Brief Open Rates and the Quest for a U of M Benchmark

April 12, 2019

What is a good open rate?

The University of Minnesota is home to dozens of electronic newsletters, from unit to college and even systemwide publications.

We’d like to take an informal step toward establishing some open and click rate standards (and how they may vary) among University audiences.

Please take this short survey and let us know about your publication(s).

Industry standards

Within the online marketing industry, open and click rates vary significantly by list size, industry, and audience.

Constant Contact online marketing frequently updates its industry averages from among its more than 200 million monthly client emails.

As of January 28, Constant Contact had the overall online email marketing open rate averaging about 16%, with a click rate of 7%. Among higher education clients, the average open rate was 19% and the click rate 7.6%. Mailchimp recently did a similar analysis that puts the education open rate at about 22%. The highest category open rate is “religion” at 27%, in case you were wondering.

What these numbers don’t show is engagement by list size. Generally speaking, the smaller the list, the more targeted the audience and the higher the engagement. I’ve seen stats showing a more granular breakdown of open rates by list size from, say, 0-1,000, 1,001-5,000, 5,001-10,000, 10,000+, etc., but for this post, we won’t delve that deep.

Brief as example

What we can give you is a good, representative example that reaches a broad swath of the University community: Brief, the weekly news digest for all campuses.

Brief is a good starting point because it is one of the larger publications at the U of M, and it goes to a broad audience: all faculty and staff and about anyone else who collects a paycheck, including adjuncts, fellows, graduate assistants, residents, visiting professors, and some student-related positions. It also draws content from all over the U of M system, from Extension to astrophysics. Additionally, it’s a publication that belongs to everyone—the content is (or tries to be) representative of the amazing work going on throughout the University system.

Caveat: Do not be alarmed if your rates are lower—Brief has 49 years of history to build on, and it’s widely known among the U of M community.

Our recipient list is about 39,000. For 2018, Brief unique opens averaged 16,237, or about a 42% rate. Unique clicks averaged 2,405, or about a 6.2% rate.

That puts Brief in good company—close to double the higher education industry average open rate, but just under the average click rate.

With this particular publication, we aren’t quite as hung up on the click rate because of Brief’s format. Within Brief, we’ve determined that we can give the essence (the who/what/where, etc.) of what the reader needs to know in about 80 words or less. If we do that correctly, the reader shouldn’t need to click to get more information—they may want to do so, but they shouldn’t need to.

Here’s another example through M Pride, which goes to the U of M AEL (administrative email list) and 202 state legislators (a total list size of about 2,000). M Pride’s open rate averages nearly 70% each issue, although its click rate is closer to 8%.

Again, please take this short survey and tell us more about your publication.

Contact Adam Overland with any questions or if I can do anything for you.

Meanwhile, here are some fun bonus Brief stats:

We recently had about the highest-clicked story I recall seeing (at least in the past few years, the extent of my long-term memory) in the February 13 issue with Legacy magazine’s feature about dieting/obesity. It received 1,500+ unique clicks, which helped that issue reach a 7.4% click rate.

The February 20 issue achieved a 45% open rate (17,500 opens)—matching the all-time high percentage for Brief and putting it in the top five best-read issues in history (we’ve not yet cracked 18,000).

The open rate rose from 2009 (when we began tracking) until 2018, when the average fell from 44% to 42%. This could be from the increasing robustness of MyU, as well as greater engagement and crossover with social media.

Constant Contact