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10 ways to improve your email open rates

Increase email open rates
1Get the subject line right
2Avoid ending up in the spam folder
3Use the appropriate opt-in method
4Don’t buy email lists
5Set clear expectations
6Be timely
7Be human
8Add some humor to your emails
9Segment your list
10Keep your list fresh
Final thoughts

Are you tired of sending out email marketing campaigns that your subscribers aren’t opening? You’re not alone. With email inboxes busier than ever, getting your emails opened is one of the most common problems faced in digital marketing.

The number of subscribers who open your emails will differ depending on many factors, but there are lots of things you can do to increase your numbers. If you’re constantly asking yourself how you could increase email open rates, this article could help.

Here are 10 effective ways to increase email open rates.

1. Get the subject line right

Subject lines are more important than many businesses realize. You don’t have to fool anyone about what’s inside to get subscribers to click open and, in fact, you shouldn’t. The best email subject lines simply tell customers what to expect. Be honest about what readers will find when they open your emails and you’re more likely to see higher open rates over time.

That’s not to say that a perfect subject line has to be boring or lack creativity. Fun and intriguing subject lines can entice opens too, as well as those which use emojis. The key is to make sure your email’s content doesn’t disappoint.

Here are some basic rules to follow:

  • Keep your email subject lines simple. The less complex and more direct, the better.

  • Don’t use CAPITAL LETTERS and/or lots of punctuation!!! These can be perceived as email spam words which can negatively impact opens, or worse, cause your emails to get flagged as spam.

  • Be transparent. Include a clear sender name (e.g. your company name) and tell your users what your email is about (which also helps you avoid spam filters)

  • Be personal. Personalized subject lines grab the reader’s attention. Including the recipient’s name in the subject line and personalizing emails with relevant information may increase the likelihood of the email being opened.

  • Dont use buzzwords. Relying on overused buzzwords like “free”, “help”, “reminder”, etc. could decrease your email open rates as they may be perceived as spammy.

  • Offer relevant incentives. Do strategically offer freebies, discounts or other incentives when it’s relevant (e.g. during holidays) or targeted (e.g. sending special offers to VIP customers).

  • Dont forget to A/B test. Look at open rates for different subject lines and compare results, then optimize your email campaigns accordingly.

  • Be mobile-friendly. Ensure your subject lines and email content can be read on any mobile device. Make mobile emails short and to the point (under 50 characters).

2. Avoid ending up in the spam folder

According to research by ReturnPath, the average inbox placement rate is 83%, meaning one out of every six messages fails to reach the inbox. If you simply follow the rules for email best practices, it’s not that hard to improve your email deliverability and stay out of your customers’ spam folders.

Most spam filters will automatically send sketchy-looking email templates directly to the spam folder. The criteria for spam is set by a variety of rules, such as suspicious formatting (make sure you optimize your emails for all devices and email service providers), image-to-text ratio, missing critical information ( like an email unsubscribe link) and incorrect code. The evaluation of all of these factors results in an overall spam score. If your email score is higher than the acceptable score, then ESPs will flag it as spam and you’ll likely experience email bounces

Another way to increase your email open rate is to use personalized metadata. Spam filters are more likely to let your emails through if you appear to have a personal connection with the recipient. Use merge tags to include the recipient’s name in the subject line, and don’t forget to ask readers to add your email to their address book. Overall, it’s important to be as consistent and genuine as possible to avoid the dreaded spam folder.

There are tools that can scan your email before it’s sent to determine if it’s spammy, which will also tell you the risk of it ending up in the spam folder. ISnotSPAM, mail-tester and Postmark are just a few examples of such tools.

Email open rates spam

3. Use the appropriate opt-in method

Popular email providers strongly recommend the use of the double opt-in method from your very first email, as it requires subscribers to consciously confirm that they want to receive information from you. Plus, it also gives you a written trail of proof that the recipient willingly subscribed and keeps you on the right side of the law when it comes to the US CAN-SPAM Act and Europe’s GDPR compliance.

If you feel that the double opt-in method isn’t right for your audience, there are a variety of other options that can work with a single opt-in. However, it’s important to ensure that whatever opt-in method you use makes it clear to the user how their email address is used. Automated transactional emails like thank you emails are another great way to remind recipients that they’ve just signed up to receive additional communications from you.

4. Don’t buy email lists

Most email service providers (Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook etc.) don’t allow the use of purchased or rented email lists. That’s for the best, given that it’s impossible to know if the people on the email list you buy emails from have expressly opted in. If not, you could be breaking the law.

Additionally the chances that a good email will end up in a spam folder are much higher as they could result in spam complaints or your emails getting reported as abuse.

Bounce rates tend to be higher in these situations, too, and low open rates are common. A better way to grow your email list is by using genuine marketing strategies to acquire engaged subscribers.

If you do want to leverage third party email lists, you can form partnerships with other brands or influencers to get your message in front of a wider audience. This way, you’re essentially renting an email list for a specific purpose, which is entirely above board.

Email open rates lists

5. Set clear expectations

When email subscribers sign up to receive your communications, it’s important to be clear about what you’ll be sending them. If people subscribe to a newsletter and then receive coupons or other ecommerce promotions instead, they may lose trust and choose to ignore your emails or unsubscribe from your list.

Honesty is the best policy for every email marketing strategy as it helps you build trust, which works to increase click-through rates and conversion rates.

If you decide along the way that you want to send out additional types of emails and content, you can simply let existing subscribers know what’s changing and why and ask them if they’d like to sign up.

6. Be timely

One of the most important factors in getting the highest open rates is timeliness. If a subscriber signs up for a newsletter in January, then doesn’t receive anything from you until July, your open rates aren’t likely to be high.

Instead, consider sending automated welcome emails saying, “Thank you for subscribing” and follow-ups such as a “Here‘s what to expect” shortly (if not immediately) after they’ve subscribed.

Going forward, be sure to commit to a set schedule for a certain number of emails, then stick to it. Find the best days and best time of day to send emails to your audience (taking time zones into account), then use automation to send different types of emails at those times. When in doubt, you can always send a reminder email to check on your subscribers and see if they’re still interested in hearing from you as often, or at all. This is great for reengagement, especially for small businesses.

7. Be human

The first thing recipients do when deciding whether or not to open emails is to determine if they have a personal connection with the sender. Spam filters are more likely than not to see an email from a company as unsolicited advertising, which could disrupt delivery.

If your emails look like they’re coming from a person rather than a company, they have a better chance of being opened, which signals to spam filters that your emails are legitimate and credible.

8. Add some humor to your emails

If you’re still looking for ways to improve email open rates, consider your tone of voice. When you write emails as if you’re talking to your best friend, you create a more personal dialogue.

Look to social media for email and content marketing inspiration. Adding a bit of humor to the mix will make your emails even more personalized and the reading experience more pleasurable.

Also, don’t be afraid to play around with the actual words you use. Using the same language that your audience does (otherwise known as voice of customer) helps you appear more relatable, which could increase your open rates.

9. Segment your list

If you want to increase your open rates, it’s important to get a good understanding of the subscriber you’re writing to.

Not only will this have a positive effect on your subject lines but also in the engagement levels.

How to segment your list

In order to increase your email open rate, you may want to segment your list of subscribers so that you’re targeting specific audiences.

One way to do this is to add tags based on their behavior, such as purchase behavior. For example, if one of your subscribers turns into a paid customer, the emails they receive should be different from those you send to potential customers.

You could get even more specific and send out different emails based on demographics, interests or the kind of product your subscriber purchased.

10. Keep your list fresh

Over time, a number of people on your contact list will stop reading or engaging with your emails. They may have lost interest in a specific topic or changed their email address. Naturally, this will have a negative impact on your average email open rates.

Therefore, in order to increase your email open rate and other marketing metrics, periodically remove inactive subscribers from your mailing list. This email list hygiene tactic will help improve your email health, which works to improve deliverability.

Start by checking in with subscribers who have not engaged with any of your emails for at least six months. If they reply, try to reengage them. If they do not reply to the ongoing reengagement campaign, remove them from your list. This way, your open rate benchmarks will be more achievable and your email campaigns will focus only on those people that appreciate and engage with the content of your emails.

Final thoughts

The average open rate across all industries was 21.5% in 2021, according to research by Campaign Monitor. To get yours inline or above that, let’s do a quick recap.

To increase email open rates, the first place to start is with a great subject line, then be sure to follow best practices to avoid the spam filter.

Never buy lists and always apply the appropriate opt-in methods based on your target audience.

From there, it’s all about being honest and human with your subscribers and delivering timely and relevant information on a consistent basis.

Driving business growth