January 21, 2024

In the middle of the pandemic in 2020, I wrote a post that debunked the importance of email open rates…but 2020 was a long time ago. 🙂

I’m not reversing my thesis…just revising it a little bit…in the wake of what’s coming down the pike on February 1st.

I encourage you to read the P. S.—it’s kind of urgent.

But I still want to make my case (once again) that open rates are overrated.

Just a little less overrated on February 1st.

There are just too many other metrics to look at which are far more important when judging your email marketing prowess.

What is the first thing you look at when you receive a report from your email service provider?

I’m guessing it’s “sales” or “revenue” … with “open rates” a close second?

Or maybe it’s the other way around?

Do you dissect other key markers in that report that will give you insights, both good and bad, into how your email program is really performing?

And it may even be possible that the report you receive after each mailing doesn’t even include some of those key markers.

Do you know what you don’t know?

Ben Settle, my buddy, and the king of email marketing wrote an email in 2020 which discussed 12 things that are all more important than open rates…which inspired me to follow up with my take on his take at that time (i.e., editorializing while following Ben’s lead).

I am inspired to write this rerun with purpose today considering the upcoming changes on the horizon…while keeping our eye on the prize (using email for maximum marketing impact) despite open rates becoming (a little) more important as of February 1st.

1. Sales

Ben says, “If money is the game, sales is the scoreboard.”

Who can argue with that?

I do a lousy job compared to Ben in this area…but I am also not a non-profit (despite what it looks like sometimes).

For me, sales are a longer-term goal as I plan out these emails each week…I’m a little more patient than most…dedicated to education and value first…but I can’t disagree that sales is the number one metric.

My belief is that my online family will respond (and buy) with regular prodding when they are ready…and the best thing I can do for them is to continuously make the case and let them know I’m here when they are ready.

No matter what your selling philosophy might be, however, open rates don’t pay the bills.

2. Replies/engagement

From Ben in 2020: “Email platforms like Gmail & Yahoo tend to give more inbox delivery love (instead of shunting you to the spam or promotions folders).

Please read the P.S. because 2020 was a different world as it pertains to Ben’s premise above…however, some things will never change.

It’s true that if your online family can’t open your email or don’t receive it, you are nowhere.

But once they receive it, they need to read it.

And…once they read it, if they respond (whether provoked by you or not)…you need to respond back to them (especially if you are smart enough to ask them questions or engage with them in a way that sparks dialogue…which I recommend as a best practice…more on that below).

Lists are people too…100% human (except for your Bot subscribers). 🙂

While you are mailing them, wouldn’t you like to get them to reply or engage with you?

Of course, I’m making an assumption that you like using email as a medium…and you want it to work for you.

At a minimum, wouldn’t you like to learn more about them?

Aren’t you the least bit curious about what makes them tick and how you can overdeliver for them in ways that will help them in their careers or their business?

All you need to do is ask them (which I often do in this blog while addressing you).

Saying you don’t have time to respond to your online family–even if your list is large and you get hundreds of emails a week–is a poor excuse.

You are leaving money on the table…not to mention personal fulfillment and satisfaction.

Even if it takes you a month to respond, that’s OK.

At least read them all.

Ignoring them completely is not an option.

One more thing about replies and engagement:

When someone takes the time to write to you, be a detective with the language they use when they email you back to determine if they might be a candidate for one of your products or services.

This might require getting into an email conversation with them, beyond a simple reply, once the clues are identified.

Read this if you are interested in how I became a detective based on the phrasing of a response…and turned that into a $20,000 sale.

3. Clicks

Ben says, “[Clicks]…means engagement and are far more practically useful than opens.”

They let you know when you have peaked someone’s interest, gotten to a pain point, or you when you have created an opportunity for them.

Simply put, clicks, like language (from #2 above), are clues hidden in plain sight.

4. Opt-outs (“unsubscribes”)

Ben: “Probably don’t count as ‘engagement’, but if you aren’t getting lots of opt-outs you probably ain’t doing email right.”

I never want to disagree with the “master” but I’ve got a different take on this one:

If you curated your list the right way—the right way being congruent with your values and mission…if you aren’t getting lots of opt-outs, you may have curated beautifully and you may be doing it just right.

Ah…wouldn’t that be email nirvana?

But opt outs are nothing to be ashamed of either…it’s just as important to deselect from your online family as it is to select.

So that’s the part of “not having enough opt-outs” where Ben and I are totally in sync.

5. Complainers/trolls

If you are a follower of Ben, you know how he feels about these folks:

“[Trolls]…help your overall delivery since they are engaging with you (i.e., why trolls are your unpaid interns if you let them be).

I would add: Customer complaints are equivalent to market research…you must at least read every one of them…since there are some trolls who also might have a point.

And if they don’t, or are impolite or nasty, feel free to discard them.

Ben goes a step further by eliminating those trolls and making an example of them…highlighting them and training the subscribers who remain how to behave.

You can find content everywhere, right? 🙂

Read Haters gonna hate…so love them for some additional insight on why you should listen to the bad news about yourself…whether you take it seriously or not.

6. Testimonials

Ben suggests: “Not just for the engagement factor, but for the practical factor too.”

Like I suggest you read your “one-star reviews” in “Haters gonna hate…,” I also suggest reading your “five-star reviews” which will soothe your ego…and yes, those are your true disciples (unless they are relatives).

7. Questions

“Even more engagement. Plus they make great fodder for future emails.”

See my comments under #2 above…ask questions that will inspire answers that tell you much more about your online family.

And under #5: Content is omnipresent.

I’ve written about how to survey your list many times before, even inside my book, Overdeliver.

Here’s a post referring to the section of my book on the best ways to ask questions/survey your audience…whether online or offline.

Even a one question survey is better than a no question survey.

8. Customer service requests

“Yet more engagement [and] probably the greatest opportunity for selling there is.”

Couldn’t agree more with Ben on this one…and even if they are mad about something, if you can turn a complaint into a raving fan, they end up being your best family members in the future…maybe even for a lifetime.

Read this if you want to go deeper on this concept.

9. Interview request reply to an email

“These are not only for engagement, but interviews are great for list-building.”

Couldn’t agree more with Ben on this too.

It’s how you can also curate your list with fewer trolls.

Unless you want to attract trolls…like Ben. 🙂

It’s why I never turn down a podcast for example.

And why I look for folks to interview based on how they share their wisdom.

10. Forwards

“If people are forwarding your emails to their friends, on social media, etc., that can lead to referrals & a bigger list.”

This is something I don’t do often enough…thanks for the reminder, Ben.

Hey…does anyone reading this post today want to forward it to your 5,000 Facebook friends or your 10,000 name LinkedIn audience?

Or just to your online family?

And if you do, do it right now because the P.S. is timely and important.

Can’t hurt to ask.

11. JV proposal reply to an email

“Not only does this mean engagement, but it could also mean new business.”

See #1 (“Sales”)

And you always have the option to say “no,”

There are two times: “Now” and “Not Now.”

12. Spam complaints

“Not a good thing, but if you get a lot of these, it may be an indication of a flawed lead gen & curation philosophy, an important thing to know in the grand scheme of things.”

Ben is spot on once again…and whether it speaks to your curation of the list or not, you need to take these seriously.

At Boardroom, where I ran all our marketing (including paying close attention to customer complaints), we called these “troublemakers”—some were obvious (“I’m contacting my state Attorney General”) and some not so obvious (“Are you legitimate?”).

No matter what, it’s important to turn down the volume on these complaints by not ignoring them, responding to them…and I suggest you respond to these when you are in a good mood.

Like when you are responding to complainers, trolls or customer service questions.

And one more marker that is more important than open rates…

13. Bounces

Here’s a quick story to show how critical this “13th metric” is:

I check “bounces” every week after I send this email/blog to you every Sunday.

The numbers vary from 10 to 50 each week…and the higher the number, the more anxious I get…but I never did anything about it…I saw it as the cost of doing business through email.

When I received over 200 bounces in two consecutive weeks, I needed to address it since I knew it wasn’t about how I curated my online family.

Something wasn’t making sense.

I checked with our email provider, and they let us know that the bounces were a result of many email addresses that were sourced to a platform they decided (somewhat arbitrarily) to no longer support…which is a legitimate business decision on their part.

But were the names still deliverable?

I wasn’t satisfied when I looked deeper into this and found that the bounces were far more random, and they were not all from the platforms my service provider identified.

Bounces are not requested opt outs or “unsubscribes” or Spam complaints …rather, bounces are humans opting out blindly.

And they are not all created equal.

I decided to do a small test and mailed some of the bounces through another reputable company…I told my bounced subscribers that I was “embarrassed” that I had lost them for some reason, and I wanted to see if they wanted to come back into the family.

The flood of email responses I got back was incredible.

Yes, almost all were deliverable.

I simply asked these folks to respond “yes” to my email if they wanted to continue to receive my Sunday blog…and I put an unsubscribe link in that email at the top and at the end.

Almost all deliverable recipients said “yes.”

Those that said “no” or remained bounces, were permanently removed.

Only a small handful unsubscribed.

But others, in the spirit of Ben Settle’s “#7” (ask Questions), responded with a lot more than just a “yes.”

Some responded with a Testimonial (Ben’s #6)about my posts, how much they enjoyed them and missed them…and wondered where I had wandered off to (imagine that)?

Some engaged with me regarding the delivery problem, asking if I needed help resolving it further, clearly knowledgeable about email delivery and extremely helpful.

This is a three-pronged example of “#2”(Replies/engagement), “#9 (“Interview requestsince I interviewed a couple of those experts who offered their help for my mastermind) and #11 (“JV proposal reply to an email”).

Today’s P.S. is an indirect result of all of this.

It created dozens more opportunities to re-engage with people I knew and didn’t know…to create interest and sales…because they all remembered me enough to at least say “yes.”

This was not “cold traffic,” phishing or deliberate spam. Far from it.

I know I am not the first person whoever did this…nor will I be the last.

However, you must be careful when doing it because if you don’t do it with transparency, you can get slapped with something much worse than a “bounce.”

I was even told by a few experts it’s not a best practice and I am actually revising the procedure currently.

But that doesn’t take away from the reengagement with folks I thought were gone.

It’s also why you need guidance from experts (which I am not, despite my obsession with email)…especially when the rules change…which is what the P.S. is about…and also the underlying reason to repeat and update this post from 2020.

I used this bouncy example to illustrate why it can be a game changer to examine and study data beyond open rates from your email communications.

But the most rewarding thing about this example is that given my list curation methodology…one new family member at a time…through podcasts, speaking from stage, email swaps with likeminded online family owners and building slowly…I found a long-lost family who should never have been lost.

One that I even liked too.

And I didn’t have to sign up with ancestry.com to find them. 🙂



P.S. Now I need to provide you with an urgent public service announcement to make sure you aren’t caught by surprise…to take care of your email deliverability/open rates (while not ignoring the 12 items above).

As the subject line of this post suggests, open rates are overrated…until they’re not…and today is the day to address your upcoming deliverability and open rates.

As of February 1st, 2024, Google and Yahoo are bringing in BIG changes and new rules, enforcing that email authentication is set up for every marketing email you send.

If you are not compliant with the new rules you will risk your emails being marked as spam…or blocked completely (not being sent at all).

This is important for all 12 reasons above…plus, if you don’t do it, it could ruin your “reputation score” with other email service providers resulting in a full-blown shutdown from sending email at all in the future.

When I heard these changes were coming, I looked inside my Titans Xcelerator Mastermind to see who might help me get my own online family ready for these changes.

And one member became my knight in shining armor:

Adrian Savage, CEO of EmailSmart.

Adrian knows as much about these upcoming changes as anyone in the industry…because he works on these issues every day and is endorsed by some of the largest and most influential email marketers.

I believe he is best equipped to make order out of chaos when we are thrown a problem like Google and Yahoo are throwing at us right now.

I highly recommend you click here and participate in what Adrian is offering at no charge…his FREE “Authentication Checker.”

And that’s whether you think you are ready for these upcoming changes or not.

If you haven’t even heard about the changes, you MUST click on his page.

There will also be an opportunity to work with Adrian on an ongoing basis after you take the assessment…it’s the ultimate insurance policy to keep your email marketing operation humming…and I know because I have signed up for his paid service and I’m feeling very insured right now.

But regardless, it’s all upside and no downside if you go here.

No obligation.

At a minimum, get your checkup at no charge.

It will be the most important click you ever make from one of my emails.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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