Cold email open rates are misleading you. Here’s what you should track instead.

June 9, 2022

Your #1 goal with cold outreach is to build relationships and increase sales. But open rates don’t help you measure either of those.

And with big companies like Apple and Google cracking down on email tracking, open rates are becoming less reliable. Instead, the only metrics you need you see actual results are: interested replies, meetings booked, and business generated.

What are open rates and how relevant are they?

Open rate is the result of a simple calculation: number of emails opened / number of emails sent (percentage). So, if you send 200 emails and 100 people open your email, you’ll have a 50% open rate. But what does that really mean…

What is the goal of open rates?

For years, the #1 goal of open rates was to know if your prospects were interested in what you sent them, if they opened it.

But in the past few years, the most important part of open rates has been to help you see if your emails are being delivered—if you are landing in the inbox or if your emails are going to spam.

We’ve always recommended having an open rate of >50%, meaning you don’t have an issue with your deliverability. But because of the new privacy updates, open rates will no longer be the go-to metric for email deliverability (we’ll get to this topic in a minute).

Another use of open rates has been to determine if your subject lines perform well or not. The logic behind this is pretty simple: if an email was opened out of all the emails in the inbox it was probably thanks to the subject line and/or the email’s first line, right?

Well, it turns out it was too good to be true.

After testing 20+ of our competitors (Salesloft, Outreach, Mailshake, Woodpecker, Reply etc....) we realized that open rates are calculated with misleading information. So the open rate you see isn’t a good predictor of how many people opened your email thanks to the subject line or email’s first line.

How have open rates been misleading us?

There are two explanations for this, the technical side (don’t worry it’s not as scary as you think) and the business side.

The technical explanation

To make a long story short, inboxes are screwing us over.


  • For safety/privacy reasons, some inboxes have spam filters and bots that open your emails and click on the links you have in them. This means that it’s counted as an open or a click when actually the prospect may have never opened the email in the first place. Worse, the bots/spam filters may have put your email directly in the spam folder.
  • If the email you sent is deleted (or even bounced after being opened by a bot) without the lead reading the emails, it’ll get marked as opened. Even if your lead didn’t read the message.
  • Some email providers (like Outlook) have a preview mode so people can “open” the email without actually opening it, they are just moving/deleting it. So even though the lead only clicked on it long enough to move it, this is counted as an open.

That means a ton of emails are being marked as opened that might not even make it to the inbox. And there are a good amount of emails being read that aren’t tracked.

But that’s not even the height of the technical problems. With the latest Google update, tracking open rates increases your likelihood of landing in spam.

Remove tracking for better deliverability

How? All email tools add a pixel to your emails to track the opens. But recently we’ve seen some changes in Google’s algorithm…

So we bulk analyzed 10s of millions of cold emails sent by our 65,000+ users worldwide to make sure that having a pixel or image will not decrease your deliverability.

We found out that spam filters used by ESPs (Email Service Providers) can easily differentiate an image vs. a tracking pixel.

When a tracking pixel is used, the likelihood of your emails landing in SPAM was 15% higher than without tracking. However, images did not impact the deliverability at all.

The business metrics that matter

Open rates are not (and never have been) a good measure of knowing if your sales prospecting campaign is successful.

They simply showed what percentage of people received and opened your email, but not if any of these people actually wanted to do business with you.

This actually works in your favor, because without them you aren’t losing any vital information.

If you feel like you would be confused without these stats, it’s probably because you’ve been deceived by the business power of open rates. So let's reverse engineer it.

Think about it like this: if you have amazing open rates but zero (or very few) leads generated or meetings booked, would you be happy with your prospecting campaigns? Definitely not.

The truth is that open rates have nothing to do with the success of your outreach or the growth of your business.

Instead, here are the most important metrics you should focus on:

  1. Business generated (dollar bills y’all)
  2. Qualified meetings booked
  3. Interested reply rates

Not click rates or open rates.

Why? Opens and clicks are vanity metrics. They’re just assumptions that people are interested in what you’re offering. But the truth is that these assumptions are misleading because of the technical explanation above.

Positive replies, meetings booked, and business generated are pure signs that your targeted prospects are interested. These are much more reliable and are related to business growth.

Deliverability is still a key component of your outreach campaigns, but you should track this using your deliverability and warm-up booster (like lemwarm) instead of looking at metrics like open rate.

To keep track of the business metrics and deliverability, we suggest updating your cold outreach tool to track qualified replies (interest rate for lemlist users) and also making sure it shows where your emails are landing.

You can even sync your outreach tool with your CRM so deals are automatically created when someone is interested, and then you’ll be able to see the qualified meetings booked and the business generated.

This way the result of your campaigns is clear and available for you and your team!

What does the future of cold emailing look like?

So where is it going next? How long will other metrics be reliable and what’s going to change?

How things have changed recently

Every year we are moving towards increasing privacy regulations. Lately, GDPR (in Europe), CCPA (in California), and regulations in other places are limiting the data we can track. An example are these cookie popups you might be seeing when you open a website…

cookie privacy laws

Then, you have companies like Apple that decided to cut their email tracking to protect the privacy of their users. And lots of other big companies are following suit.

Apple cuts email tracking

Again, making your open rates completely unreliable.

Potential future

Honestly, this decrease in tracking and increase in privacy is only going to continue. But this gives us a huge opportunity to focus on what really matters: generating sales and building relationships.

And you can do that by focusing on the metrics that matter and therefore bringing the most value possible to your prospects.

The good news is that the most successful lemlisters don’t currently rely on the vanity metrics to be successful, and you don’t need to either.

Instead, let’s look to the future. But to do that, let's go back to the past for a minute…

At lemlist we’ve always had your back to give you the best new sales prospecting tactics and use the best techniques to keep all your emails out of spam.

  • We were the first to create a tool like lemwarm with the biggest network of inboxes in the world to help you get the best deliverability on the market.
  • We were the first to test advanced sending algorithms to increase your deliverability.
  • And of course, we were the first to add next-level personalization (that was actually scaleable).

And now we’ve got a new first.

We think this is going to be the time everything will change for measuring and tracking email campaigns.

And by changing this for your campaigns you’ll be rewarded by inboxes, and get better results.

We’ll talk more about it in our coming articles and in the lemlist family community, but for now…

Here’s what you should do

This article’s been a bit of a bummer, but I have good news. There is a step-by-step process you can follow to keep you out of spam and boost your outreach results (aka generate more business). Check it out:

On the tech side

  • Turn open rate tracking off in your cold outreach tool to increase your deliverability.
turn off tracking
  • Keep lemwarm on at all times to boost your deliverability.
deliverability booster

If your emails are landing in spam even with lemwarm ON, it just means that lemwarm is doing its job which is taking them out of the spam folder and boosting deliverability. If you turn it off you will see a drop in your deliverability!

Remember, the main goal of open rates is to know more about deliverability. So, by creating lemwarm account, you’ll easily be able to tell where your cold emails are landing.

And to discover more on how deliverability boosters help you land in the inbox and open new business opportunities, check out this article.

On the business side

Remember, your goal is to increase business. Open rates have nothing to do with this, and you’ll get much better results focusing on these instead!

  • Focus on the right metrics: business generated, qualified meetings booked, interested replies.

Key Takeaways

Alright y’all, that’s a wrap. To sum it up:

  • Now is the time to start tracking your email deliverability
  • Stop tracking open rates to increase deliverability and land in the primary inbox
  • Focus on the best deliverability factors (technical setup, targeting, sending limits, etc.)
  • Win more deals by looking at metrics that are pure interest signs (interested replies, meetings booked, business generated)
What to track for cold outreach success

Thanks for reading this article and please share it with anyone you think it can help! Also, feel free to ask me any questions or add your thoughts by sending me a message.

Oh and btw, if you’re looking for a step-by-step explanation of how to manage deliverability and create lemazing cold email campaigns that generate business, check out our cold email masterclass.

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