If you’ve ever sent an email campaign, you know ‘the fear’ of pressing the ‘send’ button.
You’re about to send thousands of emails out there, but will anyone open them?
According to a recent report, the average email open rate is 22.87%. But it’s possible to get this much higher with a few clever tricks and tweaks.
Here are the results of a campaign I recently ran for a client in the music industry that got a 40.7% open rate:
That’s more than double the industry average. It was the culmination of lots of trial and error, but I did it by using most of these 19 tips. They are tried and tested.
By the end of this article, you’ll have all the tricks you need to boost your open rate too.
Just think, if you’ve got 2,000 subscribers, like my client did on the list above, and increase your open rate by 5%, that’s 50 more potential customers.
Tip: This is the fourth article in my definitive email marketing series, so if you’ve missed the previous parts, check them out here:
Let’s jump straight in:
Part I: Subscribers
Before we start tweaking subject lines or timing the deliveries, the first step is looking at your subscribers.
1. Remove inactive subscribers, they’re killing your open rate
You could have 100,000 subscribers, but that number means nothing if they’re not opening your emails. Having a big number of subscribers looks great, but it’s unfortunately just a ‘vanity metric’.
Rather than quantity, focus on the quality of your list. Focus on the active subscribers that regularly open your mails. They are the ones that want to hear from you.
If a subscriber hasn’t opened your emails in six months, it’s time to remove them. The same goes for any ‘hard bounces’ (i.e. the email cannot be delivered). It’s costing you money to send to them, and it’s dragging the open-rate down.
As you can see, this subscriber below hasn’t opened an email or clicked an email for over three years and 23 campaigns.
This doesn’t necessarily mean your emails suck! They may no longer need the services you offer or perhaps they simply aren’t checking that email address any longer.
It’s all about ensuring your list has only high-quality subscribers. Quality over quantity.
One trick you can use is a last-ditch email. Send an email to anyone who hasn’t opened in six months with the subject line: “We haven’t heard from you in a while…” and ask them if they’d like to remain on the list. You could offer a discount or incentive for staying too.
2. Clean up misspelled email addresses
This is a quick and simple way to get a few more opens. Run through your subscriber list and correct any spelling mistakes.
There’s almost always a few that submitted “firstname.lastname@example.org” or “email@example.com”. Amend the address and ask them to confirm their correct email.
3. Let subscribers choose what emails they receive and when
Some subscribers are happy to hear from you twice a week. Others will prefer monthly updates.
Some are only interested in discounts. Others want to hear about every new blog you publish.
You can avoid overloading your subscribers by letting them choose how often they receive emails and what type of content they’d like to read. It’s best to give them these options when they sign up. Look at how travel company, Skift allow you to choose from daily, weekly and other options.
4. Segment your list, so subscribers get relevant emails
One of the biggest reasons for a low open rate is that emails simply aren’t relevant to the subscriber.
A subscriber in Seattle, for example, probably isn’t interested in the “10 best cafes in New York”. In this case, you could separate your subscriber list by location. Now you can send location-specific content to your audience.
A pro MailChimp account allows you to segment your list by demographics, interests or purchase behaviour. For example, the company Asos sends different emails based on your gender, clothing preference and purchase history.
To do this in MailChimp, you simply use tags and ‘custom fields’ to segment your audience into different categories. One report suggests that 39% of people who did this saw higher open rates. 20% saw higher sales too.
Part II: The content of your emails
So far, we’ve tightened up your subscriber list. Now let’s look at how your content can increase the open rate.
5. Add value with every email
The hard truth is that subscribers will only open an email if it’s going to add value to their lives. You’ve got to give people a good reason to open your emails.
The best way to do that? Provide tangible value every single time.
Vox, for example, emails you with short, snappy news roundups of the day. You can’t get it on their website, and it’s super useful if you’ve had a busy day.
If a subscriber begins to associate your newsletters with huge value, they’ll open it every time. They’ll even start to look out for it.
This is a long-term strategy. Quick wins and tricks like clever subject lines might work for one-off campaigns, but the real way to get consistently high open rates is simply by building loyalty and a reputation through great content. Try to make sure it’s something they can’t get anywhere else.
6. Craft a brilliant, direct subject line
Subject lines make or break your open rates. In fact, they’re so important, I’m dedicating part five of this email series to them.
In short, direct to-the-point subject lines tend to work best. MailChimp ran the numbers on 40 million email subject lines and the best performers were surprisingly boring:
- [company name] sales & marketing newsletter, or
- [company name] May 2005 news bulletin,
which chalked up a 60% open rate.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to throw in a few curious, clickbait style subject lines now and again. This simple one from entrepreneur Yaro Stark was particularly intriguing:
Most of the time, however, focus on telling subscribers exactly what value they’ll get inside.
7. Speak direct to your subscriber, make it feel personal
An email newsletter often goes out to thousands of subscribers. But the trick is to make it seem like a personal email, direct to one person.
Which email are you more likely to open:
“We’re offering 20% discounts to our customers” … or
“Sarah, there’s a 20% discount for you inside”
Assuming your name is Sarah, you’re going to open the second one! You’re sending to thousands, but talk to each subscriber individually. Use this same, personal tone of voice inside the email, too.
You know your audience better than anyone else. Talk to them in a way that will connect.
8. Use a welcome series to establish long-term open rates
Your newest subscribers are your most engaged and most likely to open your emails. Capitalize on that by giving them tons of value right at the start.
Establish yourself in those first few emails, while your new subscribers are hot, and you’ll form a strong bond. Doing this guarantees open rates in the long-term and forms a habit.
A welcome series is the best trick here. By sending five or six consecutive emails right after they subscribe, you connect with your reader. Your subscriber knows what to expect and they form a habit. They start to look out for your emails.
Part 3 of this email marketing series focused on the welcome series, so run back and check it out.
9. Send it from a real person, not a business name
Statistics show that emails from a real name get a better open rate than those sent from a business.
The reason is fairly simple. We’ve come to ignore emails from a business address as we associate it with marketing or advertising. By using your real name, it feels more personal and less sales-ey.
Personally, I think it’s best to mix the two. For example, I would send my emails from ‘Daren, at Bitcatcha’.
By doing that, I make the personal connection, but I also remind you about where you signed up to.
10. Leave your emails on a cliffhanger
We all know the best books end their chapters with a tantalizing cliffhanger. You can’t wait to read the next chapter! You can do the same with your email newsletters. Promise them something special or weave a story across multiple newsletters.
When they next see your email pop into their inbox, they’ll be keen to open it and find out what you’ll teach them next!
Part III: Timing
If you want a high open rate, it’s crucial to get the frequency and regularity of your campaigns right. The exact time and day you send matters too. Let’s find out why:
11. Choose the perfect time and day for your audience
Picking the right moment to send your newsletter is a hot topic among email marketers.
Having analyzed their own data, MailChimp found that open rates were at their highest on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays around 10am. At this point, we’ve cleared our inbox from the weekend, settled into the week, and a 10am email acts as a welcome distraction from work.
Experion, however, ran a similar study and discovered their email open rates were higher on the weekend – when people had fewer emails coming in. They did agree that mid-morning was the most effective time.
My suspicion is that business-to-business emails get the highest open rate mid-week, whereas hobbies, ecommerce and leisure emails are opened over the weekend.
That’s just a hunch, and I advise you to experiment with your audience to find the best time for you.
In all cases, send the email mid-morning in the recipient’s respective time-zone. You can do this in MailChimp using their ‘timewarp’ function.
12. Send email at regular and consistent intervals
Choose a schedule and stick to it. If it’s once a week on a Thursday morning, make sure it’s always once a week on a Thursday morning.
Dropping in and out of your subscribers’ inboxes at random is confusing and disorienting. By making your newsletters regular and consistent, subscribers begin to expect them and form a habit of opening them.
13. Not too frequent, but not too often…
Only you can decide how often to send out communications, but beware of two things: email fatigue and forgetfulness!
First, if subscribers receive too many emails too often, they become frustrated. The emails are then left unread.
However, if you leave it too long between emails, subscribers may forget who you are, or why they signed up. They might just ignore the email, delete it or unsubscribe.
There are exceptions to this rule. Some daily newsletters work great, but if you choose this route, make sure subscribers know what they’ve signed up for!
If subscribers do begin to suffer from email fatigue, use a last-ditch message to stop them from unsubscribing completely. Thrillist, for example, ask those who are about to unsubscribe if they’d like to receive fewer emails instead.
14. Send it twice!
This is a sneaky trick, and I don’t use this one myself. But, I know some marketers that do, so I’ll let you decide.
After your newsletter has gone out, wait a week, and look back at your open rate. Gather all the email addresses that didn’t open it first time around, and send it to them again.
You can try tweaking the subject title this time to encourage more people to open it. One marketer, Neal Taparia, managed a 55% further reach using this technique.
Part IV: Bonus tricks
The tricks that didn’t quite fit anywhere else!
15. Stay out of spam filters
Email clients are well trained at spotting spammy emails. Subject lines with obvious promotional copy are likely to be rejected, so turn off caps-lock and stay away from the exclamation mark!
Take a look at this list of spam trigger words too and avoid them at all costs.
16. Keep a consistent design
Those with the highest click-through rates have mastered the art of subscriber loyalty. They open emails because the sender is familiar and trusted. A consistent layout and design helps build this loyalty and familiarity.
MailChimp has tons of different design templates, but resist the urge to change it for every campaign.
17. Make sure it works on a mobile device
66% of emails are now opened on a smartphone, so make sure your newsletter looks awesome on an iPhone, tablet or any other mobile device.
Most email services use ‘responsive design’ to automatically make sure your email works on a mobile device, but run a test before you send to everyone.
18. Ask unsubscribers why they left
If you want to know why people aren’t reading your emails, ask the ones who unsubscribed. Frank and honest feedback isn’t always easy to hear, but you’ll learn the most from it.
When a user subscribes, have a checkbox to ask them why they are leaving. Do you email too often? Has your information become irrelevant?
Answering this question will help you improve your service to existing subscribers.
19. Test, test, test! And test again
The hard part about marketing is that there’s no right answer. There is no ‘best’ subject line or ‘perfect’ time to send a newsletter.
If you’re unsure, run a split test to find out. Can’t decide between subject lines? Run a split test with a small subsection of your subscriber list. Whichever triggers the highest open rate is your best subject line.
Try running a split test on different days and at different times. When is your audience most responsive?
That’s all for part 4 of my email series! Don’t forget to check back to part 1, part 2, and part 3, and look out for the upcoming section on crafting the perfect subject line.
Have you tested and tweaked your email open rate? What is your experience, and what works best for you? Let me know in the comment section.