsletter to read more. That's one reason why it's recommended to display a headline, image and only a snippet of text for each article, and let people click to see more about whatever interests them. Their click takes them from the email to the full article or content on your website.
The number of clicks caused by people following a link from your e-Newsletter to your website will be identifiable as a spike of website traffic that appears in your Google Analytics after you send your e-Newsletter. Google Analytics is more accurate and more informative than an open rate for your e-Newsletter. It gives you far richer data. Google Analytics can show you exactly which articles received the most traffic and provides a lot more information about your subscribers and their interests.
For instructions on how to activate Google Analytics for your website, see this support article.