June 29, 2024

Open rates are dead: Meet the new metrics of email success

Remember when crafting the perfect subject line was all about boosting open rates? Welp, those days are gone, folks.

With email subscribers more savvy than ever and a ton of recent privacy changes (thanks, Apple), open rates are about as reliable as a weather forecast.

But don't worry—this shift isn't the end of email marketing as we know it. Instead, it's a chance to zero in on what truly matters: clicks, conversions, and engagement.

With Digital Native, my average open rate on my weekly emails is ~60% (even higher on my welcome sequence). Those numbers were impressive in years past, and honestly, they still are. But I'm not obsessing over opens anymore—I'm only focused on clicks, engagement, and conversions.

These are the email metrics you should focus on, too—and I'll show you why.

The shifting landscape of email marketing metrics

Let's cut to the chase: Apple's privacy changes have thrown a wrench in the works. Open rates? They're inflated and unreliable. But here's the truth—they were never really the best metric to go by anyway.

Think about it. A subscriber opening your email doesn't pay the bills. Clicks, engagement, and conversions do. These are the metrics that show your subscribers are actually interested in your offering—not just glancing at your email while clearing their inbox.

So, what should you be tracking? Here's what I'm paying attention to:

  • Click-through rates: Are people actually engaging with your content?
  • Conversion rates: Is your email driving the action you want?
  • Overall ROI: Is your email strategy actually making you money?

These metrics tell you if your email is working, not just if it's being seen.

Open rates might be dead, but subject lines are more alive than ever

Ok, let's point out the elephant in the room. I know I said that open rates are dead because they're unreliable, but you still need people to open your email if you want a click or conversion to happen, right?

That said, writing engaging subject lines is as important as ever.

When thinking about subject lines, they need to do more than tease. They need to align with your email content and offer clear value. Think of them as trailers for blockbuster movies—they should give a taste of what's inside and make people want more.

With subject lines, there are a number of ways you can approach increasing your open rates. Here are a few of my favorite examples:

  • Be specific: "5 Proven Strategies to Double Your Conversions" beats "Improve Your Conversions" any day.
  • Relevance to the reader: Tailor your subject line to your audience's interests and pain points.
  • Consistency between subject and content: Match the subject line with the email content. Never, ever bait and switch!
  • Open curiosity gaps: "The unconventional tactic that boosted our sales by 237%" makes people want to know more.
  • Use power words: Words like "Essential," "Exclusive," and "Limited" can drive urgency and action.

What you don't include in your subject line can be just as powerful as what you do include. You'll want to avoid these pitfalls at all costs:

  • Clickbait: It might get opens, but it kills trust.
  • Over-promising: If you can't deliver on it, don't say it.
  • Being too clever: If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: Clarity trumps creativity every time.

So, we know that subject lines are still important. What else can we do to promote clicks and conversions? Let's look at some current trends to find out.

People are (still) the priority

These days, personalization is king, but it goes beyond just slapping a first name in the subject line (that's so early 2000s).

Now, it's about understanding your audience and consistently delivering value.

Here's what should be on your radar:

  • Segmentation: Tailoring subject lines to specific audience segments will drive way more engagement than generic ones.
  • Behavioral triggers: Using past engagement to inform future subject lines. A lot of ESPs have these built-in now—make sure to take advantage of them.
  • Value-first approach: One of the best things you can do in your newsletter is lead with the benefit to the subscriber.

Remember, your goal isn't just to get opens—it's to drive meaningful engagement that leads to conversions.

Personalization 2.0

So, how do you craft subject lines that don't just get opens but drive real engagement? You have to get even more personal.

Here are some modern ways people are doing that:

  • AI-Driven Optimization: Use AI tools to analyze your audience's behavior and predict which subject lines resonate more. But don't let the machines take over completely—always apply human creativity and intuition. The machines don't always know best.
  • Beyond Names: Go beyond just using names. Use behavioral data to create hyper-relevant subject lines. For example, "Continue your journey on [Topic They Last Engaged With]" can be a powerful tactic.
  • A/B Testing for Engagement: Don't just test open rates. Test for clicks and conversions. Try variations like:
    • Question vs. Statement
    • Benefit-driven vs. Curiosity-driven
    • Short vs. Long
    • Direct vs. Playful
    • Formal vs. Informal

Keep in mind that what works for one audience might flop for another. To loosely paraphrase Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, "ABTL (Always Be Testing and Learning)."

The future of email engagement

As we look ahead, one thing's clear: email isn't going anywhere, but how we measure success is definitely evolving. We're moving towards more holistic engagement metrics that consider the entire customer journey.

Prepare for:

  • More sophisticated AI-driven personalization
  • Increased focus on post-click behavior
  • Greater integration between email metrics and overall customer data

The key to staying ahead is the same now as it has always been: Never stop experimenting, learning, and adapting.

Remember: In the world of email marketing, it's not just about getting in the inbox—it's about making an impact once you're there. Now go out there and craft some subject lines that don't just open emails, but open wallets.