blog image
Why email open rates don’t tell the truth (and how to get around it!)
Author image
06 May 2022
You created a great email for your customers, giving them the latest news and views from your agency. When you check the open rates, they look good! This must mean your audience is opening your emails and reading them, right?


Email marketing is the cornerstone of many businesses’ digital marketing, and open rates have always been one of the key ways we measure campaign success.

But we can’t rely on that metric anymore thanks to changes in consumer privacy brought about by Apple. The Apple Mail Privacy Protection update, released in June 2021, might well be the end of the ‘open rates’ metric.

Why open rates are no longer relevant

Apple’s update is automatically installed for anyone who has updated their phone software since last year’s release.

Essentially the update ‘pre-fetches’ content in emails, which downloads whether the email is opened or not. Imagine you had a bouncer standing at your letterbox who opened every letter to check it was safe before giving it to you – whether you read the letter or not, it's been opened. This means everyone using the latest Apple software will show a 100% open rate, even if they don’t open the email!

Due to the sheer scale of Apple in the market and the prevalence of Apple Mail across iPhones, Macs and iPads, it’s a significant change. According to Campaign Monitor, it’s almost doubled open rates from just below 20% to over 35%. How many companies are out there thinking their open rates are getting better?

Why did Apple do this?

From Apple’s perspective, it's all about giving consumers more control over how apps use their data. For example, it stops email senders from using ‘invisible pixels’ that can collect information about the user/recipient.

While these increases in privacy and control are pretty good news for the consumer, those of us who want to communicate with a customer base and measure the effectiveness have our work cut out for us.

But we can’t solely blame our favourite fruit-y tech giant for the unreliability of open rates. It might surprise you to learn that they weren’t actually that reliable to begin with…

How did open rates work before these changes anyway?

Measuring opens isn’t as technical as you might think! Here’s how it works.

The basic technology is placing a very small (one single pixel) image in the email, and then counting how many times that image is ‘downloaded’ (which usually happens when the email is opened).

Because of this fairly basic way of measuring opens, it’s always been a little sketchy. There’s quite a few different scenarios that might happen when you send a marketing email, including:
  • emails are opened and read (best case scenario!)
  • emails are read in preview without downloading images (so we can’t track them)
  • emails are read on a mobile device or computer, like the gmail app on your phone, or Outlook on a laptop (Since each tracks differently, this skews results)
  • some bounce (So you can remove them from your mailing list at least)
  • some are blocked
  • emails are deleted before they are opened (So they’re never opened, let alone read)
  • some, when opened, have their images blocked by your email
With all these possible scenarios, it’s always been tricky to know how your emails are actually being received, making open rates a very wobbly metric.

So what do we do now?

Don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom! There are other ways of getting insight into how much you’re connecting with your email audience.

Switch to the click!

One way is to simply shift your focus to other email metrics, like click rates. Click rates are much more accurate as this metric counts clicks of links or images within the email. Here are some practical ways you can encourage clicks.
  • Make sure your links are obvious to the reader. Use a different colour for URLs, or create a handy “Find out more” button.
  • Include links in the email header, footer and images.
  • Don’t give everything away in your email – write a catchy snippet to encourage readers to click through to find out more.
  • Take your reader to the exact location on your website that you want them to visit – for example, don’t just link to your blog hub, go directly to the specific blog.
It’s also important to remember that the goal of every email isn’t always to click something. If you’re sending an email to your clients about the agency’s opening hours over a long weekend for example, they may open the email, read the info, and nothing else is required of them – no clicks needed.

Ask your audience what they want

Ask your audience what sort of content they want to see from you with a simple survey in one of your emails. They might be interested in advice about the local property market, info on investment property management, or even tips on renovations. Once you have a good grasp of what they want to receive, you can adjust your emails accordingly. A bonus is your audience will feel heard and know that you value their opinions.

Get their reactions 😀

Do you link to blogs in your email newsletters? This is a familiar email format, but here’s how to really make it work for you. Think about adding reactions to your blogs, in the same way Facebook has likes. Consider a free tool like sharethis that lets you add reactions to your website to get additional insight into how your audience is feeling.