Engagement Tracking Explained: Opens and Clicks

by | Aug 1, 2023

Some of the most common questions we get asked are around open rate reporting and click rate reporting. In particular, what can we trust? And what should we be looking at?

In this post, I’ve answered three related questions that we’ve received recently.

Question 1: Can we trust open rates and click rates on emails?

A: Open tracking is not as accurate as it used to be, partly because of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature, and partly because other email clients often block open tracking pixels.

In particular, Apple’s antics have distorted open rates so everything looks much better than it really is, but that just means we need to aim for a higher rate than we used to. You must aim for open rates of 50-60%, or even higher if possible.

Although it’s not that accurate anymore, the open rate is still a very important metric as one of the trends you should track. You can’t be certain that each report of an individual open is accurate, but if your open rate increases over time, things are looking good. If it decreases over time, something isn’t going so well.

Despite the overall reduction in accuracy of open rates, I also still see it as an important factor when deciding who to remove from my list and who to keep. 

Because if an email is reported as opened, we can be pretty certain the email isn’t going to the spam folder

If a contact really does disengage, the emails you send them will end up going to spam. And when that starts to happen, they will no longer show as being opened.

Click tracking on the other hand is still generally very accurate. The exception is where corporate spam filters follow every link in an email, which tends to become fairly obvious, e.g. if the same people always click within a few seconds of an email being sent.

Question 2: Can we actually trust click rates? 

A: Well, the answer is “it depends”. 

I work with some clients who see a high volume of “fake clicks” where their audience have additional spam filtering set up. Although this is mainly corporate email users, we’re seeing a lot more Microsoft 365 users also triggering fake clicks.

If your audience is mainly “consumer” users with free email addresses like gmail, outlook and yahoo, clicks are probably still reasonably accurate.

But be careful and if you see a sudden increase in clicks, dig deeper. A flurry of clicks within the first 5-10 minutes of sending an email could be spam filters doing their worst and following all the links in your emails.

This is why I still strongly recommend paying close attention to your open rate trends (see answer to Question 1 above). The open rate won’t tell you exactly who has and hasn’t opened your emails, but it will tell you if things are changing.

Question 3: How should we manage engagement?

First off, let’s set some expectations. If we’re managing our engagement properly, we should expect to see average open rates of 50-60% or above.

Also remember that the email platform we use has almost nothing to do with this – it’s based on our behaviour when sending emails. If we mail our entire list, we’ll get a low open rate. If we only mail our most engaged contacts, we’ll get a much higher open rate. And that’s what the mailbox providers still want and that’s what will make them love us and boost our inbox placement even further.

It’s definitely important to pay attention to clicks, but not at the expense of opens.

The holy grail is using open tracking to identify (and remove) your most disengaged people (remove anyone who’s not opened something in the last 90 days), and then use click tracking to focus the most on the people who are actually engaging the most by clicking.

One warning about removing people who haven’t clicked for a while: analysing a lot of different people’s email performance has shown that even after 3-6 months of not clicking, some contacts will “wake back up” and start clicking again. 

This in contrast to contacts who are showing as not opened for 90 days or more, where there is a less than 2% chance that they’ll ever open anything ever again.

Based on data I’ve analysed for dozens of EmailSmart users, It might take up to 9 or even 12 months for someone who actually ends up buying something to click a link on an email (assuming they’ve already clicked once on a lead magnet when they opt in).

And bearing in mind that a 5% click rate is excellent and that it can take months before an engaged subscriber will click, it’s important to be careful if only using click data to remove unengaged contacts from your list, as you might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.