You have a good inflow of visitors. You are collecting lead information via landing pages, social media survey and contests, and gated content. Your leads are properly segmented based on their website and app behavior. You know our dynamic contact list segmentation always ensures that your leads are bucketed based on demographics like age, location, etc., website behavior and engagement, buyer’s stage and events. This means you can seamlessly send targeted and personalized emails. You schedule an automated drip campaign series based on your lead’s interest. Still, your email open rate was low. WHY?

Now you are confused because you don’t know what went wrong. Maybe we can again begin from the start. Let’s get our concepts cleared first.

What is an Email Open Rate?

The general perception is that the email open rates is the number of people who open your emails. Unfortunately, this is not the case. An email open rate is defined as the ratio of the total number of unique people who opened the email and the total number of delivered emails.

Suppose a total of 100 emails were sent. Out of those, 20 emails bounced, which means a total of 80 emails were delivered. Out of the 80 delivered emails, 20 emails were opened. That means the email open rates will be 25%.

The calculation goes like this –

Email Open Rate = Unique Open Emails / (Total Number of Emails Sent – Total Number of Bounced Emails)
25% = 20 / (100 – 20)

Emails that are not delivered cannot be opened. So, this number is not included in the calculation of the email open rates.

Tracking of the Email Open Rates

It is important to understand that the tracking of the Email Open Rates is not a perfect science. To track whether an email has been opened or not, a small one by one-pixel graphics (transparent, invisible picture), also known as a tracking pixel, is inserted into the email being sent. Only when the graphics (image) is loaded (after getting downloaded from the server), the email is marked as open. Since the good  email open rates relies on the download of a graphic image, it isn’t 100% accurate. There can be multiple issues with the tracking mechanism mentioned above:

  • Many internet service providers (ISPs), as well as users, never load the graphics in an email. Without the graphics being loaded, even an opened email will not be marked as an open email
  • Many users prefer to receive their emails in text format only. In this case also, the graphics are never loaded, and although opened, the email will not be marked as an opened email.
  • Users who use mobile, tablets or other such devices to read their emails, read only the text version of the email. As such, the graphics never get a chance to be loaded in the email, and although the email is opened and read, it is not marked as an opened email.
  • Non-HTML (text) emails are not tracked at all (as the graphics are not loaded at all in such emails). As such, even if the email is opened, it will not be marked as an opened email. Some email reading applications do not allow open emails to be reported. Some email reading applications let the recipient choose whether to allow open emails tracking as a personal setting.

Because of the reasons mentioned above, it is likely that the actual email open rates are on the higher side than the reported rate.

This feels pretty good for Marketer 🙂

If you have low email open rates, then, there could be many reasons for a low email open rate. You need to check the email open rates against the benchmark for your particular industry. The email open rates by industry varies based on the type of industry, the geographic location, type of ISPs (Internet Service Providers), etc.

Reasons Why Your Emails Have a Low Email Open Rates

If you are sending emails for a while, and the open rate has declined initially and subsequently plateaued, that trend is healthy. But in case your open rates have been way below the benchmark and is continuously falling, there might be some inherent issues with your campaigns.

1. Subject Lines are not Effective

Subject lines are the gatekeepers to your emails and the first thing that the recipient sees in their inbox. A good subject line can dramatically increase the likelihood that your email will be opened. On the other hand, a boring subject line can significantly decrease your email open rates benchmarks as it implies to the readers that your email is not worth opening.

A good subject line can make or break an email, how to increase email open rate

A good email subject line has two components: firstly, it tells the recipient what the email contents are and secondly, it tells the recipient that the email is worth opening. The subject line should stand out and spark interest to the recipients, without looking like spam. It should be short, clear, concise and to the point. It should tell the recipient exactly what to expect in the email content and why the email is worth opening.

Statistics points to the fact that the email subject line impact the email open rates. As per the data, 33% of the email recipients open the email based on the subject line alone.

Try A/B testing your subject lines and other elements of your email as well. But alert! Don’t make these errors while doing an A/B test.

2. You used too many Buzz Words

Certain keywords (buzzwords) negatively affect the email open rates and thus, should be prevented altogether. Some examples are “free”, “help”, “reminder”, “percentage off”, etc

3. Your email isn’t personalized

Adding the recipient’s name gives a personal touch to the email and the email does not look automatically generated. Adding recipients past trends and buying habits in the subject line add the personal touch.

Statistics shows that personalized emails are 22.2% more likely to be opened.

4. Lack of Incentive for Your Recipient

You should give some incentive to the recipients to open the email. Add some urgency to the subject line, offer them something they value or something that are relevant to them so that they are incentivized enough to open the email.

5. You did not test enough

Although there are general rules, still, the best way to know what resonates with your recipients is to test and then, test some more. Try multiple subject lines, check the statistics as to which ones have a higher open rate and analyze what you did differently with the subject line that actually clicked with the recipients. No audience is the same. So, test what works well with your audience.

6. No Sense of Urgency 

Using the words like “this weekend”, “limited offer”, “first come, first serve”, etc. creates a sense of urgency in the recipients and thus it becomes likely that the email will be opened.

7. Negative Connotation can spoil your campaign

Negative Connotation decreases the probability that the recipient would open the email. Avoid using negative connotation as much as possible so that the email open rates graph trends northwards.

8. You weren’t specific 

Use data from the recipient’s interests, past trends and buying history. Use this information to make the subject line highly accurate and relevant to the recipients.

9. You used aggressive words

Using words in capitals, exclamation marks, etc. makes the subject line look aggressive, unfriendly and even spammy. Avoid using offensive subject lines. Avoid looking aggressive.

10. Inefficient Content

When someone signs up for your emails, they have something concrete in their minds. They are looking for something which is useful for them. If on receiving your emails, their expectations are not satisfied, they will stop opening your emails next time they receive them. If subscribers are not enjoying your content, they will stop reading your emails.

Focus on the content of the emails such that it would help in solving the recipient’s problem. Thus, the recipients will be more receptive to your [su_tooltip style=”bootstrap” position=”north” content=”email open rate”]emails[/su_tooltip].

11. Efficient but Irrelevant Content

Sometimes, it might so happen that the content is practical as well as exciting, but it is not relevant to the recipient. This might happen if you have different types of subscribers in your email list. Sending the same email to a broad class of subscribers tends to decrease the email open rates as the content does not appeal to the wide range of subscribers.

Try sending targeted emails to a smaller set of subscribers in your email list who will be more interested in the contents of your [su_tooltip style=”bootstrap” position=”north” content=”email open rate”]emails[/su_tooltip]. Try dividing your email list according to the interest of the subscribers, their geography, their buying trends, their recent activities, etc. This will not only increase the email open rates but will also decrease the “opt-outs”.

12. You sent emails too frequently

With very few exceptions (high-value content), the greater the volume of email sent to an individual, the lesser number of times they will open the email. In general, the more a number of emails, the lower the level of engagement with the subscribers for an email campaign. If your email open rates are way below the industry average, and you send multiple emails, you may want to evaluate if you are sending too many emails to the subscribers for their liking.

When people first subscribe, set their expectations as to how frequently they would expect your emails. If you can ask the subscribers how often they would like to hear from you, nothing can prove to be better than that. This could be done with an online survey or through a questionnaire at the time of subscribing. Moreover, it is a good idea if you can provide them with a preference page in which they can update their interests as well as the frequency of receiving emails.

13. Unsegmented Email List

If you send generic emails to all the subscribers on your email list, you will not be able to engage with your subscribers and the email open rates will be on the lower side as the email content will not be relevant to most of the subscribers. Sending targeted emails to specific subscribers, segmented on location, interests, buying history, latest trends, recent activities, age, language, gender, etc. will engage them thoroughly and would increase the email open rates as the emails will be relevant to them.

The aim is to send targeted emails to segmented subscribers so that the content of the emails are more relevant to them, as against sending email blasts which lack relevancy for the subscribers.

Statistics shows that segmented campaigns perform 14.4% better in terms of email open rates as against not segmented campaigns.

14. Your recipients may no longer be interested in your emails

There might so happen that initially, the subscribers were interested in your emails, but in due course of time, due to a change in their lifestyle, job changes, changes in priorities, they have become less interested in your emails. [ This might also happen in case you have bought an email list and the subscribers have not explicitly given you their authorization to receive your emails. ]

In such situations, the subscribers will not be interested or willing to open your emails. Moreover, subscribers will be more likely to mark your email as spam as opposed to just unsubscribing. Inactive emails will tend to bring your  open rate email marketing metrics down.

Unclean and old email lists will contribute to low open rates, bounces, spam flags and can lead to marking of your emails as spam.

15. Email got stuck in the spam filter

If your email gets delivered in the recipient spam folder, rather than the inbox, the recipient will not even get a chance to open the email. There are multiple reasons why an email gets filtered into the spam folder of the recipient. Some of the most frequent reasons have been enumerated below.

Test your email newsletter template and find any issue from here.

email-spam-test, , what is a good open rate for email marketing

16.You used keywords that triggered Spam alerts

Certain keywords in the subject line trigger the email as spam. Avoiding such words will land the emails in the recipient’s inbox, increasing the probability for the recipients to open them. Avoid using keywords like “Free”, both in the subject line as well as the email body. Instead, use words like “complimentary”, “at no charge”, etc. Some of the spam triggering keywords are as mentioned below:

Guarantee, 100% free, FREE, ALL CAPS, $$$, !!! or excess of any symbol, Attention!, Act Now!, Re:, FWD:, T e x t w I t h g a p s

17. You sounded deceptive in your email

Do not use words like “Re:” or “Fwd:” in your subject line. These used to be a good hack a few years back, but, not now!

18. A complicated email body format

Do not cram too much information into the email body or use complicated email layout that might impact email rendering in mobile devices.

19. Optimum Text to Image Ratio – messed up!

Do not cram images in the email body. Maintain the ideal 60-40 text to image ratio. Avoid having a single large image in the email body. Have as much text as possible, instead of pictures.

email-template, what is a good open rate for an email campaign


20. Too many Links

Avoid cramming too many links in the email body. Prefer text instead of links.

21. Used Links from Non-Credible Websites

Use links from credible websites. A link from a non-credible website may trigger email as spam.

22. Forgot to include Date and Time in Emails

Including a date and a time in your emails shows that your emails are recent. This can lead to more email open rates.

23. Too many Attachments in Emails

Avoid attaching files or images in emails. This helps in avoiding the spam trigger.

24. Grammatical Errors or Spelling Mistakes

Casual grammatical errors and spelling mistakes do not create a good impression to the recipients. Moreover, they can trigger spam filters too. Try to avoid them as much as possible.

25. Not Include Physical Mailing Address in Email

Adding a physical mailing address gives credibility to the email, and thus, there are fewer chances of such emails triggering spam filters.

26. Relying on Purchased Email List

Subscribers from a purchased email list have not given their authorization to receive emails from you. As such, they would unsubscribe from your emails and may also opt to report your emails as spam which can deteriorate your [su_tooltip style=”bootstrap” position=”north” content=”email open rate”]reputation[/su_tooltip]. Moreover, a purchased email list might be stale with lots of inactive users.

27. Using “test” in the Subject Line

Using “test” anywhere in your subject line renders your emails casual. The recipients will not be prone to open such emails.

28. Frequent change in the “from” name

Using a constant “from” name lends credibility to your emails and helps your subscribers remember and recognize your emails. Frequent changes in the “from” name will lose that credibility factor from the recipient as well as the spam filter perspective.

29. Did not request subscribers to add your email address to their safe List

Request your subscribers to add your email address in their address book or in their safe list so as to avoid the spam trigger as well as to get the graphics tracker download easily for better traceability of the open emails.

30. Couldn’t keep Subscribers Engaged

Keep subscribers engaged through frequent product review requests, order follow-ups, and general feedback requests, so that they remember you, are interested in you and keep opening your emails.

31.“Unsubscribe” Button was hard to find

Provide easily accessible “unsubscribe” button to the subscribers wants to opt of your emails. This will help clean your email list of uninterested subscribers, satisfies the CAN-SPAM act and lends credibility to your emails and helps avoid spam filters.

32. Did not filter Bounced Email Addresses

Removing email addresses which have bounced multiple times helps in cleaning your email list, increase the email open rates as well as enhance your reputation as an email sender with lower bounce rates.

33. Used Links having One Giant Image

Avoid creating links which contain one single giant image. This can trigger a spam filter. Avoid images as much as possible.

34. Used Addresses as “”

Try to avoid “reply to” email addresses such as “”. Use a genuine “reply to” email address in all your emails so that recipients can interact with you in case they feel so. Moreover, the presence of a genuine “reply to” email address in your emails lends credibility to your campaign and help your emails avoid spam triggers.

35. Did not respect “unsubscribe” requests

Make sure that the “unsubscribe” option works for up to 30 days from the day the email is sent and fulfil all the “unsubscribe” requests. This enhances your credibility as well as satisfies the CAN-SPAM act.

36. Did not use a recognized/genuine “from” name

Use a “from” name which your recipients recognize quickly. This will help them open your emails and will thus increase your email open rates.

37. Avoided Double opt-in

Double opt-in means that the subscriber will confirm that they want to receive emails from you. You would not like to send emails to people who are not interested in your emails. This will lower your email open rates increases the chances of your emails being reported as spam as well as reduces your reputation as an email sender thus reducing deliverability of your emails.

groupon_confirmation, email campaign open rate

38. Forgot to reference your Domain in Emails via SPF

SPF (Sender Policy Framework) is a standard for email authentication. It compares the sender’s actual IP Address to a list of IP Addresses authorized to send emails from that domain. If you reference your domain in your emails via SPF, there will be more probability that the emails will be able to avoid the Spam folder and make it to the inbox of the recipient, increasing the open rates.

DKIM record should also be added correctly for verification of from email address, from which email has been sent.

39. Stale List of Subscribers wasn’t cleaned

If your subscriber’s list is a little old, it is time to clean up the inactive or outdated emails. Email open rates tend to decline gradually, over the years as people tend to switch jobs, their interests and lifestyle changes, etc. It means that the email list gradually becomes invalid. You need to weed out such emails so that the inactive recipients do not bring your email open rates down.

40. Not Attracting New Subscribers

If you are not attracting new subscribers regularly, the issue in the previous point is enhanced. With time, the old subscribers will become inactive or outdated, and the email open rates will go southwards. Gaining new subscribers takes continual effort.

41. Tracking Issues

As already discussed in the above topics, the tracking mechanism employed for marking an email as opened is far from being accurate. It depends on the loading of a tiny graphics pixel in the email body. In case the graphics are not loaded in the email body, the email will not be marked as an open email. There can be multiple reasons why the graphics image is not loaded in the email body.

The email client generally blocks the images by default. Also, the email clients in applications like mobile or tablet only receive the text version of the email. The plain-text version of the email does not support the tracking image download capabilities. The recipients may choose “not to download image” option.

Always request your subscribers to add your email address in their “address book” or in their “safe sender” list so that the graphic image can be downloaded automatically. Also, use “jpeg” images instead of “png” images as “png” images and not compatible with many email applications.

42. Mobile Optimization

As the number of people using mobile devices to check their emails continues to grow explosively, a responsive email design becomes all the more critical. A responsive email design means that on whatever device an email is opened, the email will automatically adjust to fit itself based on the dimensions of the mobile device.

As per the statistics, 48% of emails are being checked on a mobile device (mobile, smartphones, tablets, etc. ). Moreover, 69% of people checking emails on their mobile devices tend to delete emails which do not render well on their devices. If your emails are not looking good on the mobile devices, people won’t bother to open them, and you will be missing on the email open rates.

improve-email-clickthrough-rate01, improve email open rate


Make sure that the email layout, design, and images look good on the mobile device. Also, make sure that the images being used are compact and efficient so that it won’t take forever to load them on a mobile device. Use “jpeg” images as much as possible as “png” images are not compatible in many mobile devices.

Related: 30 E-Commerce Email Marketing Examples to take Note of

43. Time of Delivery

The time of delivery of the email can influence how many people open your email and thus can impact the email open rates. If you send your emails on a weekend, people are less likely to open them, at least not right away. On a Monday morning, people take time to catch up from the weekends. Also, after business hours, people are less likely to open their emails. So the best bet to send your emails is on a Tuesday after 12 pm.

As per the statistics available, the best day to send an email in order to get best email open rates is on a Tuesday after 12 pm.

Moreover, 23% of all email opens occur during the first hour of delivery. After 24 hours of delivery, the chances of opening an email drops below 1%. Mondays, Fridays and weekends are not the best days to send emails.

44. Seasonal Factors

Seasonal factors too can have an effect on your email open rates. In the periods when the email volumes are high (like festivals, celebrations, important events), people might get choosy as to what to open in their crowded email inbox. As such, the email open rates might deteriorate. In contrast, when the email volumes are too small (periods like the long holiday season, weekends), people do not bother to check their emails. In this case too, the email open rates go down.

45. Did not enhance your Sender Score:

If you have a low sender score, this means that your reputation is not good in the ISP domains. A small score sender can be marked as a spammer, and their email will get trapped in the spam folder rather than the inbox. As such, there will be no chance for your emails to be read or even opened.

senderScore, whats a good email open rate

You can increase your reputation and can improve your sender score by adding credibility to your emails. An authenticated domain name, lower bounce rates, presence of an opt-out link, genuine content, credible links, engaged subscribers, lower reported emails, real and authenticated “reply to” email address, presence of a valid physical postal address adds credibility to your emails as well as enhance your sender score and reputation as an email sender.

You can check Sender Score from here.

46. Did not opt for Automatically-Triggered Emails

Automatically triggered email are those emails which are triggered by some events or actions taken by the recipient. These emails can be triggered by events or actions such as:

  • A purchase made
  • A download was done
  • A recipient joining a community (a welcome email)
  • A recipient becoming inactive (a reactivation email)
  • A recipient leaving their cart with an item in it (a purchase email)

Statistics shows that these types of automatically triggered emails have a 71% higher email open rates and 102% higher click rates than non-triggered emails.

Triggered emails are not only segmented but are also sent at a time when the recipient is interested in such types of emails, making them more relevant to the recipient.

47. Stopped managing your email List:

An email list that is not well maintained and managed suffer from lower email open rates, higher inactive users and lower subscriber engagement. When the email list contains wrong email addresses and inactive subscribers, email open rates will fall and bounce rates would increase. This can lead to the below mentioned two results:

  • Subscribers receiving emails which are not relevant to them
  • ISPs not delivering your emails because of reputation loss due to higher bounce rates

ISPs look into multiple factors while sending your emails.

  • Whom you are sending the emails
  • How frequently you are sending the emails
  • The bounce rate of your emails
  • The number of complaints about your emails
  • Your email open rates
  • Your email click rate

All these factors determine your reputation with your ISPs and affect whether your emails will be delivered to the recipient’s inbox or spam folder if it is delivered at all.

48. Dealing with Separate Tab for Promotional Emails:

Gmail has introduced a new feature that which filters promotional emails into a distinct separate tab. The three tabs are titled “Primary”, “Social” and “Promotional” tabs. Gmail tries to filter the emails and put them into the third tab, the “Promotional” tab. This separates the promotional marketing emails from reaching the “Primary” tab, the inbox which the recipient generally checks.

email open rate, how to calculate email open rate

The unique feature of this new tab is that this tab is only visible in the browser view. It is not visible in the mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, and mobiles. Moreover, if a person is checking his or her promotional tab, that means they are genuinely interested in special offers and marketing messages and are more receptive to such emails.

Get going with your Email Automation Campaign Now

Now you know where you were going wrong. So buckle up now. Test your email templates, content, subject line, and element placement before you send your emails. Organise your email lists and set of behaviour-based triggers for a seamless email campaign. Track your emails and leads to understanding where your leads are dropping off. Also, a tip: Resort to multi-channel marketing to keep your leads engaged, aware and looking forward to your next email campaign.


Ankit Prakash is principal founder of Aritic. Ankit is a passionate and determined entrepreneur; building successful Internet product since 2006.