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How to improve email open rates

6 minute read

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A study published earlier this month by The Radicati Group revealed that a staggering 269 billion emails are sent globally every single day. This equates to an impressive 2.4 million emails a second and a mind-blowing 74 trillion a year.

Armed with these statistics, you’d be forgiven for thinking that perhaps email marketing is just too competitive to be worth your while. Believe it or not however, emails still boast one of the highest engagement rates and returns on investment compared to other marketing strategies.

Naturally however, your campaigns are only going to be a success if people open them. So how do you ensure this happens?

Create an engaging subject line

The first (and possibly only) opportunity you have to convince your recipients to open your email is with your subject line. This is the very thing that’s going to make your communication stand out from the dozens of others in their inbox.

A few pointers to remember when writing good subject lines include:

  • Keep it short. A report carried out by Retention Science found that subject lines with between six and 10 words enjoy the highest open rates.
  • Make it personal. Subject lines which have been personalised to include the recipients’ name can increase open rates by 20%.
  • Use A/B testing. Send out your email using two different variations of your subject line and see which your audience responds to the best. This will help you to come up with more successful subject lines for future campaigns.
  • Ask a question. This is a great way to make a more personal connection with those who are viewing your emails. For example, rather than ‘Try our Daily Energiser Wake-Up Booster’ use ‘Have you tried our Daily Energiser Wake-Up Booster yet?’ This makes people feel like you’re talking directly to them and almost makes them feel like they’re missing out by not trying your product.
  • In the right situation, it can pay to be a bit more direct. For example, ‘Hurry! Our sale ends in 12 hours.’
  • A teaser will often get the better of people and they won’t be able to resist opening your email. For example, ‘Which irresistible dessert have we just added to our menu?’
  • Announcements are great if your audience is familiar with your brand. Have you launched a new product or service? Is there a new member of the team? Have you just won an award? This is exactly the type of thing your audience wants to hear about so make sure you shout about it in your subject line.

Write to just one person

We mentioned above how much more successful an email with a personalised subject line can be. Now you can take things a step further and make your entire communication sound like it has been written directly to the person reading it.

Use the recipients’ name in the subject line and in your opening, and when writing your main body of text, imagine you’re writing to just one person. Not only can this work wonders for boosting open and engagement rates, this level of focus and familiarity will really help to engage your readers and keep them opening future messages.

Some great ways to ensure your emails are as personalised as possible include:

  • Create customer personas. Before writing your email, think about who your subscribers are. What do they do for a living? Are they male or female? How old are they? Where do they live? What’s their buyer behaviour? What interactions have they had with you in the past? Knowing this information will help you to personalise your content so you’re only sending your readers information which will appeal to them. For example, you’re unlikely to get an 18-year-old interested in reading an email about pensions.
  • Segment your mailing list. Split your subscribers into different groups and tailor your emails accordingly. For example, if you offer flood defence barriers and you send an email to customers living in high-risk areas, chances are you’re going to enjoy a good open rate because what you’re offering will resonate with them. If you send the same email to people who live in areas which are very rarely, if ever affected by flooding, it will probably sit in their inbox unopened because there’s no reason for them to be interested in it.

Write good quality content

If customers come to expect interesting, engaging and informative emails from you, your open rates will skyrocket. If, on the other hand, you only ever send out promotions or information they can easily find elsewhere, your communications are likely to end up in their trash folder, unopened.

An important thing to remember with email marketing is not to send something out just because you think you should. You’re much better off sending high-quality emails less often than mediocre emails regularly.

How do you create great quality content that your subscribers will look forward to reading?

  • Offer something of value. Even if you can’t put something together yourself, link to a valuable resource such as a free eBook, a really great blog post or a helpful webinar.
  • Use your customer personas and segmented mailing lists to target your emails to customers’ specific needs and interests.
  • Target specific campaigns to different audiences. For example, the types of emails you’re sending to cold leads should be very different to what you’re sending to those who have been loyal customers for years.
  • Keep it short and sweet. People won’t read a text-heavy email so keep it short and if you have lots to say, direct them to a landing page on your website where they can find more information. Your email should simply highlight the main points of what you’re trying to say.
  • Make your message scannable. Break up text with images, headlines, subheads and bulleted lists. Small bites of information will allow subscribers to quickly read and grasp your main message.
  • Make it about your customer. Try to avoid using ‘I,’ ‘me,’ ‘we’ and ‘us’ excessively. Be more customer-centric by using the word ‘you.’
  • Think about what’s in it for your customer. Talk about the benefits that your product or service can offer rather than simply listing the features.
  • Make sure the content in your email is relevant to your subject line. If you trick people into opening your email, they won’t trust you enough to open future communications.
  • Don’t clutter your emails with multiple messages. Focus on one goal per email and direct all your calls to action in that communication to the same place.

Send your message at the right time

There are certain times of the day your recipients are more likely to open and read your emails. With this in mind, it’s important to be certain that you’re sending your communications out at the best time for your message, audience and intent.

There are two ways you can find this out:

1. Industry research. Emails which are sent on certain days of the week consistently get higher open rates:

  • Research from CoSchedule found that Tuesday is hands down the best day to send out emails, followed by Thursdays.
  • GetResponse found that peak inbox activity happens on Thursdays, followed by Wednesdays.
  • MailChimp reports high open rates on Thursdays, with a second peak on Tuesdays.
  • MailerMailer found Tuesdays win for opens with Wednesday coming in at a close second.
  • As you can see, the data does vary so it’s wise to use this information as a starting point and then do your own research so your findings are tailored to your own business.
  • What about the best time of day to send your emails? While people were found to check their email first thing in the morning, they’re less likely to click or reply at this time (probably because they have a quick look before getting out of bed). One study shows that the highest click rates come from communications sent out at 12am or overnight. This is more than likely because your email will be top of the list when people check in the morning. It was found that there tends to be another surge in open rates at 6pm which is probably because people have either finished work or are commuting home.

2. Test it yourself. 

Segment your list into two or three equally sized groups and send the same copy of your email at different times of the day. Keep doing this for a few mailings and you will more than likely start to notice a pattern of what time of day gets you the best open rates.  Although this method is more time consuming and it could even take months to work out your optimal time, it’s by far the most accurate indication of what’s going to work for you.

Avoid spam filters

If you’re doing all the right things and you’re still getting low open rates, it could be that people aren’t receiving your emails in the first place.

Email filters are becoming increasingly sophisticated which means that your communications could be going straight into people’s junk folder. To avoid this happening, try to remember the following:

  • Make sure your recipients have actually opted-in to receive your emails.
  • Don’t excessively use salesy words such as ‘free,’ ‘rich,’ ‘clearance,’ ‘sale,’ ‘discount,’ ‘buy’ and ‘deal’ in your subject line and don’t use capital letters.
  • Send your campaign from a good IP address (not one which has been used by spammers in the past.)
  • Limit the number of links you put in your email.
  • Check your ‘from name.’ If it’s not a name your subscribers recognise, they could put your email straight into their junk folder. If possible, use an email address with your company’s name in it as this will help people to identify that you’re a genuine sender.
  • Ask your subscribers to add you to their address book so their email provider recognises you.

Just like any other marketing channel, it will take time to perfect your email campaigns and get those open rates to where they should be. This helpful guide from MailChimp will tell you what your open rates should be based on your industry’s average. This is a fantastic way to benchmark how you should be performing and how you can improve. Good luck and if you need any further advice, here’s plenty of email-related blogs to keep you going.

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After completing her degree in Journalism, Monique began her career at a digital marketing agency. It was here she discovered a passion for online marketing with a particular focus on content creation for the web. Six years ago Monique set up her own copywriting business, Copyworks Group, which specialises in creating content for websites, blogs, newsletters and social media pages.

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