Do Open Rates still matter in 2022?

Last year, Apple made a major privacy update, allowing their users to block email tracking pixels. In one respect, it’s not new – ALL of the major providers offered the option in one form or another. However, users had to actively seek out the setting and it varied across the different inboxes.

With the rollout of iOS15, Apple notified people they could block tracking as soon as the update popped up on their screens. 96% of early adopters in the US opted out and a similar number is expected through the rest of the world. Users who agreed to the privacy blocking now get their email rerouted to a cached server, so their activity is effectively screened from the email provider (it’s the equivalent of tinted car windows). Because Apple’s server requests the images (which includes the tracking pixel) from your email provider, this registers as a false open, regardless of whether your subscriber reads your message or not. 

Does it matter?

Open rates have long been a proxy for how well the subject-line tests do. It’s still relevant, but it’s not the only metric in town. Other reasons readers open your email is down to:

  • Brand recognition: they will check your sender’s name before they do anything else
  • Email  layout, especially the positioning of the call-to-action buttons (preview panes do not count as an ‘open’ if the images are disabled – which makes the CTA even more prominent)
  • Commitment: if your email is part of a chain (e.g: here’s your webinar link), it’s more likely to be opened as your reader has already committed to action.

What about list hygiene?

Marketers have always monitored individual open rates to see if readers are still interested in their offer as most of us hit the ‘mass delete’ button, instead of individually unsubscribing from each email. A common element of email programmes is the ‘disengaged segment’ where we entice people back who have not opened or interacted for a set period of time. With the Apple update, it becomes harder to predict who is (or isn’t) interested.

It’s early days with this update, but we still need that segment and I predict copywriters and strategists like myself will be working even harder to get a response from our audience before they disappear. In the same way we now require subscribers to opt-in to our email lists, we will need a positive response to keep writing to them.  

So what should I be tracking?

In a word: engagement. That’s a bit more difficult to quantify because it’s more than one statistic, plus that messy real-life stuff known as ‘human interaction’. When I report to my clients on their list health and success, I consider:

  • Their delivery rate 
  • Their unsubscribe rate
  • Their click rate
  • Their response rate.

In summary, you need a high delivery rate, a low unsubscribe rate and a call to action in every email you send. It does not have to be a link – you can even ask people to ‘hit reply’ to the message – but it gives you a gauge to see who is actually reading, rather than just skimming. After all, you are not maintaining an email list for the fun of it – you want that interaction! Otherwise, it would be more productive, screaming into the night sky. 

The response rate is not the same as the click rate. A response can be a blog comment, a mention on a phone call, a link back to your social posts or a written reply. The simple truth is that the bulk of your audience will read but not reply unless there is a pressing reason for them to do so. My job (and yours) is to ask them clearly and respectfully to provide that response. After all, they are on your email list in the first place, because they thought you were interesting. So, don’t be afraid to show interest and ask for it in return.


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