We’re always thinking about ways that we can boost our customers’ deliverability and email reputation to previously unheard of heights. And, as we’ve mentioned recently, open rates are still important, not withstanding what some might say. That’s because ISPs and inbox providers still look at your open rates to see if people are really interested in receiving and reading your email. As ESP MailChimp puts it, “Open and click rates can give you a good idea of how your campaigns are performing with a particular audience. If an open rate is strong, it usually means your subject lines resonate with your audience.”

Today we’re going to talk about things that can artificially suppress your open rates.

People Giving You an Email Address that Forwards to Another Email Address Can Suppress Your Open Rates

Webmail, such as Gmail or Yahoo, is one of the easiest sorts of systems for an ISP to monitor open rates, and they all do it. And now, more than ever before, people are signing up for multiple webmail accounts, especially with Gmail. If they are not using webmail as their primary email service, they are using it for email access from their mobile device, or for the purpose of creating a duplicate email stream for archiving, or – and this is a big one – to create ‘throw away’ accounts that they use to sign up for mailing lists.

But they may not actually read their email through that email account. They may either download their email from their webmail account down to their local machine, which may or may not count as an “open” at the webmail provider depending on how it’s set up, or they may forward a copy of their email from that webmail account to their primary email account, which will not count as an open at their webmail provider.

For example, if someone gives you their email address jo*****@gm***.com, and they are forwarding jo*****@gm***.com to jo*****@co*****.net, and never actually reading that email on Gmail, then Gmail will see your email never being opened.

The same is true if Mr. Doe is downloading his email from Gmail to his local email program; unless he makes a point of setting it up to mark it as read when it’s downloaded, or makes a point of going and opening the email in the Gmail inbox as well, Gmail will see your email sitting there, for all intents and purposes unwanted and unloved.

People Reading Email on Their Phones Can Suppress Your Open Rates

More people are reading their email on their phones these days. On their tiny screens, where often they have image rendering turned off, and “no images” will usually equal “no open tracking”. (Of course if they are reading their email on an iPhone which has the email privacy settings turned on such that images are automatically accessed to look like an open when they haven’t actually opened your email at all, that’s a whole other matter. Read our take on that here.)

Image Rendering Turned Off Either by Default or Choice Can Suppress Your Open Rates

In addition to image rendering being turned off on mobile phones, the same is increasingly true in computer email programs. As more and more people demand more privacy protections, email programs are increasingly having image rendering turned off by default. And of course image rendering is still the primary way of tracking open rates. For example, even if you don’t put any pictures in your email, if you have the “track open rate” option set at your ESP, the way they do that is usually by embedding a 1×1 pixel in the email you send, so that they can count the number of times the 1×1 image is accessed, which gives you your open rate. But when image rendering is turned off in someone’s email program, it doesn’t automatically access any image, including that 1×1 tracking pixel.

So What Can You Do About Artificially Suppressed Open Rates?

So here’s the thing: you may have a subscriber who reads every single piece of email you send them – who may even be eagerly anticipating each of your mailings – but to Gmail it looks as if they have never once opened a single piece of your email. And if Gmail is looking at open rates as a piece of the email reputation puzzle, or to inform their spam detection processes, your email may take a hit. Now, one subscriber doing this isn’t going to make a difference, of course, but if a countable percentage of your subscribers are, it might.

So, what can you do about this?

Not a whole lot, directly. And frankly it’s not really something to worry about. However it is something to be aware of and to realize is out there.

As long as you are keeping your email reputation otherwise sterling (and we can help you with that through our email reputation certification and deliverability services), and assuming that the majority of your subscribers who use webmail are not forwarding their email (which we think is a fair assumption), you should be able to maintain an email reputation equilibrium that allows it to take the hit for the reduced open rate, even if appreciable, without it noticeably impacting your deliverability.

Things that can Artificially Suppress Open Rates When Tracking Email Open Rates

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