Are you considering cold email outreach as a viable growth channel for your business? Is subpar email deliverability keeping you up at night? If so, you’ve come to the right place.

Getting good deliverability is critical to the success of any email campaign, no doubt. Yet, accurately tracking deliverability remains challenging due to limited data and reliance on metrics like open rates.

We can usually confirm an email has been sent and, with a bit of luck, receive a notification when it's opened (assuming the software can reliably distinguish humans from bots).

That said, our research found that the way open rates are viewed across many email platforms is deeply flawed for assessing deliverability.

In this post, we'll walk you through why open rates are an unreliable metric for deliverability in all email tools. We’ll also share how to use open rates, a more accurate way to track actual deliverability, and provide tips to help you optimize your cold outreach for better inbox placement.

The Issue With Open Rates as a Metric for Activity

The standard approach to assessing email deliverability through open rates is wildly inaccurate. To understand how we came to this conclusion, it’s important to take a step back to see the logic.

But first, a refresher:

  1. Open Rate: A key email metric that measures the percentage of recipients who opened your emails. Mathematically, open rates can be calculated as:

Open rate = (Number of Unique Opens / Total Emails Delivered - Bounces) x 100

2. Deliverability: A measure of whether your emails are successfully reaching your recipient's primary inboxes.

Traditionally, open rates have been used as a metric for activity (a measure of how many recipients are actually engaging with your emails) and, by extension, deliverability. But here's the thing: open rates don't actually tell you anything about deliverability.

If your goal is to understand how your audience is interacting with your content, the standard open rate tracking works fine. But if your goal is assessing deliverability, it falls short.

To accurately assess deliverability, you need to shift focus to the date your emails were delivered instead of the date they were opened. Doing this lets you uncover trends and patterns that reveal the true state of your deliverability. Let’s dive in deeper.

The Shortcomings of Open Rates as a Deliverability Metric

Open Rates as a Deliverability Metric

At face value, open rates seem like a good metric to gauge your cold email deliverability. After all, seeing your emails opened means recipients actually received them. But it's much more nuanced than that.

Most email platforms out there do on open rates to assess deliverability. This problem isn’t exclusive to cold outreach but the email marketing industry as a whole. 

However, it’s worth pointing out that QuickMail has always had separate deliverability reports generated from auto-warmer emails and similar resources. 

The issue is that open rates don't actually tell you when the email was delivered. They only tell you when it was opened. This creates a significant disconnect between open rates and true deliverability.

For instance, let's say we have a cold email campaign with the following results over a 4-week period:

TimelineEmails SentEmails DeliveredEmails Opened
Week 11,000900 (90% deliverability)450 (50% open rate)
Week 21,000850 (85% deliverability)400 (47.1% open rate)
Week 31,000750 (75% deliverability)375 (50% open rate)
Week 41,000680 (68% deliverability)340 (50% open rate)

If we looked at this campaign from the traditional open rate tracking perspective, the story would be relatively flat. The open rate hovers around 50% for the most part, with a slight dip in Week 2.

But when we shift our focus to deliverability-based metrics, a more concerning pattern emerges. Deliverability steadily declines from 90% in Week 1 to 68% by Week 4. This is a clear sign of growing deliverability issues that need to be addressed.

Imagine scaling this up to thousands of emails. You could have a campaign with seemingly stable open rates while major deliverability problems fly under the radar.

Long story short, the deliverability-focused approach lets you spot issues you wouldn't have noticed with the activity-based approach.

QuickMail's Deliverability-Focused Approach

At QuickMail, we recognized the shortcomings of the traditional open rate approach early on. That's why we've developed a deliverability-focused framework for tracking and optimizing cold email performance.

Still not clear on what we’re trying to convey? Let’s paint a picture.

Say you have a cold email campaign with three prospects. You send an email to the first prospect on Saturday, the second on Sunday, and the third on Monday.

The first two prospects opened their emails on Monday, but the third prospect never opened the email because it landed in their spam folder.

From an activity standpoint, Monday looks like a great day, with a 66.7% open rate (2 opens out of 3 emails sent). But from a deliverability standpoint, Saturday and Sunday were the real successes, with 100% of emails successfully reaching the inbox.

In other words, Monday was a deliverability disaster, with 0% of emails landing in the primary inbox. To put things in context, here’s how it plays out:

DaysActivity-based calculation (Other Software)Deliverability-based calculation (QuickMail’s approach)
Saturday0% activity (no one opened your email)100% deliverability (1 email sent, 1 confirmed received)
Sunday0% activity (no one opened your email)100% deliverability (1 email sent, 1 confirmed received)
Monday66.67% activity (2 opens out of 3 prospects contacted)0% deliverability (1 email sent, 0 confirmed received)

It may seem counterintuitive to record a 0% open rate despite the recipient eventually opening the email. But this is the correct way to look at it from a deliverability standpoint,

Focusing on when the email is delivered rather than when it's opened is the most accurate picture of deliverability. Do it right, and you can unearth issues happening behind the scenes and fix them before they escalate.

This may include:

  1. Dealing with blacklisting issues

  2. Adjusting your sending domains

  3. Revamping your subject lines and content strategy

  4. Authenticating your SPF, DKIM, and DMARC records

At the end of the day, the deliverability-based approach lets you dig deeper to get to the heart of what really matters for your cold outreach success.

Actionable Tips for Tracking True Deliverability Metrics

Are you ready to ditch the activity-based approach and focus on true deliverability? Here are some actionable tips to get you started:

Attribute Opens to Delivery Date, Not Open Date

As we've discussed, the key to getting effective outreach results is to attribute opens to the date the email was delivered, not the date it was opened. This gives you a much clearer picture of how your deliverability performs over time.

At QuickMail, we've applied this approach across all our advanced analytics reporting. But there's an extra bonus.

We don’t just track opens but also clicks, responses, bounces, and unsubscribes – all attributed to the day of delivery rather than engagement. Plus, we offer two levels for navigating this: per sent email and per journey.

Here’s an example of how it looks:

advanced analytics - open rates

Consider Analyzing Deliverability on a Daily Basis

While weekly or monthly reporting can be useful, daily reporting is a more hands-on approach. This way, you can pinpoint the exact day deliverability issues emerge, making it easier to fix the underlying causes.

Again, QuickMail's reporting does this automatically, giving you a granular view of your deliverability performance on a day-by-day basis.

Monitor Trends Over Time

Deliverability is not a static metric. It constantly changes depending on factors like blacklisting, spam filter updates, and changes to your email strategy.

That's why it's so important to monitor deliverability trends over an extended period of time. Look for patterns and shifts that could signal emerging issues, and use this data to inform your optimization efforts.

Investigate Deliverability Drops

When you notice significant drop in your email deliverability, don't just shrug it off. Instead, dig deeper to uncover the root cause.

Sudden dips can indicate issues with a specific email provider, a compromised sending domain, or content that triggers spam filters. Tackling these issues early on helps you pinpoint the issue and take corrective action.

Optimize for Inbox Placement, Not Just Opens

Far too many marketers get a kick out of seeing higher opens even when it does nothing for their long-term success. And that’s why open rates are widely seen as vanity metrics.

It’s a far more effective use of your time to shift from scaling open rates toward improving overall inbox placement. This typically involves:

  • A/B testing your email outreach

  • Tweaking your email content and style

  • Segmenting your email list for higher relevancy

  • Monitoring and managing your sender reputation

The goal is to ensure your emails are consistently reaching your audience's primary inboxes, not their junk or promotions folders.

Use Automation and Advanced Analytics

Manually tracking deliverability can be time-consuming. Not to mention, it’s highly prone to errors. That's why it's a smart move to use automation and advanced analytics tools like QuickMail.

Our platform automatically tracks and reports on a wide range of deliverability-focused metrics to set your cold outreach game apart. You get far better insights and more time to focus on driving outcomes rather than getting bogged down in data analysis.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is QuickMail's approach to open rates different from the industry standard?

The traditional way of looking at open rates sees them as a measure of activity. However, this is the wrong way to view things when it comes to deliverability.

At QuickMail, we focus on confirming email delivery on the day it was sent, not the date it was opened. This provides a much clearer picture of your true inbox placement.

Why should I care more about deliverability than open rates?

Open rates might look good on the surface, but they don't tell you anything about whether your emails are actually reaching your audience's inboxes.

Deliverability is the foundation of effective cold email outreach. If your messages aren't getting delivered, everything else is irrelevant. By optimizing for deliverability, you can unlock far better long-term results.

How can I start tracking deliverability-focused metrics today?

The key is to shift your mindset from "open rate as a proxy for activity" towards "open rate as a proxy for deliverability."

Start by attributing opens, clicks, replies, and other engagement metrics to the date of delivery, not the date of interaction. This gives you a much more accurate view of how your campaigns are performing in the inbox.

What tool can help me implement a deliverability-first approach?

QuickMail's advanced analytics dashboard is designed from the ground up to give you a deliverability-focused view of your cold email performance.

Just a few of what we offer includes:

  • Smart recommendations and email templates

  • Granular week-over-week deliverability tracking

  • Send-day attribution to monitor opens and engagement week over week

  • Trend and sentiment analysis to learn how recipients feel about your emails

Whatever you need, QuickMail is designed to make your cold outreach journey a breeze.

How often should I be monitoring my deliverability metrics?

Deliverability can fluctuate rapidly, so staying on top of the data everyday is crucial. At QuickMail, we give you that level of granularity, allowing you to pinpoint exactly when deliverability starts to drop so you can take swift action.

What should I do if I notice a sudden dip in deliverability?

Stay calm, but also don't ignore it. Check your data to find out the root cause and ask yourself relevant questions:

  1. Are you seeing more bounces?

  2. Have your opens or click-throughs dropped?

  3. Has your domain or IP reputation taken a nosedive?

Once you know where things went wrong, you can take steps to fix it.

Take Your Cold Email Deliverability to the Next Level with QuickMail

Open rates have long been the go-to metric for measuring cold email activity. But as we've learned in this article, when measured by activity they're a flawed proxy for true deliverability.

Shifting your focus to a deliverability-based approach takes you to a new level of cold email performance. And that's precisely what QuickMail is designed to help you achieve.

Our advanced analytics and deliverability tools are specifically engineered to help you:

  • Track and assess deliverability on a weekly basis

  • Learn of deliverability issues before they spiral out of control

  • Boost inbox placement for higher engagement and conversions

  • Test and refine your email content, sender reputation, and delivery tactics

Ready to start driving real, sustainable results from your cold email campaigns? Start your free QuickMail trial today and experience the impact of deliverability-focused outreach.