What Open Rate Should Your Email Get?

If you check the Q&A on LinkedIn, Marketing Professionals or other business forums, you’ll see lots of questions about email open rates. What open rate will I get? How many people will click on my link? What will my response rate be?

They’re tough questions, and you’ll see lots of answers (including mine) saying that “it depends.” Not that I (and my fellow responders) don’t want to be helpful, it’s just that the results you will get depend on lots of different factors (list you use, your niche, what you want people to do, what they get for doing it, the words and design you use, even time of day). Too many options for a one size-fits-all answer.

Average email open rates by industry

Each year, Mailer Mailer puts together a detailed report showing open, click through, and subject line performance for over 1 billion emails.  Here are a few highlights from 2008 (when I first posted this) compared to the latest 2015 report.

2008 Highest Average Open Rates
General Small Business: 16.49%
Education/Training: 15.76% (largest gain over 2007, when it was 13.76%)
Government: 25.6%
Nonprofit/Trade Association: 14.6%

2015 Highest Average Open Rates
Museums and Galleries: 24.9%
Manufacturing and Distribution: 24%
Arts and Crafts: 20.3%

Average email click through rates by industry

2008 Highest Average Click Rates
Religious/Spiritual: 6.66%
Real Estate: 6.35%
Transportation/Travel: 4.65%

2015 Highest Average Click Rates
IT Services: 3.4%
Transportation: 3.4%
Food, Beverage and Agriculture: 3%

average email open rates by subject line length

2008 Email Open Rates by Subject Line Length
Under 35 characters: 19.64%
Over 35 characters: 14.83%

2015 Email Open Rates by Subject Line Length

16-27 characters: 12%
28-39 characters: 12.6%
40+ characters: 11.1%.

Open rates have risen since 2008, but the industries getting the best open rates have changed completely.  Extremely short subject lines used to do well, but now the sweet spot seems to be somewhere in the middle.

The important thing is that each industry is different, as is each offer, company, and so on. While the absolute numbers are best as a big picture view, don’t worry too much if your numbers are lower than your peers.  Instead, use the report as a guide for which stats to watch and what to test.

How to improve your email open rate

Test your subject lines.  If you’ve been using long very short subject lines, try something a bit longer.  If your long subject lines aren’t doing well, shorten them.

Watch the click to open ratio (meaning how many people opened, read, and clicked on something in the email message).  Has it been going up? Or down? Sunday had the worst open rate, but the highest click rate.  Track the numbers and see which ends up being more profitable (or meeting whatever indicator you’re tracking: downloads, sales, queries, etc.).

Change days of the week, or times of day: are you doing better on Monday? or do you get better results on Wednesday?  Emails did better this year on Mondays and Wednesdays.  These are likely business to business, if you’re selling a consumer product, you may do better on weekends. Try sending later, or earlier, in the day and see if it makes a difference in your open rates.

Personalize or not? Interestingly, something that used to work well in 2008 can now backfire if you overdo it.  Personalizing in the body of the message worked well, but personalizing the subject line reduced open rates from over 17% to 11.  Personalizing both reduced it even further, to only 4.9!