Clients ask me about e-mail open rates and, honestly, they are not what they used to be. In fact, they no longer matter for many reasons but here are my top three:
1. False negatives. An e-mail is considered opened when a tracking image is downloaded. However, major e-mail clients like gmail disable images by default. If you read the e-mail with the images disabled, it will never be counted as an open. And what about text e-mails? They do not include images and thus do not count as opens unless you click on a link (and even that might be e-mail software dependent).
2. False positives. Let’s assume that images are enabled. E-mails displayed in a preview pane are considered opened because the images were downloaded. But who always reads the e-mails in their preview pane? I don’t and I bet you don’t either. So you have undercounting due to the disablement of images and overcounting due to the use of preview panes.
3. What really matters is the action taken. To me, the true success of an e-mail marketing campaign is whether you drove the desired action. Did you sell more widgets as a result of the e-mail campaign? If not, the open rate is moot.