Cue the bugles! Release the balloons! Break out the champagne! The open rate on your latest email is at 40% and still climbing! Ever have one of those days? How could anything go more perfectly? I mean, you crafted an elegant and enticing email. It’s gorgeous – and look, so many people are opening it! It’s perfect and wonderful, and your business is going to skyrocket as a result! Yay you!

But wait. Hold on. Just a minute. I’m going to say something here that may shock you.

Open rates are pretty meaningless. (They aren’t totally meaningless, but they are nothing to celebrate, either.)

Here’s what they’ll tell you.

  1. If your open rate is 40%, you know that at least 40% of your send made it to the intended recipient
  2. If your open rate is declining over time, you have a pretty good indicator that you are killing your list

That’s it. That’s all you know.

Here’s what an open rate will not tell you:

  1. Was your email read?
  2. Is the recipient interested in anything you said in your email?
  3. Did your email cause the recipient to take any action?
  4. Is there a chance that this email address could belong to a future customer?
  5. After receiving the email, did the recipient then go to your website and look around?
  6. What pages on your website has that recipient viewed?
  7. Did they take any actions that you didn’t expect?

Celebrating your open rates is like cheering while watching hundreds of people drive by your business every day and assuming they are interested in becoming your customer. Don’t fall into this trap. Honestly, many email programs – like the one on your iPhone – automatically “open” the email for you. As more emails are automatically opened by smarter devices, your open rates may well go up – but you won’t know anything more about your audience than you did before you sent it. An “open” does NOT mean “I’m interested.” It only means the email got opened, which means nothing.

It’s all about engagement, and the way to measure engagement is with clicks – at least as a starting point.

But let me digress for a minute. Many email platforms advocate that you use your email to advertise – your sales, your latest/newest/most popular products, and so on. I call these “billboard emails.” Maybe someone will read it, and maybe they’ll be interested, but there’s no call-to-action in the email. There’s no way for you to know that your “billboard” was effective. You can’t tie the email to more “contact us” forms filled in on your website, and you can’t tie it to more foot traffic into your store, shop, or office. It’s just an advertisement, and, in my mind, a waste of a great opportunity.

Your emails should all have calls-to-action – clickable links that promise valuable content, of some kind , to the recipient. It could be a coupon, a whitepaper, a cheat sheet, a registration form, or even a link to one of your blog posts – any type of attractor that entices your leads to click through the email to get more information they can use. Depending on how you create your emails, you can even use links to set your leads up to segment themselves – but that’s a topic for another day.

The point here is that an email without calls-to-action is just an ad – not marketing, not engaging, and not informative for you.

Using calls-to-action in email means that you can now celebrate clicks, and click-through rates. That is significantly better and more informative than looking at open rates – a step in the right direction. You know that something you said resonated with a recipient of your email.

That’s a win, yes, but it’s not the whole story.

Let’s go one step further, shall we?

Your lead clicked a link in your email, and – if you’ve offered a download and you’ve got the call-to-action (or CTA, as I’ll call it from here on out) crafted correctly, he or she went to a form, filled in the fields, and clicked “Submit.” Again, if you’ve put it together right, you’re immediately sending an email with the information they’ve requested. Good. Now you can track whether or not leads actually download the information you send them, or click another link in the fulfillment email. All good.

But – and this is a big one – once the lead landed on your site, what else did he or she do? What pages were viewed; what other links were clicked? What other forms were filled in? What more did you learn about the interests of your leads? Here’s a helpful hint: many times, the interests of the lead are not represented by the click in an email, and a marketer can be seriously mislead. (We’ve got a great story about that – another one for another day.)

That’s right – learning about your leads goes far beyond the click – and, through learning about them, you can engage with them. You can deliver content that is meaningful to them – but might not be meaningful to the rest of your list (at least not right now). You can carry on a conversation that will make sense for the status of your relationship with a particular lead, and that will be relevant to the stage your lead is at in his or her buying journey.

That’s where the parties belong. Truly, break out the champagne, because engagement is the holy grail of marketers, and you will have achieved it.

That makes a lot more sense than standing on the side of the road, shouting your products and services to passing motorists and hoping someone will stop. Don’t you think?