It’s time for some email marketing myth-busting. Before I reveal the myth we need to bust, I’d like to give you a pop quiz (Don’t worry…I’ll grade on a curve).

Here are results from three email newsletter for the same company and roughly the same list. Which mailing was most successful?

  • January: 6,615 delivered, 1,119 opened (29.5 percent open rate)
  • February: 6,557 delivered, 1,510 opened (23 percent open rate)
  • March: 6,695 delivered, 1,413 opened (21.1 percent open rate)

Easy, right? The January mailing blew the others away. A mailing with a 29.5 percent opening rate is obviously better than one with a 21.1 percent open rate…isn’t it?

Not necessarily, which brings us to the myth we need to bust: Many business people believe that a higher open rate means a more successful email campaign. That is a myth. While we all prefer higher open rates, more opens does not always mean greater success.

Let’s look at the same three mailings, this time focusing on click-throughs. Each mailing had a call-to-action to click for more. The links sent readers to tips and other useful information. The business tracks those who click and identifies them as prospects for products or services related to the link. Those prospects then receive follow-up emails with more aggressive promotions.

  • January: 1,919 opened, 51 clicks (2.7 percent click rate)
  • February: 1,510 opened. 121 clicks (8 percent click rate)
  • March: 1,413 opened, 312 clicks (22.1 percent click rate)

These statistics tell a different story. The January email, which had the best open rate, had the worst click rate — just 2.7 percent. The March mailing, which had the worst open rate, had the best click rate — a whopping 22.1 percent. Those 312 people who clicked on the March email are engaged prospects, and many more prospects surfaced in March than in January.

We suspect the March campaign will prove more successful than the January campaign because the former generated so many more prospects. But we’ll need to dig deeper. Just as open rates don’t tell the whole story, better click-rates don’t necessarily mean better success.

We’ll have to see how many of those people who clicked ultimately make purchases and how much those sales generate. The January email promoted a service that is far more expensive and has higher margins than the service promoted in March. So it will take fewer sales from the January email to achieve success.

The bottom line: Establish your business goals before you launch your campaigns and define success around those goals. If you’re trying to generate more sales of certain products or services, you measure success by tallying net sales revenue — not by counting email opens or clicks.

Yes, opens and clicks can indicate whether you are on the right path. But as these three emails reveal, you can’t assume that a better open rate has put you on the path to success.  

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