A lot of people, including myself, are using opens as one of the measures of engagement. This, as a general rule, is not a bad measure. However, there are people who will open email not because they’re interested in it, but because they know it is spam.
Take, for instance, the email address I acquired in 1993. Yes, I still have this address. I stopped using it to sign up for lists in 1999 and stopped using it for most of the rest of my mail around 2001. This address, though, is on any number of spam mailing lists. The spam that gets through is usually sent by hard-core spammers. The ISP that hosts that mailbox uses Communigate Pro to filter mail, so much of the casual spam is filtered.
Generally, if I open an email (and load images or click through) on that account it is only in order to track down a spammer. For instance, I’m getting a lot of spam there from affiliates offering me the opportunity to purchase printing services for a very low price. I have actually been opening the mail, and clicking through. But I’m not clicking through because I’m interested in purchasing. I’m clicking through to see if my reports to abuse@ printer are resulting in any action against the spammers. (They’re not).
The thing is, though, I know that by clicking through on ads, I’ve now been promoted by the spammer to the “clicks on emails! it’s a live address!” list. Which only means I’m going to get more spam from them. Lucky me.
Using clicks and opens as a measure of engagement isn’t necessarily bad. But when using them you have to understand the limitations of the measurement and that what you may think it’s telling you isn’t actually what it’s telling you.