Why ‘Average’ Email Open Rates Are Meaningless

Last week I tried an interesting experiment with the Simple Programmer email list.

Over the course of 2 days, I sent out 3 “broadcast” emails with just one major difference between them.

And just check out the difference in open rates:

Email #1 got an abysmal 1.8% open rate (yes 1.8%, that’s NOT a typo).

Email #2 got a mediocre 11.6% open rate.

And Email #3 got a whopping 53.7% open rate!

Any guesses on what I changed between these emails that made such a drastic difference?

No, it wasn’t writing “eye-catcher” subject lines.

And no, I didn’t do any voodoo to improve deliverability.

The only thing I changed between these 3 broadcasts was WHO received them.

For this experiment I split the list up into 3 slices or segments.

The segments were based on how the subscribers had responded to previous emails.

Email #1 went to the “bottom 20%” of the list. These subscribers maybe read one email every 2-3 months.

Email #2 went to the “middle 60%” of our subscribers, the subscribers that maybe open a couple of emails a month.

Email #3 went to the “top 20%” of our subscribers—these people *love* Simple Programmer. They read multiple emails and blog posts per week, and many probably follow the YouTube channel as well.

This pattern exists in ALL email lists.

It’s just hard to notice when you’re sending broadcast emails to your entire list because what you see is an “average” open rate of 23%.

That average is meaningless.

Your list isn’t a monolithic group that opens 1 in 4 emails you send like clockwork.

The top 20% of your subscribers are 20X more enthusiastic and engaged than the bottom 20%.

There’s not much you can do to reenergize those sleepy subscribers.

Focus your efforts on the top group—your “real” list.

That’s where your best fans and customers are hiding.