Win the Inbox: What is a Good Open Rate?

How to improve it in just three easy steps.

We have a client who recently tweeted about their mailing list. About 29,000 subscribers strong, emailed at least five days a week, their open rate is around 40%. One of the replies asserted that a 40% open rate was, and I quote, “Meh” – which leads me to today’s topic.

What is a good email marketing open rate? And what can you do to affect it?

Hi, I’m Phil Hollows, CEO of email service provider, and the host of “Win the Inbox,” where I answer one email marketing question in three minutes or less, to help you meet your personal and professional goals.

When I talk about open rates, I mean the unique open rate. In other words, the number of individuals who opened a mailing.

Typical open rates are between 17% and 19% (source: Campaign Monitor), or just over 21% (source: MailChimp), so about the same. At FeedBlitz, we see average open rates in the low 20s as well.

So, obviously, our client’s 40% open rate is very good indeed, and certainly not “meh.” Especially given that the list is not trivial, and is basically mailed daily.

But if your mailings aren’t pulling these numbers, don’t panic! There is much you can do to improve. And if you’re doing as expected or better – don’t relax! I’m pretty sure there are ways you can improve too.

The most important thing about your open rate is that, not matter what it is now, it shouldn’t worsen. Individual mailings will vary, but over time your typical open rate should remain consistent. For that, you need to make sure your content focus and mailing cadence remain stable and predictable.

Another point: If your list’s open rate is 25%, say, it isn’t the same 25% each time. So the more you mail, the more of your list you’ll reach overall.

Here are the core factors that affect open rate:

– Subject lines.
– Preview or pre-header text, which is the “sneak peek” text you see on some email systems and phones.
– Subscriber fatigue.

These are easy to change. And the better you do at any of them, the better your open rate becomes.

But – and it’s a big one, I cannot lie – none of these things matter if your email is consistently in the junk folder.

Factors that affect what’s called “inboxing” are:

– Your content.
– Open rates, ironically.
– Complaint rates.
– Authentication.
– IP reputation.
– Domain reputation.
– Your email service provider.

I’ll dive more deeply into each these factors in other Win the Inbox episodes.

Here’s what you can do today to improve your open rate significantly:

  1. Write better subject lines. You should intrigue, inspire, and excite. Here’s a pro tip for better subject lines: Look at past mailings to see what’s really excited your audience. And do that again. And again. And again.
  2. Write better preheader, or preview, text. Think of it as a second subject line. Expand, explain, tease, convince and cajole – but don’t give away the goods. Make them open it.
  3. Drop non-engaged recipients. Beware the “Gambler’s Fallacy.” If someone hasn’t opened your last 20 emails, that doesn’t make them more likely to open the 21st. They’re not paying attention; delete them.

These are the quickest and easiest steps to improve your email marketing.

Please like, share and subscribe. There’s more at, where you can also ask me a question you’d like addressed in a future episode. I’m Phil Hollows, and I’ll see you next time.

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