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The Death of Open Rates
And why I’m excited about it
It seems everyone who used email marketing services are all in a tizzy over what’s about to happen on Monday. And it wasn’t until I did two things in the last month that I was able to see just how insane the tizzy really is:
Decide to leave MailChimp
Find the best alternative for me.
Let me start by explaining what’s happening today. Today is Death to Open Rates day! And unless you’ve been living under a rock or just plain living (in which case, good for you), then you know exactly what this means. For months now everyone with an email list tied to an email marketing service has been biting their nails waiting for the impending release of Apple’s iOS 15. Why? Because along with its laundry list of features the most damning is the “Mail Privacy Protection” (cue the doom music) and now the sky begins to fall! But does it really?
What Mail Privacy Protection (for Apple users who update to ios15 and opt in) proposes to do, as it relates to “open rates” that people who use email marketing services rely on so heavily, is mark any email you send them as opened automatically. And I think it won’t count every single time they may or may not open it. [A crash of thunder]
This will effectively screw with those open rate numbers and boy do I know how much I relied (at least once a month) on those numbers when I used MailChimp. In theory, anyone on your email list who uses the Mail app that comes standard with all Apple devices to check their email will now show as if they opened what you sent them the moment your email hits their inbox. The one major caveat being that they have to have iOS 15 and opt in to this Mail Privacy Protection.
And in true Apple fashion, they are making sure no user misses this golden opportunity of privacy because when someone updates they will immediately be met with this prompt:
[The ground begins to quake] And suddenly those stats you’ve been checking as your email list keeps growing now becomes slightly muddled. Especially, depending upon how many on your list are iOS users? But why have we spent so much time checking these stats? Speaking from my personal perspective here was my reason:
Email Marketing Services, like MailChimp, Mailerlite, and now ConvertKit, have one thing in common: A free tier. But this tier comes with limitations. Those limitations are that you can only have a certain amount of subscribers before what used to be free will now cost you. And depending on how many subscribers you have over the “you now need to pay” threshold, it can cost into the several hundreds every month! Staggering, I know! And it’s because of this that many of us cultivate and nurture our lists to make sure they remain below that threshold. In my case, having used MailChimp, it’s 2,000 email subscribers. In order to keep my list as small as possible I did something that I’m sure everyone else did: Studied the open rates.
Anyone on my list who basically did not open the emails I sent to them (on a monthly basis) I would purge (ie archive). This would essentially remove them from getting my emails, prevent them from accidentally signing-up again, and not count them as a part of my 2,000 free email list. Even those who have more than 2,000 and are paying monthly will do this (probably not as often) because they don’t want their monthly bill to increase anymore than it already is. Effectively, you’d be paying for people who aren’t engaging with you by opening your emails. Wasted money and wasted time.
Then I moved myself over to Substack, a platform that isn’t based on “email marketing” (though they do push hard for their users to turn on paid subscriptions that I’ll get to in a minute) but instead based on helping their users build a community and in that regard a lot of the restrictions that I’d expect to be put on me having come from MailChimp just wasn’t there. The main one being the limit on how many emails I can have on my list. With Substack there is no limit. You read that right: NO LIMIT! However, there are some caveats to that which is why Substack isn’t for everyone. For instance, features like automations, segmentation, and template design just aren’t a part of the make-up of Substack. Which is probably why I enjoy using it so much. What some might say Substack “lacks” I would say frees the user up to do what they (hopefully) love doing the most; writing.
And it got me thinking about the reason why so many are hung up on “open rates” and what that might do for the average MailChimp user who is desperately trying to keep their list down to just the ones who open their emails? Which led to one very important question for me: Does opening an email really amount to engagement? I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve accidentally clicked on to open but never read. I either immediately close it or delete it (which is usually my intention). So, why is the open rate such a big deal?
After using Substack for just shy of two months I’m realizing there are much more important things that can be used to gauge someone’s interest in my emails. Substack is like a blog in many ways because the “archive” that many come to think of as a page that simply lists all of the emails they’ve sent via a service like MailChimp, is simply contained on a dedicated user page like you’d find on a blog. Yes, this means “everyone” can read the emails you send and it eliminates that “exclusivity” we all used to milk for all it was worth. But in a day and age where the idea is “the more eyes on me the better” I see no real reason to want exclusivity unless it’s behind a paywall. Similar to what can be done with Patreon and Substack. And like most blog posts, on Substack, readers (email subscribers) can “like” and leave comments. This equals engagement. But of course, if you have a list of hundreds but you’re only seeing a handful of likes and comments this doesn’t really satiate our need for statistical analysis per user of who should stay and who must go.
Another avenue I see as more helpful to me than the open rates is the click through rates. How many of my links (and which) are users clicking. I’m aware that in Substack’s instance they can give me a percentage but not an accurate account of exactly who is doing the clicking. Is this helpful? To me it is simply because I make a point to put the majority of my clickable links at the very end of my emails. This means that a person would need to have read (or at the very least scrolled) all the way to the bottom to have clicked that link. And to me that is a more engaged reader than someone who opens my email by mistake, never intends to read it, but is counted in my “open rate” analysis.
So, is the “open rate” statistics really dead? If so, good riddance. People who use it and rely on it need to take a breather from it and realize that it’s taking over your life and probably dominating your reason for starting a newsletter and growing an email list in the first place. Of course, we all do it so we can eventually make that sale, but if that is the only reason, and not to build a connection or a community from that list, then you will forever be filling your list with deadweight and never be free from those who take up space and never give you what you want. It’s time for those who use email marketing services to pivot their thinking and start being honest about why you have an email list in the first place. And start by being honest with your list. Since I’ve done that I’ve had people leaving on their own (ie unsubscribing) and adjusting what content they want to receive from me. This has been so amazing I cannot tell you. Not having to be the one to purge my list frees up time. I mean, it helps that I don’t have a limit on my list size in the first place, but ever since I started being honest with my MailChimp list that have been unsubscribing on their own and I’ve been loving every unsub email I get!
Save yourself and your mind by ignoring the open rate numbers and focusing more on the content of your emails. Make it engaging. Be honest. It’s not the end of the world. The results will speak for themselves in the end.
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