Email marketing is an indispensable tool for generating conversions and engaging your audience — but only if you know how to do it right.
Yet too many marketers struggle to optimize their email strategies. As MailChimp found, the average email open rate for most industries is in the 20% range. Meaning less than a quarter of all subscribers are actually opening those emails that marketers work so hard to produce.
Those stats make it seem like email marketers are doomed to fail. After all, you need to get someone to open your email before they can even read it, consume your messaging, and consider clicking on your call to action.
That’s why we’re outlining 15 strategies you can use right now to increase your email open rate.
1. Send From a Person, Not a Brand
Which one of these senders would you be more likely to open an email from?
- Suite Software Company
- Sarah Smith
You probably picked option 2. Why? Because it’s more personal.
HubSpot even ran a test to see how a generic “HubSpot” sender name fared against the actual name of a person from the marketing team. They found that the email from the company saw an open rate of 6.57% and the email from the person saw a 7.10% open rate.
“Our conclusion after conducting this A/B test was that emails sent by a real person are more likely to be clicked on than emails sent from a company name,” HubSpot wrote. “On your next email send, try changing out your sender name from your company name to your personal name.”
2. Use Personal Terms
Real names aren’t the only way to personalize your emails. You can also add personalized terms to your subject lines. In fact, emails with personalized subject lines are 20% more likely to be opened than those without.
For instance, you can add personalization tags that add the person’s name or location into the subject line.
MarketingSherpa tested this with two different email subject lines:
- “Email Marketing Advice From 2 Guys (Who Know What They’re Doing)”
- “[First Name], Email Marketing Advice From 2 Guys (Who Know What They’re Doing)”
They found that the emails with personalized subject lines (2) drove a 17.36% higher clickthrough rate than those without.
You can also use personalized terms like “you” and “your” to talk directly to your customers and earn their attention, as in this subject line from Writer’s Digest.
3. Create a Sense of Urgency
There are over 260 billion emails sent per day. To make your emails stand out among the noise, it’s important to create a sense of urgency. Tell your readers why they should open your email right now, as opposed to shoving it into a folder and checking it later — or, of course, forgetting about it.
For instance, you can let them know that your special offer is ending soon or that they have one day left to take advantage of a certain deal.
As Buffer found, these are the ultimate list of words and phrases that convert people from readers to customers.
4. Incorporate Numbered Lists
Just as with article headlines, numbers can go a long way in generating clicks and engagement from your readers. According to Moz, numbered headlines resonate more than any other type of headline, including how-to and questions.
For one, they tell readers exactly what they’re in for: a list of helpful or at least entertaining information. And they know exactly how much information they’re getting, and can estimate how long it might take to consume this information.
All of these factors contribute to enticing people to read and click, as in this subject line from Simply Measured.
Going further, odd numbers actually drive more engagement than even numbers. So if you’re deciding between “6 New Offers That Will Make Your Wallet Happy” and “7 New Offers That Will Make Your Wallet Happy,” it might be best to choose the latter.
5. Leave Out “Spammy” Words
For an email marketer, there’s nothing worse than spending hours crafting the perfect message only to have it end up in someone’s spam folder.
Avoid this mishap by cutting words that are likely to trigger spam filters. These words include:
- Percent Off
For more, check out this ultimate list of email spam trigger words.
The old subject line tester is effective and still used by many.
6. Keep Your Subject Line Short
On both desktop and mobile, your subject lines will get cut off after a certain point. If you want readers to be able to see your whole teaser in one glance, be sure not to make it too wordy.
According to a study from Return Path, 65 characters is the sweet spot. Subject lines with 61-70 characters are read more than subject lines with other character counts. However, it seems most marketers create subject lines with 41-50 characters.
You can use this handy chart to see how many characters will display across different email platforms.
7. Refresh Your Subscriber List
You can’t always blame a poor open rate on your subject line or sender name. Sometimes, people don’t open your emails because they just aren’t interested in your message anymore. That’s why it’s important to refresh your list and make sure it contains high-quality leads.
You can do this by removing inactive subscribers (people who haven’t engaged with an email in the last six months or year). Before you cut anyone, you can also send a check-in email to make sure that they’re still interested or that they haven’t changed their information. That’s what Network After Work did with this email, for example.
Give readers the choice to stay opted in or unsubscribe. This will help you keep your list clean and show your audience that you care about their perspective.
8. Segment Your Audience
Each email subscriber isn’t exactly alike. Some may prefer different types of emails, messaging, and offers. To deliver the most personalized and relevant content possible, you’ll have to segment your subscriber list.
According to Lyris, 39% of marketers who segmented their lists saw higher open rates, 28% saw lower unsubscribe rates, and 24% saw greater revenue.
Consider segmenting your lists by some of these criteria:
- Purchase behavior: people who haven’t made a purchase, people who have made a purchase, people who have made multiple purchases
- Demographics: age, gender, location, interests
- Product categories: shoes, handbags, jewelry, dresses
- Email activity: mobile users, desktop users, people who open emails often, people who haven’t engaged with your emails
Once you divide your list, you can craft customized email content and subject lines for each segment, increasing the chance that targeted readers will be interested in what you have to say.
9. Distribute at the Right Time
Audiences are more receptive to receiving emails at certain times of the day and on certain days of the week. If you reach people in the middle of their workday, for instance, they might be too busy to read your message, and simply discard it. If you reach people when they’re just getting up and taking in new information, you might harness the perfect opportunity to grab their attention.
According to MailChimp’s data, it’s best to send emails on weekdays as opposed to weekends. While no single day won, there are slight peaks on Tuesday and Thursday.
They also found that it’s best to send emails at 10:00 AM in the recipient’s timezone.
Still, every audience is different. That’s why it can help to A/B test two or three times, and see which segments generate the most opens and clicks.
10. Tell Readers What to Expect
Will you send emails every day, once a week, or twice a month? Let your subscribers know. This helps them anticipate your correspondence, and it can decrease the chance that they’ll ignore your messages.
For example, if you promise to email people twice a month but you actually pummel them with emails every day, they’ll probably just become frustrated and delete your messages. On the other hand, if you tell them what to expect up front, they may be more open to reading your messages when they arrive.
You can include this information in your confirmation email or on your sign-up form, like Brit + Co does:
11. Ask for a Double Opt-In
Ensure that your subscriber list is full of high-quality leads by adding another step to the sign-up process.
This is often just a simple confirmation via email. For example, someone will sign up for your newsletter on your website. They enter their email and click “Submit.” Here’s the second step: They then receive an email asking them to confirm their decision and information.
This will help you weed out people who aren’t really interested in your content, and it will help ensure that you have their correct name and email address. It may slim down your subscriber list, but it can also increase your open rate because you’ll only be reaching people who truly want to hear what you have to say.
12. Build Email Sequences
Instead of sending a series of disjointed emails, try building a sequence of emails that build on each other.
For example, Brennan Dunn of DoubleYourFreelancing.com created an email sequence of contiguous lessons for his readers. Each day, they knew to expect the next lesson, and for it to piggyback on the one that came before.
You can also create an autoresponder sequence so after someone opens email #1, they’ll automatically be send email #2, and so on.
13. Survey Your Audience
How much do you know about the people on your email list? The easiest way to find out about their interests and behaviors is to ask them.
Consider sending a simple, easy-to-use survey to your subscribers, with multiple-choice questions like:
- How often do you want to receive emails?
- What topics would you like us to cover in our emails?
- How can we make our emails more valuable to you?
Don’t forget to make it enticing for them to participate by offering an incentive like a coupon, discount, or gift card.
14. Optimize for Mobile
If you know that most of your readers check their email on mobile, you’re not alone. And you’ll want to consider trimming your subject lines, as many mobile email platforms cut them off after 20-25 characters.
In this inbox, for instance, sender names, subject lines, and descriptions all get cut off. Sure, readers can click to learn more. But brands can also optimize this content by shortening it and packing it with action words.
15. Try Again
If at first you don’t succeed, try again. That’s where the double-open method — coined by Noah Kagan — comes in. It’s simple: After one week, re-send your email to people who didn’t open it the first time. When Kagan tested this strategy, he saw an 11% increase in his open rates.
All he did was change the subject line and send it again, and it paid off in over 7,000 new email sign-ups.
Email marketing is one of the most promising strategies available, but it’s also one of the toughest to master. People’s inboxes get flooded every day with messages from friends, family, colleagues, bosses, and, of course, brands.
You just have to figure out how to stand out from the crowd and grab their attention. And it starts with enticing readers to open your email.
Personalize your subject lines, reach people at the right times, optimize for mobile, and segment your audiences. With these strategies at your fingertips, you’ll be primed to win readers over and keep them anticipating your next email.