Every now and again we are asked if you can see 'open rates' for eNewsletters or emails. The open rate is a number meant to show the number of eNewsletters that are opened by recipients. Unfortunately, it is now generally accepted that open rates are now so inaccurate that they do not provide a useful metric.
But what about MailChimp?
Services such as MailChimp try to determine the open rate by including a small transparent 1 pixel 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 for that email. This tracking activity occurs when 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, iPhones and Gmail are set to download all images in emails by default, even if the person doesn't read your email. This means all these emails get counted as 'opened' even when they may not have actually been opened or read, so it falsely inflates your open rate. Conversely, if someone is using Outlook as their mail client and reads the text in your eNewsletter but doesn't click the option to 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.
Also, it is common for people to clear email on both their mobile as well as on their computer. This can further distort 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 if the person doesn't really read your email.
It is now generally accepted that since they are so inaccurate 'open rates are no longer a thing'.
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 eNewsletter 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 eNewsletter to your website will be identifiable as a spike of website traffic that appears in your Google Analytics after you send your eNewsletter. Google Analytics is more accurate and more informative than an open rate for your eNewsletter. 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.
In 2021 Apple iOS 15 put the last nail in the coffin for open rates and click-tracking.
In June 2021 Apple announced that iOS 15 includes 'Mail Privacy Protection' that stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The feature prompts Apple users to prevent email senders from knowing if they open an email, and it masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.
- Mail tracking pixels removed - The Apple Mail app will start running images through proxy servers to remove tracking pixels that report when and where messages were opened.
- Private Relay to remove location data - This service will hide users IP addresses, which usually infers a location. It’s not a VPN, but traffic will run through Apple servers and a third party server to remove identifying information. Traffic leaving a user's device will be encrypted so that third parties can't see what users are searching for.
- Hide My Email Feature - iCloud subscribers can also create and use temporary, anonymous email addresses (sometimes called 'burner' email addresses) inside the Mail app, further thwarting anyone trying to perform email tracking.
Since Apple has such a major share of the market, its changes to iOS 15 has further reduced the reliability of open rates as a meaningful metric.