A good email open rate indicates that your subject line and preview text captured the recipients attention and drove them to open the email.
If you’re sending regular emails and are consistently getting a low open rate, it’s not an indication that email doesn’t work for you, it’s simply that your pre-open content needs some attention.
There are many areas you can focus on, from segmenting your contacts and being more targeted with who you send your email to, to trying out different email service providers — yes, it can make a difference!
The most important thing is that you experiment with the logical things that are easy to improve, before you migrate your entire contact database to another email marketing software. If you don’t, you might be migrating bad email habits as well.
So before you run off to various different email providers and get the same results, let’s take a look at a few ways to improve your email open rate...
Work the pre-text
Your subject line is the first thing contacts see when they receive your email. It plays the most significant part in influencing whether or not your email is opened. Yet it’s one of the most overlooked elements of a marketing email.
The thing is, there’s no point in spending loads of time and effort on the content of your email if your contacts aren’t going to open it.
To give your email the best chance of being opened, here are a few tips to get the most out of your subject line:
Make it impossible to ignore
A lot of the time a subject line can feel like an afterthought. A throwaway phrase that consists of something vague like “Brand January Newsletter 2021: See what’s new with us”, or “Download your whitepaper”.
Don’t get me wrong, I can understand where these come from. They’re factually correct. But frankly, they’re boring. The language is dull and uninspired, and easy to ignore.
When the language in a subject line lacks emotion there’s no real drive to open an email - particularly when it comes to sales and marketing emails.
Back at INBOUND 2020, behavioural science aficionado Nancy Harhut ran a talk called “10 Scientific secrets that makes your content impossible to ignore”, and one of the first “secrets” was to choose words that make people pay attention. Words such as New, Now, Introducing, and Finally can leap off the page, inspiring action from those that read them.
According to social scientists, people are also more persuaded by information they believe is not widely available, as it makes them feel special. Words and phrases that hint at a scarcity such as Exclusive, Private, Secret, or Discover can work wonders.
Words matter. Next time you write an email subject line, try switching it up with evocative words that spark a reaction and make your email impossible to ignore.
Most importantly, be enthusiastic about the content you’re sharing. If you don’t care, why should anyone else?
Highlight the highlight
It’s staggering how many emails contain great content, but don’t talk about any of it in the subject line. Instead they use something ambiguous and all-encompassing — see the previously mentioned “Brand January Newsletter 2021: See what’s new with us”.
The fact is, there are a lot of emails hitting inboxes right now. Inbox activity has increased massively, and it’s a constant fight for attention.
People need a good reason to open your email, so give it to them. Don’t make them work for it. Pull out the most valuable or interesting thing in there and craft your subject line around it.
It might feel like hedging your bets on one thing, but if it’s interesting and done right, it can work wonders.
Deliver on your promises
Of course, there’s a fine line between being excited about your email content, and resorting to clickbait. That line is crossed when you simply fail to deliver on what’s promised in your subject line.
If you promise something, you need to deliver it within the email itself, or at the very least include a link to it within the copy. Failing to do that can have real implications not just on the performance of your emails and open rate long-term, but also on whether people will trust your brand.
Consider making it personal
There’s a time and a place for personalisation, and while it shouldn’t be used all the time, it can often be beneficial to include things like the contact’s first name in some of your email subject lines and preview text.
If nothing else, it makes the email seem more personal than a standard email. But you should also remember point 3. If the content of the email is not personal or targeted to the contact, you won’t be delivering on the promise of the subject line.
Customise your preview text
Most email marketing tools have the ability to customise your preview text, and there’s just no excuse not to.
If there’s no preview text, most mailbox softwares will pick up on the first few lines of text inside your email. So if you’re using images or an HTML template, this can result in filenames, image alt text, or even lines of code showing up in there.
Not only does this look unprofessional, but it can also appear spammy and suspicious to a non-technical contact. The last thing you want is for someone to flag your emails as some kind of phishing scam because you forgot to customise your preview text.
Segment your contacts
Aside from the subject line and preview text, a sure-fire way to increase your email open rate is to segment your contact lists.
Simply put, target contacts who have fully consented to the type of email you’re sending, and who have shown some kind of interest in the content.
Think of it this way: if you were sending an email with news about a specific football team, would you get a better result by sending it to everyone interested in football, or just those you know have an interest in that team?
When it comes to your contacts, think about the products, interests, and behaviours your contacts exhibit. Things that you can track in a free CRM software like HubSpot.
Maybe you want to segment by people who have visited a specific web page; or maybe those who have enquired about a specific product or type of product.
However you choose to do it, segmenting your contacts can have a huge positive influence on your email open rate.
Don’t send to unengaged contacts
This one is so easy, and can have such an immediate impact that it almost feels like cheating at email marketing. By far the easiest way to improve your open rate is to only continue sending to people who have engaged with emails you’ve sent previously.
I’m not talking about the last one or two emails, and the actual number of emails will depend on how often you’re sending them. But broadly speaking, if a contact hasn’t opened a single one of your last ten to fifteen emails, chances are they’re not going to.
Instead, consider removing them from your regular sending list. Or if you’re using HubSpot, use the “Don’t send to unengaged contacts” checkbox in your email settings.
You can also go a step further. Be proactive and send a re-opt-in email specifically for those people who are unengaged, and suggest you remove them from the list so you’re not annoying them. This can be a great way to show you actually care about them, instead of just keeping them as a name on your email list.
Get consent and encourage whitelisting
Consent is a huge concern for anyone sending marketing emails. No matter what rules and regulations apply to you, you will always get better results sending to people who have consented to your emails, as opposed to completely cold contacts.
During that consent process, it’s also a good idea to encourage your contacts to whitelist your email domain, and any specific email addresses you’ll be sending from. This can be as simple as adding the email address to their address book.
By encouraging whitelisting (or adding to an address book) you’ll make sure your emails are treated like any other contact, rather than falling prey to a potential spam filter.
Avoid spam filters
Easier said than done, but you’ll want to avoid spam in whatever way you can. Over the past decade, spam filters have gotten a whole lot better at filtering the good stuff from the bad and harmful, but you can still fall prey to them.
Here are a few best practices to give your emails a fighting chance:
Use a reputable email sending credentials
When you’re using email marketing tools, one of the main things to remember is that you are not the only one using these tools, and you should take that into consideration when you first start out.
That’s because email is sent from IP addresses, and most tools will use a shared IP address for all of their sending. It serves as an identifier, meaning the reputation of the tool is incredibly important if you want to avoid your emails hitting the spam filter. If an email is sent from a less reputable IP address, it increases the chance of hitting the filters.
Now there’s not a lot you can do about other users, but tools like Mailchimp and HubSpot do a lot to encourage and enforce best practices on their users.
If you’re sending a lot of email, tools like HubSpot offer a dedicated IP service which totally avoids any issues when sending from a shared IP.
Increasingly, inboxes are using Domain sender reputation as an alternative identifier to IP addresses. These are easier to customise using DNS records, so it’s worth investing in a software that offers support for this as part of their service.
Check your templates
Nothing irks mailbox software more than dodgy code. If you’re using a HTML email template, test it in different email clients and on different devices to make sure nothing is broken.
Inside HubSpot, you can use their email testing tool for the basic mobile and desktop proofing, as well as a more comprehensive client-specific email checker if you’re lucky enough to have a Marketing Hub Pro subscription.
Get consent and whitelist
I’ll keep banging this drum for as long as I need to. Consent is crucial when it comes to spam filters. By using things like a double-opt-in — where you immediately send a link for contacts to click and confirm their email address — contacts inadvertently indicate your are safe.
Sending a follow-up after something like a form submission is also a good opportunity to test whether an email address is valid. And, if the email lands in a spam inbox it gives you an opportunity to encourage whitelisting.
Use accurate personalisation
“Hey [first.name]” is a good way to get yourself tagged as spam. When you’re using personalisation, make sure it’s accurate. Sense check it if you can, and where the fields are blank, make sure you’re using a logical default.
Include your business address
A must for most mailbox software is the existence of an easily identifiable business address within the email body. Marketing email software like Mailchimp and HubSpot actually require this for their marketing emails, so there’s really no excuse to miss it out.
Include an unsubscribe link
Similar to the business address, having an unsubscribe in your marketing email is a must for most email software, and a regulation in most regions.
Develop your own benchmarks
Your emails should be considered a long-term project that aims to deliver regular value to your contacts. With that in mind, it’s important to develop your own benchmarks so you can easily tell what works well for you, and what doesn’t.
To make that process a little easier, make a copy of our free Email Planning and Reporting sheet which calculates your benchmarks, using your email performance data.
Improving your open rate might not happen overnight, but by implementing some of the tips discussed here and sticking with it, you can have a positive impact on the number of people engaging with your emails long-term.