Decoding Engagement: How to Track Email Open Rates

open sign how to track email open rates

There’s a cloud of misinformation around email open rates today. Many claim that they need to be a marketer’s main focus, while others believe open rates don’t matter at all.

With the evolving nature of privacy settings and recipient preferences, knowing exactly how to track email open rates has gotten complicated. Let’s examine the evolving relationship between open rates and email marketing success, and understand how we can learn more from this crucial metric and optimize it.


Table of Contents


What are Email Open Rates?

Your email open rate refers to the percentage of recipients who open and view a particular email campaign out of the total number of recipients. It is a key metric used to measure the effectiveness of an email campaign in terms of engaging the audience. 

To calculate the open rate, divide the number of unique opens by the number of delivered emails and multiply the result by 100 to get a percentage.

Here, the “number of unique opens” is the total count of individual recipients who opened the email once; this number does not go up if readers open the message multiple times. Similarly, the “number of delivered emails” is the total number of emails successfully delivered to recipients (excluding bounced emails or those that weren’t delivered).

A higher open rate generally indicates that the email content and subject line are compelling to the audience. It’s important to note that open rates may vary across industries and depend on various factors, such as the relevance of content, timing, and the quality of the email list.

Email marketing platforms provide analytics that include email open rate tracking, which helps marketers assess the performance of their campaigns.


Unique Open Rate vs Total Open Rate: Explained

The “unique open rate” is the percentage of individual recipients who have opened an email campaign at least once, regardless of how many times they open it afterward. It focuses on counting each recipient only once, regardless of the number of times they interact with the email.

The “total open rate” is the percentage of total opens, including every instance of an email being opened. It counts all opens, even if the same recipient opens the email multiple times. It provides a broader view of overall interest and engagement with the email.

*Unique Open RateTotal Open Rate
DefinitionPercentage of individual recipients who opened the email at least once.Percentage of total opens, including multiple opens by the same recipient.
Formula(Number of unique opens​/Number of delivered emails) x 100(Total number of opens​/Number of delivered emails) x 100
PurposeMeasures the engagement of individual recipients.Measures the overall level of interest in the email, including multiple opens by the same recipient.
UseUseful for assessing the reach and engagement with the content among unique individuals.Provides a broader view of how many times the email has been opened, regardless of the number of unique individuals.
TakeawayIf the unique open rate is high, it indicates that a significant portion of your audience is engaging with your email.A high total open rate may suggest strong overall interest, but it could be influenced by select recipients opening your email multiple times.
ConsiderationIgnores multiple opens by the same recipient; each recipient is counted only once.Counts every instance of an email being opened, including multiple opens by the same recipient.
Unique Open Rate vs. Total Open Rate: Key Differences

Unique open rates are often more focused on individual engagement, while total open rates provide a broader perspective on the overall performance of the email in terms of opens. Both metrics can be valuable depending on the context of your email marketing strategy.


Why Tracking Open Rates is Important

Email open rates provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of your email campaigns. 

Here are the top reasons why tracking email open rates is important:

  • Open rates contribute to better engagement rates. More opens confirm that your audience is interested in hearing from you.
  • Your open rates can tell you which of your subject lines are effective
  • Studying open rates can give you insight into how relevant your content is, combined with CTOR (we explain this shortly).
  • Open rates can help you determine what timings and frequencies work best for your campaigns.
  • You can tune your segmentation strategy based on the open rates you observe.
  • Open rates also indicate list quality, as a high open rate indicates that you have a well-targeted and engaged email list.
  • You can determine which campaigns are more effective by studying open rates.
  • Similarly, your open statistics can help you zero in on the elements in your emails that are more efficient at conversion, with the help of A/B tests.

Let’s expand on these points below.


Lessons from Open Rates

High open rates generally indicate that your audience finds your content interesting and relevant. It suggests a strong level of engagement with your email campaigns. A big part of this is how good your subject line is; if your open rates are low, try experimenting with different subject lines to see if you can improve engagement.

If recipients are opening your emails, you’ve succeeded in the first part of your email strategy. The second half requires that your readers click on the CTAs you’ve included. When they do, it suggests that the content inside is valuable or persuasive. But if you see high open rates and low clicks, it could mean that your content needs improvement or better alignment with your audience’s interests. 

Analyzing open rates over different times and frequencies can also help you optimize your email schedule. The open rate can also give you insight into your list quality and segmentation — you might be emailing outdated email IDs or uninterested subscribers.

Comparing open rates across different email campaigns can help you identify which types of content or campaigns resonate more with your audience. If you conduct A/B testing with different elements of your emails (subject lines, content, calls-to-action), open rates can indicate which variations are more effective.

Remember that tracking open rates is just one aspect; you should analyze them alongside other stats like click-through rates, conversion rates, and overall campaign goals to get a comprehensive understanding of your email marketing performance. Additionally, industry benchmarks can provide context for evaluating whether your open rates are above or below average for your sector.


Click-Through Rate (CTR), Click Rate, and Click-To-Open Rate (CTOR)

You can’t talk about open rates without also talking about CTR.

Clickthrough Rate (CTR) measures the effectiveness of a particular campaign by assessing the percentage of unique people who clicked on a link compared to the total number of contacts mailed. To calculate your CTR, you have to divide the number of unique clicks by the number of delivered emails and multiply the result by 100.

It’s often used with other metrics, such as open rates and conversion rates, to assess the overall performance of a campaign. A high CTR indicates that a larger percentage of your audience found the content or offer compelling enough to take the next step and click on your CTA. A low CTR suggests that your content isn’t resonating with your audience.

How about Click Rate (CR)? Your click rate is an indicator of recipients repeatedly interacting with your messages. This means that if you send 1,000 emails and each recipient clicks on your email twice, you’ll get a 200% click rate. It’s an important metric because it tells you that your emails are being reopened multiple times. It’s different from CTR, as your CR tells you about the total clicks, as opposed to unique clicks.

As for CTOR, or Click-To-Open Rate, it is a metric that measures the effectiveness of the email’s content by comparing the number of unique clicks to the number of unique opens. You get it by dividing the number of unique clicks by the number of unique opens and then multiplying by 100.

Let’s look at the differences between the two in this table:

*Click-Through Rate (CTR)Click-To-Open Rate (CTOR)
DefinitionPercentage of clicks relative to total sent emails.Percentage of clicks relative to unique opens.
Formula(Number of clicks/Number of total sent emails​) x 100(Number of clicks/Number of unique opens) x 100
PurposeMeasures engagement relative to total sent emails.Measures engagement relative to unique opens.
UseProvides insights into overall click activity, irrespective of the number of opens by individual recipients.Offers a more targeted view of how engaging the content is to those who opened the email.
TakeawayA high CTR suggests a higher proportion of recipients clicking on the links, but it doesn’t give you insight into your content.A higher CTOR indicates that, among those who opened the email, a greater percentage found the content compelling enough to click.
RelationshipCTR does not influence CTOR.Improving your CTOR is critical to see your CTR improve.
Click-Through Rate vs Click-To-Open Rate

Remember that industry benchmarks can help you evaluate the success of your CTR, as average clickthrough rates can vary across different industries and types of campaigns


What CTOR Tells You that Open Rates Don’t

A lot of people use CTR and CTOR interchangeably, but this practice needs to stop as these two metrics are completely different from each other. CTOR gives you a clear idea of the thought process of your recipients once they have opened your email. 

For example, assume you ran a campaign and are now analyzing the performance metrics you have collected.

What do the open rates imply? They tell you whether your subject line worked, if the timing is correct, and also whether your readers are interested in your emails.

The next step is to check your CTOR. If it’s high, that’s good news — it means your content is working. If it’s low, it tells you that something is wrong with your email. You can then look at typical culprits, like content, design, formatting, or the CTA itself. 


Previously, high open rates were often seen as a sign of a successful campaign, correlating with increased clicks, conversions, and ultimately, higher ROI. But now, the focus has shifted to other metrics like click-through rates, conversion rates, and unsubscribe rates for a more accurate picture of engagement and ROI.

Open rates are still relevant for certain email types like transactional emails or essential communications where open = action. They indirectly influence ROI by indicating subject line effectiveness, influencing whether a recipient even considers opening the email. Open rate trends can still hold value for internal benchmarks and segmentation, though specific numbers are less reliable.

That said, tracking open rates is just one piece of the puzzle; a holistic approach considering multiple metrics is crucial for accurate ROI analysis. Despite their limitations, open rate trends can still offer valuable insights when used with other engagement data.

By focusing on a comprehensive analysis of various metrics beyond open rates, you can gain a more precise understanding of your email marketing ROI and further refine your strategy.


How Apple’s Mail Privacy Policy Affects Open Rates

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP), introduced in September 2021 with iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, has significantly impacted email open rate tracking. MPP pre-loads email content, including images and other tracking pixels, on Apple’s servers, regardless of whether the recipient actually opens the email. This means that email marketers can no longer rely on open rates as a reliable metric to measure email engagement.

Apple Mail recipients who have enabled MPP will count as having opened an email, even if they have not actually opened it. This can lead to inflated open rates, making it difficult for marketers to assess the true level of engagement with their emails.

What this means for you is that you must increasingly rely on other engagement metrics, such as click-through rates and unsubscribe rates, to assess the performance of your email campaigns.

MPP has also led to an increased focus on email deliverability and overall campaign effectiveness rather than just open rates. This is why you must pay more attention to ensuring your emails land in inboxes and get read rather than obsessing over open rates.

Overall, Apple’s MPP has been a significant change in the email marketing industry. While it has made it more difficult to track open rates, it has also led to a more holistic approach to measuring email engagement.


How to Measure Email Open Rates Step by Step

Measuring email open rates involves tracking the number of recipients who open your email campaigns. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Choose a reputable email marketing platform that provides analytics and reporting features. We’re quite proud of the analytics tool we offer clients at Campaign Refinery, as it offers the maximum insight into campaign performance.
  2. Design your email campaign with a compelling subject line and engaging content. Use the features provided by your email marketing platform to set up your campaign.
  3. Most email marketing platforms automatically include tracking pixels or similar mechanisms in your emails. These invisible elements help you track when an email is opened.
  4. After sending your campaign, open the analytics or reporting section of your email platform. Look for metrics related to email opens.
  5. Differentiate between total opens and unique opens. Unique opens represent the number of individual recipients who opened the email at least once, regardless of how many times they opened it.
  6. Time to calculate your open rate!
  7. Analyze your open rates alongside other metrics like CTR and CTOR. Consider factors like subject line effectiveness, content relevance, and audience segmentation.
  8. Benchmark your open rates against industry standards or your own past performance. This comparison provides context and helps you understand how well your emails are performing relative to expectations.
  9. If your open rates are lower than desired, experiment with different subject lines, content, or send times. A/B testing can help you identify what resonates best with your audience.
  10. Use insights gained from analytics to refine your future email campaigns and improve performance.

Remember that while open rates provide valuable insights, you have to combine this data with other metrics, such as click-through rates and conversion rates, to get a comprehensive understanding of your email campaign’s success.


How to Improve Your Open Rates

Improving email open rates is crucial for the success of your email marketing campaigns.

Here are tried and tested strategies to help you boost your open rates:

  1. Focus on improving your deliverability: How will customers open your emails, if the emails don’t reach them in the first place? Focus on improving your sender reputation so that your inboxing rates are solid.
  2. Write great subject lines: Create attention-grabbing and relevant subject lines. A well-crafted subject line piques curiosity and entices recipients to open the email. Avoid using all caps or excessive punctuation, as this may trigger spam filters.
  3. Use personalization: Use recipient names and personalize content based on their preferences or past interactions. Personalization can make emails feel more relevant and increase the likelihood of engagement.
  4. Segmentation is key: Segment your email list based on demographics, behavior, or preferences. Sending targeted and relevant content to specific segments can significantly improve open rates.
  5. Timing: Consider time zones and the typical behavior of your target audience to maximize the chances of subscribers reading your emails.
  6. A/B testing is mandatory: Conduct A/B tests on different elements of your emails, such as subject lines, sender names, or content. Analyze the results to identify what resonates best with your audience and incorporate those insights into future campaigns.
  7. List cleaning: Regularly clean and update your email list. Remove inactive or unengaged subscribers, as this can improve the overall health of your list and positively impact deliverability and open rates. This is why we offer automated list-cleaning as a feature on Campaign Refinery — our system sweeps your lists for email addresses that can cause trouble and remove them.
  8. Constantly monitor: Regularly monitor your email analytics to understand how recipients are interacting with your emails.

By implementing these strategies and continuously testing and refining your approach, you can enhance your email open rates and, ultimately, the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns.


Additional Tips for Better Open Rates

While the above guidelines should greatly improve your open rates, here are a few tips to spike them further.

  • Experiment with different send times to find the optimal schedule for your audience.
  • Send valuable content to your audience. If your emails consistently provide information, promotions, or solutions that interest your subscribers, they are more likely to open future emails.
  • Welcome emails can set expectations about the type and frequency of emails your subscribers will receive. Clear communication can help build trust and encourage engagement with your readers.
  • Ensure that your emails are mobile-friendly. A significant portion of users opens emails on mobile devices, and if your emails aren’t optimized, it can lead to a poor user experience and lower open rates.
  • Create a sense of urgency or scarcity in your emails when appropriate; limited-time offers or exclusive deals can motivate recipients to open and act quickly. Why do you think we introduced Evergreen Sales on Campaign Refinery? They’ve helped our clients clock 8X the usual engagement rates.
  • Write compelling CTAs!

Before you fix your open rates, you must examine your deliverability. Are your emails even reaching your subscribers’ inboxes? Or are they being marched off into the spam box? This is a problem that Campaign Refinery solves.


Campaign Refinery: Better Deliverability, Better Open Rates

At Campaign Refinery, we boast about our deliverability because our inboxing rates are crushing most email platforms in the industry right now. We’ve worked on following all the best email practices, and we made our clients do the same. 

We require that all our clients implement SPF, DKIM, and DMARC on their domains — this directly influences their sender score, which translates to improved deliverability. Besides that, we also have strict rules to prevent spam-like activities; this is why we have a vetting process before we onboard a client.

And to study and evolve with your campaigns, we offer an analytics dashboard that will give you the best possible insight into your email performance. If there is an issue you need to fix, our analytics will tell you EXACTLY what it is.

Besides this, you also get these unique features:

  • Powerful automation tools,
  • A stellar email builder,
  • Evergreen flash sales,
  • Gamification features that take your engagement to another level,
  • A template library,
  • Unlimited contacts,
  • Custom domains,
  • Personalization tools,
  • Attractive paid plans,
  • Amazing customer support teams.

If seeing your open rates skyrocket appeals to you, apply to be a Campaign Refinery client right away!

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