Open Rates - What Do They Really Tell You?
Open rates are the industry standard way to measure of how well an e-mail campaign did in attracting readers. (I happen to think they are actually a pretty crude measure, but I'll get to that in a minute.)
The good thing about open rates is that that they are monitored closely across the digital universe, and the graph above recently published by Epsilon is fascinating. For instance, the average open rate under "consumer publishing" of 15% is among the lowest here, which says a lot about the ability (or lack thereof) of traditional publishers to engage with readers online.
The Epsilon report doesn't track arts industry e-mail open rates, but we do. We maintain an ongoing benchmark across all our 1,600+ clients, and the average open rate for the last six months is 20.1%. That's a lot better than the 17.5% generic 'non-profit" benchmark.
That said, open rates only tell a tiny part of the story. A more significant measure is what percentage of your e-mail list opens your e-mails consistently, what percentage open sometimes, and how many don't open at all. We've done some research into this and determined that approximately 2/3 of any list will open an e-mail at least once in a six month period. I've long been obsessed with this "cumulative average open rate" but it isn't a number that anyone else tracks.
The point of all this is that tracking your e-mail campaigns and targeting your e-mails based on the interest/engagement level of your recipients (behavioral targeting) is smart, and something that sophisticated e-mail marketers are doing, and you should be thinking about doing it too. When you target your content based on interest level, you get better results – simple as that.