Why email open rates don’t matter

I recently had a call with someone in the e-commerce space.

He’s been successful launching his product through crowdfunding sites but wanted to start taking his sales to the next level.

He admittedly said he’s not good at marketing which is why he wanted to talk to me.

After asking a few questions to learn more about his business, I asked what kind of marketing is he doing now?

“Nothing. Zero.” was the answer.

That’s ok, I thought, my first go to strategy is to always (ALWAYS) start getting an email list and begin emailing this list.

This goes for ANY business.

Don’t believe me? Read this.

Here’s a sample list of businesses who also use and rely upon email to build and grow their business:

But I could already feel the reluctance from his tone and eyes rolling back when he heard the word “email”.

Then the normal objections came up:

  • “What can I email them without annoying them?” (I have an answer for that where you don’t have to write or create your own content too).
  • “No one opens/reads their email anymore” – Not true, see link to above article. This is a common mistake of using your own bias as your customer’s bias.

Next, he asks me: “What kind of email open rate can you get me?” and “What kind of email open rate do you get?”

Inside my head, I balked. No self-respecting marketer that knows what they’re doing could give an answer to this question or even try to, because it’s a futile answer.

Here’s why email open rates don’t matter:

  • Email open rates for one business does not tell you what email open rates you will get for another business (why me sharing my open rate is useless to another business)
  • Email open rates depend on so many other factors like:
    • The server you’re sending it from
    • Your email sender reputation
    • If you’ve setup email authentication properly (SPF, DKIM)
    • The email service provider (ESP) you use
    • The content of your email
    • Your list and how clean your email list
    • Whether you’ve emailed your list in the past and the frequency
  • Email open rates aren’t accurate (ask any email service provider and they will tell you, open rate reporting is not accurate – at least not they way it’s currently done). Just to get techy here, email opens are tracked with a single 1×1 sized graphic pixel embedded inside the email.Opens are recorded when the server gets a request for this pixel. Now, if you’re sending a pure text email, that’s why no ESP can give tracking/reporting for plain text emails (because the pixel won’t display). Also, if a recipient has “do not display images” setting turned on then even though they’ve read your email, it won’t show up as an email open in your reporting/tracking.
  • Email open (and click-through rates) will differ by your ESP since each ESP reports these metrics differently – so you’re not really comparing apples to apples
  • At the end of the day, the only metric that matters from your email marketing is: Sales

He laughed when I said there’s no way I could tell him what kind of email open rate I could get him. At least, not without knowing all of the above information and actually doing an actual email send for him.

We agreed to end the call there as clearly he felt any marketer worth their weight should be able to answer that question.

I know from experience there’s no point in going further if someone is already stuck in a certain belief. It’s like telling someone who believes the Earth is flat that the Earth is actually round.

I worry about businesses like this. I’ve seen it before with another e-commerce business that focused on Facebook likes instead of email (they no longer exist now). This guy will eventually talk to someone who’s foolish enough to just tell him what he wants to hear and he’s going to be taken to the cleaners with his money because of this. I guess you could count that as a cost of learning.

But I don’t like to see my clients taken advantage of by unscrupulous marketers, freelancers and agencies that just tell them what they want to hear or tell them b.s. because they’re preying on the fact they may not know any better.

I’d rather walk away knowing I have integrity rather than to cheat them into being a client.

If you feel that sales are more important to you than having someone tell you what you want to hear and stroke your ego get in touch here.


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