What’s a “normal” open rate for email newsletters?

Sending email newsletters can be a weird experience. Sure, you have a feeling that you’re doing the right thing by keeping in touch with your clients… but how can you tell if they’re actually having an impact?

After all, whenever you hit that “Send” button, it can be like sending your message into the Great Online Void. And that can play havoc with your feelings.

How to deal with the emotion-sucking Great Online Void

First of all, if your email newsletter campaigns feel like a Great Online Void, you need to remember why you’re sending the emails in the first place. And that reason is to stay in touch with your customers, and therefore stay front of mind. It’s all about communicating with them; making them feel valued; and maintaining a relationship with them.

If that doesn’t give you warm and fuzzies, then the fact that these newsletters are likely to be producing repeat business and also referrals should definitely leave you feeling good!

But tell me about facts, not just about emotions…

Facts are vital when it comes to email newsletter campaigns, and that’s why using specialised email newsletter software is such a good idea. The software measures your campaigns, and gives you data, with one of the key measurements being the “open rate”. That is, how many people opened your email newsletter.

But what does this open rate data mean?

Having the open rate data by itself can be meaningless…. how are you meant to know if the numbers are “good” or “bad”? You need something to benchmark against.

Email newsletter benchmarks

Here’s that all-elusive benchmarking information… and that is, that a good email open rate is considered to be between 20% and 40%. If you’re in a business-to-business industry, then the open rates should be at the higher end of that scale; and if you’re dealing with consumers, then the open rates are usually at the lower end of that scale.

Side Note: those are the percentages I’ve always worked to. While researching this article, I did find some recent statistics from email newsletter providers Mail Chimp and Constant Contact. However their percentages tend to much lower than those my clients achieved. I’d be very unhappy if my clients’ open rates were this low!

But wait-a-sec, that seems really low – most people aren’t opening my newsletters!

Ah, but let’s remember WHY you’re sending your newsletters. And that is, to keep in touch with your customers so you stay front of mind. And you’re doing that just by them seeing your company name in your In Box. OK, so it’d be nice if they were to open your newsletter, but it’s done its job to some extend if (a) your customer has seen your name, and (b) they don’t Unsubscribe.

Of course, it would be nice in the ideal world if everyone were to open your newsletters all the time, but we don’t live in that ideal world. We have to be happy with what we’ve got, and work our darndest to improve things by continually sending top-quality newsletters. It’s a constant effort to maintain (or increase) those open rates.

What does it mean if open rates start dropping off?

If your open rates are falling issue after issue, don’t panic straightaway. There are a number of different reasons as to why open rates fall off:

  • The database is ageing: open rates tend to fall over the years, as people tend to switch jobs and make other changes in their lives, meaning that their email address becomes invalid, or that they don’t need your product or service any more. That’s totally normal.
  • You’re not attracting new subscribers: the issue in the previous point is enhanced if you’re not regularly attracting new subscribers. Gaining new subscribers takes continual effort.
  • The subject lines are boring: many people will decide whether to open your email or not based on the attractiveness of your subject line. If your subject lines aren’t enticing, many people will stop opening the emails. Great subject lines are vital, and some split-testing around this will help you discover which subject lines work best for your target market.
  • The content is falling short of expectations: if people aren’t enjoying your content, they’ll stop reading your newsletters. However, this is the first conclusion that many business owners jump to, yet you need to look at the previous bullet points first of all before making any radical decisions about your newsletter content.


If you do spot your email open rates dropping off, the above list gives you a remedial tool kit to work through. However, don’t be tempted to change everything at once – you could be throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Do some tweaking and testing over a number of issues to see how that goes. And if you’re not getting anywhere, then try something else.

The main thing is that you do keep communicating with your customers, despite any hiccups in your open rates. Keeping the relationship going is vital.

And that’s exactly what you need to remember if you ever get the feeling that you’re communicating with the Great Online Void: you’re not, you’re communicating with your bestest and nicest customers. Even if you don’t hear from them in response, you should allow yourself to feel some warm, fuzzy feelings in the knowledge that you’re maintaining your relationship with them. Besides, regularly communicating with your best customers is the best kind of marketing you can be doing, so keep it up!


Are your email newsletters suffering from the “message in a bottle” approach?

When you were a kid, did you ever think of sending a “message in a bottle”?

You know, scrawling a note, sticking it inside a bottle, sealing the bottle, and then casting the bottle into the ocean, wondering where it’d end up and if it you’d ever hear back from the recipient.

Wondering if your message got anywhere is fine for childhood playtime, but not so good in business

Are your email newsletters suffering from the "message in a bottle" approach?Yet in the business world, so many business owners take the “message in a bottle” approach to email newsletters. By that, I mean that they send their email newsletters from their desktop email programme (such as Outlook).

Why is it a problem to send email newsletters from Outlook?

There are a number of problems with sending your email newsletter from Outlook (or any other desktop email system):

  1. Deliverability: There is a very good chance that emails sent this way will get blocked by spam filters, as they can pick up that emails sent “en masse” could be unsolicited (spam) emails. This could even mean that you get permanently “blacklisted” by certain email systems – this is something you want to avoid at all costs!
  2. Lack of reporting: you have no way of measuring if your email got delivered; how many people opened it; and how many people click the links in your email newsletter. So you’re really just sending your email, hoping it will arrive at its destination, not knowing for sure if it has or not.
  3. Formatting: emails sent from Outlook might look OK at your end, but they might not look so great at the recipient’s end. (And don’t be tempted to send the newsletter as a PDF attachment – it’s very unlikely it’ll get opened!)
  4. Legal compliance: it is very easy to ignore the legalities of sending email newsletters. Amongst other things, it is a legal requirement to offer an Unsubscribe option, and to include a postal address of the sender within the email.

So how should you send your email newsletters?

The best way to send your email newsletters is via special email newsletter software. The features differ from system to system, but most of them offer the following benefits:

  • Reporting and analysis: you can see how many people opened your email, and how many people clicked on the links. This allows you to find out what interests your customers and prospects the most.
  • Split testing: you can test and measure what your readers respond to best, for example by changing the subject line or offer. Over time, this will help to make your emails newsletters more focused and removes a lot of the guesswork involved in the “message in a bottle” approach.
  • Spam word testing: various words can trigger the spam filters, and if your spam count is too high, there’s a good chance your email will be blocked. Most email newsletter systems will let you know how your newsletter scores, and which words might cause issues. This increases the likelihood of your email being received by the recipient.
  • Templates and formatting: email newsletter systems allow you to set up a template, giving your emails a professional look.
  • Subscriber management: the system gives you a sign-up box you can put on your website so prospects can sign up for your newsletter. Plus your subscriber database is stored with the email newsletter system, so it’s always ready to go. And if a subscriber wants to Unsubscribe, they can easily do so by clicking a link, without you having to do anything at your end.

What are the most popular email newsletter systems?

There are a wide number of email newsletter systems. Most of them are web-based, so you can access it from any internet-connected computer in the world.

Some popular choices for web-based email newsletter systems include AWeber and Mail Chimp. If you do an internet search for “email newsletters” you’ll find many other suppliers too.

The way the prices are structured varies from supplier to supplier, so check them out. Most systems offer you a free trial so you can try it out first. Many also offer really good resources and information on how to get the most out of your email newsletter campaigns.

Once you get the hang of the email newsletter system (yes, like most software, it takes a bit of getting used to), you’ll never want to go back to the “message in a bottle” approach again. You’ll love the fact that your email campaigns are so much easier to manage and measurable, so you know exactly where your emails are going.