It is a fact universally acknowledged that the internet has no shortage of posts on how to increase the open rate on your emails.
However! You are probably not helped very much by advice like “create quality content” and “avoid spam filters”. I would like to assume you are not part of the content farming industry or unaware of the fact that low quality leads to low open rates.
So, I present to you …
A handy list of 12 tips for increasing your email open rate, based on the emails I deleted from my inbox today.
They may not all apply to you.
But at least a few might.
Let's see what happens, shall we?
1. Would YOU open an email with your subject line?
Go pull up the subject lines of the last 10 emails you sent. Take a look at them, all in a row. (Bonus points if you write them out by hand so you can see them in a list.)
Now pretend these emails came from someone else, and they landed in YOUR inbox on a busy Monday morning. How many of them would you actually open?
For every email you wouldn't open, ask yourself why. That's the first step in figuring out what to change.
2. Is there anything remotely timely about your subject line?
Timeliness in email subject lines isn't required 100% of the time – you can't always say “3 Day Sale! Spend all your money now!”
But if you look at timely as also meaning “interesting enough to merit opening right now”, your options expand. Note the use of the word “today” in the title of this piece. Encouraging people to view your email as relevant now, as opposed to in general, can help.
3. Are you hurting yourself in the snippet?
The snippet is the portion of your email that shows as a preview in whatever email client people are using. If you've never checked it (or checked it on multiple email clients), you may be in for a surprise.
The number of emails I receive that have “Click here to unsubscribe” or “Click here for images” or simply shows the business name, address and phone number is significant. Check to see if something like this is happening to you.
4. Are you doing anything interesting in the snippet?
Provided you're not doing anything embarrassing in the snippet, check to see if whatever text is visible in the email preview has a snowball's chance in hell of generating enough interest to get someone to open the email. If your opening is interesting, your odds of the open go up.
You can't always make it interesting. But you can likely pull it off more often than not. In lieu of good ideas, “Hi, [Name]” is better than absolutely nothing.
5. Does your sender name do you any favors?
This won't apply to everyone, but it might apply to you. If your sender name is not your personal name, and it happens to be boring, that could be part of your problem.
This usually happens when neither the business name or a personal name is used. I see this happen a lot with “Team”, as in the emails I've received from “Team Tony Robbins.” It might sound cute in the marketing meeting, but ask yourself if your readers will find it as cute – or if it just sounds generic and boring.
6. Are you overusing personalization?
There are some cases in which including the recipient's name in the subject line will increase open rate. But it isn't a guarantee.
The trick is to look at any use of personalization and ask yourself if it sounds forced, robotic or like an automated email. You know that physical junk mail you get that says “Special offer for Joe” and you can tell that the word “Joe” looks like it was printed with a different ink than the rest of the sentence? That's what happens when personalization is overused in emails.
I'm not pro-personalization or against it. But you do want to at least check to see if you, were you to receive the email that you are sending, would be more compelled to notice and then open the email based on the use of personalized fields.
7. Does your subject line create an expectation of anything?
You want your subscribers to open your emails. Key to that is making them want it, too. And for them to be in the wanting space, there must be an object of wanting. A promise. A tease. A spark of curiosity. Some kind of open loop.
That doesn't mean it has to be salacious (though it can be). You don't have to promise the story of the century. But when you want someone to open a piece of mail, you generally do it by clearly describing what might be inside. Even if it's as simple as “A little story I'd like to share with you.”
8. Have you remotely tested time of day?
There is no such thing as a universally perfect time of day to send emails. Yes, you will see studies that say “We surveyed 100 businesses and they said these times of day are the best!”
What they mean is that those times were the best for THEM.
Your business is unique, and your audience is unique. What works for Target, CitiCorp and a food truck in Portland may not work for you. If your open rate isn't looking so hot, you might want to test alternate times to mail.
9. Have you done any list culling whatsoever?
Many, many people believe their open rate goes down over time because fewer people are opening their emails. That may indeed be the case.
However, you may have the same number of people opening your emails – or even more – than you did a year ago. You may also have a whack ton of dead email addresses on your list.
Email addresses can be dead for a host of reasons. Abandoned accounts. People who have multiple email accounts and only check one. Mail filters that hide your messages from the world. Odds are, a handful of the people that got on your email list 3 years ago are actually dead. Those email addresses skew your numbers.
Your open rate is determined by the number of names PRESENT on your list, not the number of people who actually saw the email in your inbox.
Cull the dead names from your list, and you might double your open rate right there.
10. Have you briefly considered mobile?
Despite popular opinion, there are a significant number of people who do NOT use mobile as their primary way to read email. (Also, many people still read books and buy them at a bookstore. Imagine that! Reading – without a device!)
You will receive advice saying you HAVE TO HAVE TO HAVE TO make your subject lines short enough to be read on mobile, no exceptions. That is bad advice, because it is of the “always/never” variety.
Yes, consider if your subject lines look useless on mobile. (Many “too long” subject lines are plenty readable enough to get an open on mobile.)
But we're not talking about optimization. We're talking about if it's a disaster. If your average subject line is “[LIST NAME] A special message just for you from our esteemed CEO”, then yes, losing half of that is just not going to leave anything that looks compelling.
But if it's “A little story I'd like to share with you – I hope you like it”, there's enough context and curiosity in the first half to let you survive.
Sure, optimize for mobile if you want. But check to see if it's a disaster first.
11. Would YOU read your emails to the end?
Here's a little secret that I've talked about before, so don't tell anyone. The sender field is more important than the subject line.
In other words, if people LIKE your emails, they will open them because YOU sent them. Just like there are some people whose phone calls you will always take, even on a busy day.
Note that I'm saying they have to like your emails, not you. Many of your subscribers could care less if you die in a gutter, but if they like reading your emails, they always open unless something comes up.
Read your last 10 emails. If you wouldn't want to read them to the end – if you don't think that they're worth reading, that's affecting your open rate more than just about anything else. People recognize patterns.
12. Are you delivering a consistent experience?
And speaking of patterns! This is where we wrap it up.
Your emails cannot all be home runs. You cannot write the best email ever, every time.
But you can write consistently satisfying emails. They're like pizza. Even when it's not great, it's still pretty good.
People begin making associations based on the last cluster of data points they have. If more than a few emails in a row fall flat, they start thinking your emails are a waste of time.
It is my personal recommendation that if you cannot deliver a consistently good email on a regular basis, then put off mailing until you can. This can have consequences, yes. But so can delivering lousy pizza. It only take two or three before people give up on you.
The good news is that if you keep up the good work, then people are happy when you come back. Their last data points are good ones. And that keeps them ready to open the next time.
That should get your email open rate up. At least for starters.
Remember the pizza.
You don't have to get it perfect, ever. Many pizza shops with average pizza do just fine.
But just check to make sure you're not royally screwing up any of the fundamentals, ok?