High Volume Email Open Rates How To

High Volume Email Open Rates How To

Email open rates concern all marketers. However, in the sea of advice aimed at ESP users, high-volume mailers get over-looked. High-volume sending, MTA using mailers operate differently.

So let’s focus on the unique issues surrounding email open rates. Specifically, let’s look at the open rates for  those who mail  to more than 500K to several million email records, a DAY.


email open rates

Email Open Rates

Targeted, personalized, segmented email is all the rage now.

For good reason! When you take the time to customize your messages to truly suit the needs of your recipients, of course the results will be better. While that’s still true for high-volume email marketers, it kind of goes against the spirit of high-volume.

Mass mailing still exists

High-volume email marketing may seem like a dinosaur but, here we are in 2017 with folks hitting “send” to a single list containing millions of records. So let’s take a closer look at what counts as a good average email open rate for mass mailers. Benchmark open rates, per industry, have to be looked at in perspective when comparing to high-volume senders. Because, duh, you’re sending MORE emails than the average bear. So high-volume mailers, on average, get lower open rates.

What is a good email open rate?

According to a Get Response survey, less than 25% of email marketing messages get opened. And, over all emails have a 22% open rate and a 4% click through rate. So if you send high volume and have lower numbers than this average, don’t despair.

Broadly speaking high-volume mailers tend to pay more attention on the technical side and less on the emotional/engagement side. Delivering in high-volume is a special art and science. In fact, at least at first, you really do need to focus on the drier more functional side of mailing.


If you suspect that your email open rates are off. First check to see how you’re doing compared to the industry average. The friendly folks at Google can help you with that.

I am not encouraging you to freak out if your open rates are low. If your average email open rates dropped off initially but, stayed consistent. That’s normal. What needs attention are open rates that are on a steady slide or stuck in a slump.

It’s helpful to breakdown the elements effecting your open rates into either technical, human or when the robot elements over-take the human elements (only to creep out your subscribers).

Email Open Rate Technical Issues


First off, keep in mind that open rate tracking is less than perfect. Open rate stats depend on the successful download of a graphic image. There can be multiple issues with getting that little tracking mechanism downloaded. Plus text emails (non-htmls) are not tracked at all.

No graphics? No tracking. So even if the email IS opened, it’s not counted. So take heart, your open rates might be better than the stats claim.


To finesse the in-box, as a high-volume mailer, you’ve got to be a master throttler. Sometimes you need to throttle your sending speed and/or the IPs used. This can negatively effect open rates, but you still have to throttle sometimes to make it past the filters and build-up your reputation.

Mailbox/ ISP Filters

Old school marketing techniques that elicit feelings of urgency or “FOMO” are still with us. But of course, they get used and abused and overused. Robots don’t do nuance so mailbox providers will slap on a “spam” label if you snag a trigger like “FREE!” or “Guaranteed” or “$$$” etc. It’s different for every provider and depending on your IPs and domains, you make get invited in or have the door slammed in your face.

Smart Automation

Emails triggered by specific actions can be a God send. Base these mailings on key engagement activities such as a purchase made, a cart abandoned or a even re-activation email triggered after X-amount of days of inactivity. These transactional emails do great things for your open rate stats overall.

Special note on purchased lists

High-volume mailers are masters of the purchased list, like no other category of mailers. And the reason they’re so good with this “wicked” kind of list is that they vet and clean the holy heck out of it. You’re an adult. You understand that buying a list has inherent risk. So keep it clean or forget about great email open rates.

Technical Laundry List (of possible issues impacting your average email open rates)

-Too many links (especially to low quality domains).

-Too many pictures (aim for 60-40 text to image ratio).

-Date/time info missing. So your email looks stale.

-Please tell me you’re not sending attachments!

-Lack of proper list hygiene. Let those bounces go.

-You’re being sneaky with your unsub link. If folks don’t want what you’re sending, let them be free. Your IPs and domain reputation will smile upon you for it.

-You’re using “png” instead of “jpg.” In general, “png” images are not compatible with email applications and browsers.

-When folks unsubscribe, you’re not being Usain Bolt fast about it.

The Human Factor

Subject Lines

Do your research. There are endless web pages dedicated to helping craft great subject lines. Keep it simple. Tell recipients what is in the email and why the email is worth opening.

Stay abreast of what is considered a “no-no” for subject lines and then do your own experimenting. Some people swear “free” is the instant ticket to the spam folder. Others see it as the way to high-margin Valhalla. Play with different incentives. See what truly entices YOUR list(s).

Litmus say you have less than 4 seconds to grab the attention of your recipients. Work on your subject lines. Aim to make the magic happen in 50 characters or less.

Hitting the Emotional Sweet Spot

Allow folks to reply to “you”. It helps the end user to feel like you value them as a person. Even if you don’t value them as a person, and view this as merely an opportunity to receive abuse, let’s think big picture here. You really do want to hear from the people that are interested in what you offer. The crazies will reveal themselves easily and you can just hit “delete” on them.

Human Factor Laundry List 

How to optimize email open rates

-Keep your “from” name consistent.

-Check-yo-self to make sure you’re truly living up to WHY your subscribers signed-up to hear from you in the first place.

-Make your campaigns engaging enough to where your subscribers are happy to manually add you to their “safe list.”

-Optimize deployment timing. It varies for everyone.

-Make sure you have a physical address in the footer.


Human vs. Robot FEEL

If you are the rare bird who is both mailing in high-volume AND tracking user engagement kudos to you but, a word of caution. Be mindful of HOW you use, these data points. Don’t jump the shark when trying too hard to be relate-able. You have to find your own sweet spot in which people feel catered to, not spied on.


High-volume mailers send A LOT of email. And that’s great as studies have shown that the best email open rates happen when you send 16 to 30 emails a month. But if your open rates are well below the industry average for your niche (keeping in mind high volume senders will almost always have lower open rates for any industry), question your frequency.


Personal but Not too Personal

According to Campaign Monitor, Emails that employ personalization in the subject line, are 26% more likely to be opened. BUT! Adobe did a survey and found that 13% of survey respondents get weirded-out when brands over personalize in emails.

Steer clear of initiatives that end up “showing off” how much you know about a subscriber. You want to work with stated preferences not wag them in the face of users. Here are three major pit-falls to avoid.

Over Personalization Laundry List

Basing the personalization on the IP address used during sign-up can backfire  and negatively effect your email open rates if the person signed up while traveling or was purchasing a gift for someone else.

Messing up Mr. Mrs. and Ms. It’s almost not worth including gender markers because it’s easy to have a system error and people get super turned-off by being addressed with the wrong title or suffix.

-Soul-less event “celebrations” can backfire. Nothing says “meh” quite like a Happy Birthday email from some random company with which you shared your real or fake birth date. If you’re going to truly mark an important event with a subscriber don’t use birthdays or anniversaries as re-engagement fodder. Mean it. Offer something good, or don’t do it all.

There you have it. To improve your average email open rates you’ve got to clean up your technical side, warm up your human side and be personal but not too personal. When you’re sending in high-volume the stakes are high but the possible returns are rich.  Email open rates, get to it.

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