What's Behind The Falling Email Read Rate?

Return Path has, for the third year, studied read and unsubscribe rates and other metrics. And it found several things from its analysis of over 5.5 billion commercial emails.

Read rates are down, and more emails are ending up in the spam folder — 13.5% last year compared with 12% in 2015. Yet consumers are more likely to mark marketing messages as “this is not spam” — at a rate of  1.77% versus 1.04% in 2016.

What gives? It may be the fault of the ISPs and their ever-changing technologies, according to Tom Sather, senior director of research at Return Path.

The world is getting increasingly complex,” Sather says. ”Most of the email delivered into the spam folder is through machine learning. Providers can predict if a subscriber will want a message in the future, or if future users will want to receive messages.”

But the rising spam folder rate may not indicate true consumer sentiment — and Sather says, given the increase in the 'not-spam' rate, spam folders may be becoming too aggressive. In his own case, Sather found that “a lot of emails I had signed up for were being delivered into the Gmail spam folder.”



Why would that happen? "They’re continuously making changes in software — and when they do, which we saw last year, we see that dip in email being delivered into the inbox," he says.

The spam folder increase could also contribute to the read-rate decline. "Out of sight, out of mind," Sather says.

"People don’t check it that frequently, maybe every other day or so. They get so much email, they might choose to ignore it."

But if they do move it into the inbox, “it means they want it — it counts as a not-spam rate vote.” 

In general, Sather notes that "if I have huge list of a million people and I’m sending randomly to those people, I will have an average rate I’ve always been getting."

But positive engagement will improve the not-spam and overall deliverability rates. And this could entail everything from the content to the timing of the email.

"The provider will receive those signals right away," Sather says. "You will get better deliverability through most of that campaign."

So what are the takeaways? Sather offers these tips:

Listen to your subscribers -- "not just when they reply or give you a colorful email to tell you to unsubscribe them,” Sather advises. “If you see open rates drop off, or people moving messages more to the spam older, try to pinpoint the cause — did you change anything in the program? If you didn’t, that may be the culprit, too."

Build your reputation through proper security authentication and maintaining a clean list.

 "List cleaning is important," Sather says.

Finally, "have fun with your emails," he urges. "The goal is to get people to engage. If they drop off, some marketers do reengagement campaigns or others may try different cadences or campaigns for those people."


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