Five Ways to Improve Your Email Open Rates

Sam Rose - Head of Content

Sam Alexandra Rose

18th October 2019

We’ve discussed email marketing a lot in the past – writing newsletter content, sharing our general tips for getting the most out of your email marketingkeeping your subscribers happy after the GDPR to mitigate further list shrinkage, and implementing dynamic content. But before all of that – before your customers read your email, before you convince them to take action from it and before you analyse the success of your mailout and the results of those actions – you need your recipients to open the email. You could write the best email you’ve ever written, with a compelling call to action, but it’s all wasted if you don’t also put in the effort to increase the likelihood of it being opened. That’s why today we’re going to take a step back and look at five things you can do to improve your email open rates.


1. Write a Great Subject Line

And I mean great. Your subject line is the main way for you to encourage people to click on your email. It should tell people what you want them to know and be specific about what’s in your email, while enticing them to find out more. If you’re sending a newsletter, don’t just put “October Newsletter” in the subject line. What is your news, and why is it important that people know about it? Think of your subject line as a sneak preview of what’s in your email. Keep people guessing, but not too much, and make sure you’re not being deceptive or promising something you’re not delivering.

I’m reminded of an email I received (and continue to periodically receive) from a very popular online payment company. The subject line was something along the lines of:

Congratulations! You’ve been selected to apply for a credit card

Though the first word got me slightly excited, that excitement dwindled further with each word that followed. If it were a conversation, it would have gone something like this:

Email: Congratulations!

Me: Oh great, have I won something? This sound exciting!

Email: You’ve been selected…

Me: Ooh, what have I been selected for? Am I special?

Email: …to apply…

Me: Wait, if I have been selected already, why do I need to apply?

Email: …for a credit card

Me: Okay, that is not exciting. You’ve tricked me a bit there, haven’t you?

Of course, when I realised what they were actually saying was “We’re allowing you to ask us if you can get this thing that you don’t want”, I was very unenthused and hit the delete button straight away, feeling slightly deceived that they could even suggested that this news was worthy of being congratulated for. The lesson? Don’t send me emails about credit cards. But really, maybe if they had led with benefits that I might have been interested in, I would have at least opened the email before deleting it. The thing is, once I opened the email, they would have had the opportunity to sell their offering to me in a much bigger, creative space. As it was, the subject line was more disappointing than anything, and their chance was already blown.

So, if that’s an example of something that isn’t great, what’s an example of a good subject line? A retailer sent me an email today with the subject “Find your denim soulmate” – followed by a jeans emoji and a heart emoji. The email preview line underneath said “Plus, get £30 off when you spend £175”. The subject line was short enough to convey the message effectively, even when viewed on a mobile device, and the use of emojis showed they’re using the right tone for their young target market. Unfortunately, I’m not looking for jeans and I’m certainly not going to be spending that much on clothes any time soon, otherwise the subject could have worked quite well – as I’m sure it probably did with other recipients. One way they could have improved the email is to offer me something more specific to what I might be looking for. Enter, segmentation.


2. Send content your recipient will love

Ideally, your email will be completely tailored to each recipient where possible. You might send emails about products you think customers will like based on their demographic, their previous purchases, the pages they have looked at on your website, or other indicators you may have access to. This kind of marketing strategy could be much more effective than sending out generic messages to all of your customers. You can personalise your emails using segmentation to divide your list into groups of people and send them only the content you think they will be interested in. This then brings us back to the subject line – if this is clear and shows your recipients that your email is likely to interest them, they’ll be more likely to read it.


3. Personalise your subject line

As I mentioned above, personalisation in emails has become very important, and you’ll want to show that you care about who you’re talking to right from the start. So use their name in your subject line. This also tells the recipient that your email isn’t spam – as you have their name, your list is something they have already signed up to, so they know it’s more likely to be something they are interested in.


4. Get permission to send the email

Speaking of signing up for emails, one great way to ensure that your email isn’t read, is deleted or even gets sent to the spam folder is to send emails without permission. Your awareness of this is more important than ever since the GDPR came into force. If you’re sending emails without the recipient opting in, not only are they unlikely to click, but your email marketing platform could suspend your account due to complaints, and you could even find yourself on the wrong side of the law.


5. Time it right

The best day and time to send your email will depend on your industry and on the typical behaviours of your email list. There are many reports online which suggest when the best time is to send a promotional email. Take these into account, but make sure you also look at data specific to your industry. Then, get more specific to your company. if you use a paid version of Mailchimp you can use a built-in tool which determines when the best time to send is based on the previous open times for your list. Your email platform may also provide you with some industry benchmarks so you can see how your email open rates measure up, and from there you can decide whether your send time is working or if you should try a different day or time. By sending your email at a time when people are most likely to open it, you’re improving the chances that your email will get attention in an overcrowded mailbox, and therefore increasing your chances of conversion.


Your emails won’t bring you conversions if nobody clicks on them. Whether you want people to buy from your ecommerce website, book an appointment, sign up to a free trial or simply get in touch with you, it all starts with getting them to open the email.

If you would like any help with your email marketing, call us on 01536 316100 or contact us online.

Free eBook For Online Retailers

Download our Navigating the Biggest Challenges for Online Retailers eBook now for insights into AI and Machine Learning, Personalisation, Automation, Voice Search, Big Data and more.

Download eBook

Like What You've Read?

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to receive our latest blog posts and our take on the latest online marketing news