Email open rates in your marketing strategy: Unreliable for automation

Director, Digital Strategy

Hey there, fellow marketers! If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve got your hands full with email campaigns and are always looking for ways to boost those open rates. We all know that email marketing is a powerhouse when it comes to engaging customers, but let’s face it, understanding and leveraging email open rates can sometimes feel like a puzzle. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In this post, we’re diving into how to make the most of your open rates, how automation fits in, and why Apple Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) is shaking things up.

Understanding Email Open Rates

First things first—let’s break down what email open rates are. It’s simple: Your email open rate is the percentage of recipients who open your email. To get this number, divide the number of unique opens by the number of emails delivered and then multiply by 100. For example, if you send out 1,000 emails and 200 people open them, your open rate is 20%.

Factors Influencing Open Rates

Understanding what influences open rates can help you craft emails that grab your audience’s attention and drive higher engagement. Below is a list of key elements to focus on for maximizing your email marketing success.

  • Subject Line: A compelling and relevant subject line is crucial. It can entice the recipient to open the email.
  • Sender Name: Emails from recognized and trusted senders are more likely to be opened.
  • Send Time: The timing of your email can significantly impact open rates. Emails sent at optimal times for your audience are more likely to be opened.
  • Segmentation: Targeting the right audience with personalized content increases the likelihood of engagement.
  • Preheader Text: This is the snippet of text that appears after the subject line in the inbox. A well-crafted pre-header can complement the subject line and boost open rates.

Leveraging Open Rates in Your Strategy

Maximizing the potential of your email campaigns involves understanding open rate data effectively. Through monitoring of open rates, paired with additional metrics, you can leverage these tactics to boost engagement and refine your email marketing approach.

  • A/B Testing: Experiment with different subject lines, send times, and sender names. Let your open rates guide you to the best combinations.
  • Segmentation and Personalization: Break down your audience into segments and personalize your content. People love emails that speak directly to them.
  • Re-Engagement Campaigns: Use open rates to spot inactive subscribers. Win them back with special offers or personalized content.
  • Content Optimization: Look at what topics get the most opens. Double down on content that resonates with your audience.
  • List Hygiene: Regularly clean your list by removing inactive subscribers. A smaller, engaged list is better than a big, disengaged one.

The Impact on Email Automation

Email automation is your best friend when it comes to saving time and boosting efficiency. Here’s how open rates play a part:

  • Behavioral Triggers: Use open rates to trigger follow-up emails. For instance, if someone opens an email but doesn’t click, send a nudge.
  • Lead Scoring: High open rates can indicate a more engaged lead. Use this info to prioritize follow-ups.
  • Drip Campaigns: Open rates help tailor your drip campaigns. Frequent openers might move through the funnel faster.
  • Re-Engagement Automation: Identify inactive subscribers and automatically send them re-engagement emails.

The Unreliability of Email Open Rates

Okay, so open rates are useful, but they’re not always reliable. Knowing the limitations of open rates is crucial for making informed decisions in your email marketing strategy. The following list outlines the factors that make open rates misleading as a measurable metric and a trigger for email automation.

Technical Limitations

  • Image Blocking: Open rates are tracked with a tiny invisible image. If images are blocked, the open isn’t recorded.
  • Text-Only Emails: No HTML, no tracking pixel, no open count.
  • Mobile Devices: Some mobile clients don’t auto-download images, which means missed opens.

User Behavior

  • Preview Panes: Many email clients have preview panes that show the email without opening it.
  • Multiple Opens: If someone opens an email multiple times, each open gets counted. Hello, inflated numbers!
  • Forwarding Emails: If an email is forwarded, the tracking pixel might be triggered by the new recipient, skewing your data.

Impact of Apple Mail Privacy Protection (MPP)

Enter Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection, introduced in iOS 15. It’s a big deal, and here’s why:

  • Preloaded Pixels: MPP preloads tracking pixels, making it look like the email was opened even if it wasn’t. Cue inflated open rates.
  • User Adoption: As of mid-2023, MPP adoption among Apple Mail users is around 96%. Considering Apple Mail holds about 40-50% of the email client market share, this is huge.
  • Regional Variations: MPP’s impact varies by region. In places where Apple devices are popular (like the US), the effect is more pronounced.
Email open rate changes over time after MPP


Email open rates are a great tool for gauging certain aspects of your email marketing efforts—like how catchy your subject lines are or the best times to hit send. However, given their limitations and the rise of privacy measures like Apple Mail Privacy Protection (MPP), they shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all, especially when it comes to automation.

To effectively leverage email open rates:

  • Avoid Using Open Rates for Automation: Due to their unreliability, open rates should not be used as a trigger or key metric in your automated workflows. Instead, focus on more dependable metrics like click-through rates and conversions.
  • Pair Open Rates with Other Metrics: Use open rates in conjunction with other engagement metrics to get a fuller picture of your email performance.
  • Keep Testing and Refining Your Approach: Continuously test different elements of your emails to see what works best for your audience, but don’t rely solely on open rates to judge success.
  • Maintain a Clean, Engaged Email List: Regularly clean your list by removing inactive subscribers and targeting active ones with personalized content.

By understanding the benefits and pitfalls of open rates, and why they should be avoided in automation, you’ll be well on your way to crafting an email strategy that truly resonates with your audience.

Here is some additional information to consider when leveraging email in your marketing strategy:

Sharing this:
Director, Digital Strategy
Aaron loves a good problem. That means he asks questions. And the more questions he asks, the closer he gets to the solution. This makes Aaron happy. And a little sad. Until a freshly shrink-wrapped problem arrives in his lap, and he can start the process over again. Throughout Aaron’s 15-year career, he has gained diverse skills in building digital experiences. His multidisciplinary background, including user experience, design, engineering, and data analysis, enables him to develop solutions that create pleasurable and frictionless experiences for end users who build value for his clients.

Our Take

Nobody likes to hear people squawk about marketing. So, we wrote it all down for you.

This website stores cookies on your computer.

These cookies are used to collect information about how you interact with our website and allow us to remember you.  We use this information in order to improve and customize your browsing experience and for analytics and metrics about our visitors both on this website and other media.  To find out more about the cookies we use see our privacy policy.