Email open rates: Decoded

Email open rates are an integral KPI for every sender, but what really affects it? Mailgun takes a harder look at what goes into your open rate. Read more...

Sending email is one thing; having someone open the email is another.  Your open rate with any given list is one of the first measurements of success, and it should be. If you’re sending emails and nobody is opening them, chances are something in your strategy is mucking up your open rate.

But there is a lot of talk out there as to what a “good” open rate is, let alone the average open rate any sender might have. We wish we could tell you it’s that easy, but it’s not.

What’s a good email open rate?

Depends on your industry and if we’re talking about transactional email or marketing email. We talked a lot last week about how different email types have different reputations, and the same can be said for open rates. In a perfect world, everyone would love to see a high average email open rate across the board, but that isn’t the case here.

On average, most transactional emails have an open rate of 80-85% and most marketing emails are somewhere between 20-25%.


That’s a big leap, but don’t panic quite yet. Transactional emails tend to have a higher open rate because it’s the kind of information people tend to view immediately or revisit over and over again. It’s not uncommon to see a high open rate there.

Email marketing is where the open rate gets tricky. By no means is a 20-25% open rate a terrible rate to have, but a few things could be affecting that opening rate.

What affects my open rate?

Reputation is a big factor here, because if your message isn’t landing in the inbox at all — people aren’t going to open it.  That being said, there are a ton of best practices to help with your sending reputation.

Outside of your reputation, a lot of it depends on your audience. How recognizable is your brand to your audience, do they know you well? Have they received email marketing material from you recently enough to know who you are? For example, if your company was a part of a group marketing effort where a user would opt in for a collective email list, a user might not recognize your brand when you start sending to them.

Outside of brand recognition, your subject line would be a big factor in whether or not someone opens your email. It should go without saying that you need to avoid clickbait subject lines, but we wanted to put it out there anyway. You also shouldn’t leave your subject line blank or have something that might make you appear like a spammer. Some examples: “You won’t BELIEVE what we just did!” Or “Solving all of your problems is as easy as contacting us” are some pretty terrible email subjects.

All rolled together, a great sending reputation, recognizable brand to your given audience, and engaging subject lines can lead to a healthy open rate. However, it can still be hard to pinpoint what goes wrong if you’re unfamiliar with these best practices.

What can I do to fix a low open rate?

We always recommend checking your email list first. If you’ve had this list for a while or got it through shady means, your list could just not be interested in what you have to send.

Instead, clean out users who haven’t engaged with our emails depending on how often you send marketing material. For example, if you send a newsletter out once a month and a user hasn’t opened the past three; it’s time to let them go. In an ideal world they would unsubscribe and clean your list for you, but people can forget or stop using an email address entirely.

Think about the content you’re putting out there, is it relevant for your audience? Are you using personalization tokens in your subject lines and in the body of your email? Little changes like this can make a big difference in getting someone to open an email. Even something as simple as “Hey Natalie, we think you might like our next sale” can do leagues better than “Our next sale will surprise you!”


We know how frustrating a low open rate can be, but don’t be too discouraged. Tracking your opens allows you to do the research required in order to make your email marketing efforts that much better. Not tracking opens at all is a recipe for disaster, and if you’re not already then what are you doing reading this post? Go! Fix your open rate! Go now!

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