How to Improve Your Email Open Rates (10 Simple Ways)

How to Improve Your Email Open Rates (10 Simple Ways)

Email marketing is a must-have for any business with an online store. Though organic search and paid search ads slightly outperform email when it comes to sales, email still works better than other sales channels such as social media and affiliate programs. 

Email marketing leads to more orders than affiliate marketing and social media.

Plus, the right email strategy can give you a good return on your investment. A report from Campaign Monitor shows that email marketing can deliver as much as a $44 return on investment for every dollar spent. This ROI figure has been increasing steadily over the past 3 years.

Chart for email marketing ROI
The ROI for email marketing is on the rise.

For the above reasons, online businesses should maximize their sales potential via email. The first step in doing this is to make sure that people actually open your emails. This is measured by your email open rates. 

In this article, we dig into quick strategies on how to increase the open rate of your email marketing campaigns. Let’s first look at how to set your email open rate goals based on industry benchmarks:

Email Open Rates 101: Are Your Marketing Emails Engaging?

Your open rates tell you the percentage of subscribers who open your emails. This means that if your new eCommerce store has 50 email subscribers, if only five of them open an email you send out, then that email has an open rate of 10-percent. 

For small businesses that have online stores and regularly send out email promos, this is a good measure of how many of your leads are actually engaging with your marketing campaigns.

What is a good email newsletter open rate for your business
What email newsletter open rate should you aim for? (graphic source)

What is a good email newsletter open rate for your business? You can easily find out how good your email open rates are when compared to other businesses in your industry. 

Most email marketing software companies release data that you can use to check how you’re doing against industry benchmarks. Here are links to some of their reports:

  • Mailchimp has benchmark reports that tell you average open rates per industry and per company size. For companies with 1 to 10 employees, the average open rate is 21.53-percent.
  • Campaign Monitor reports that for most industries, email open rates fall from 20 to 40-percent.
  • Constant Contact lists average industry rates and also breaks them down according to device. These could be useful benchmarks if your customers use different devices to read their emails. 

Note that your open rates aren’t set in stone. They will vary across the different emails you send, and could also change as your mailing list grows bigger. 

If you’ve already been running email campaigns, figure out what your average open rate is now, before you apply any of the tips below. Look at your open rates across several campaigns, and you’ll be able to determine what your average open rate is.  Then, after you’ve applied some of the tips below, you can tell if they’ve had an impact. If you haven’t run any email campaigns yet, applying the tips below can help you get started with an optimized strategy.

To learn more about email open rates and other email marketing basics, you can check out the following tutorials:

  • Email Marketing
    What Is Email Marketing?
    Julia Melymbrose
  • Email Marketing
    “What Should I Write About?” How to Generate Ideas for Your Email Marketing
    David Masters
  • Email Marketing
    How to Build an Email List: Get Your First 500 Subscribers Fast
    Celine Roque

10 Quick Ways to Improve Your Email Open Rates

Let’s look at how to increase the open rate of your email marketing. Using and testing the following techniques can help you optimize your open rates, even if you’re just starting out with your email marketing:

1. Use a Branded “From” Name

The “From” name of your emails is the name subscribers will see when they receive an email from you. It’s best to use a name—a business name or a person’s name—that your users already identify with your brand. A recognizable sender name is the main reason why people open emails, according to a survey by Litmus and Fluent. This is a good way to improve your email open rate. 

Statistics on what makes people decide to open an email
The sender name or from name helps users decide whether to open an email or not.

Most businesses use their business name by default, which works if your subscribers remember signing up for your business mailing list. If you want to appear more personable, you can sometimes use the sender’s first name, followed by the business name. The following examples do just that:

Examples of sender names
Apart from following the above examples, you can also use just your business name as the sender name.

However, if your brand is a personal brand that’s closely identified to you, it might be best to stick to your name rather than your business. Ultimately, you have to test your approach to see which name your subscribers are more likely to trust.

2.  Use Straightforward Subject Lines

While email marketing can often involve a lot of creativity, especially in the copy and design, the subject line is not the place for it.

Research from MailChimp shows that simple, straightforward subject lines are among those with the best open rates. A series of subject line experiments from Marketing Sherpa found similar results, with specific, clear subject lines consistently outperforming creative ones.

Subject line experiment results
Straightforward subject lines tend to outperform creative ones.

For additional tips on how to write an enticing subject line, review the following guide:

  • Email Marketing
    How to Write Great Subject Lines for Your Marketing Emails
    David Masters

3. Write Your Subject Line in Title Case

Another thing you can test is the use of capitalization in your subject lines. According to Yesware, most emails are sent out in typical sentence case. But using title case instead could not only lift your open rates, they could lift your reply rates as well.

Chart showing open rates for subject lines in title case sentence case and lower case
Title case subject lines can lift your open rates by roughly 4-percent.

Title case just means capitalizing the first letter of each word of a phrase, much like you would the title of a film or book. The only words you usually shouldn’t capitalize are articles, conjunctions, or short prepositions. The following examples show subject lines in title case, highlighted in yellow.

Examples of title case in email subject lines

If you’re used to writing subject lines in sentence case, do a split test next time to see if the changing cases affects your open rates. Then, you’ll know which case standard to use the next time you send out a marketing email.

4. Keep It Timely

When writing your subject lines, emphasize the timeliness of your email’s contents, especially if you are sending out offers or invitations. Emphasizing time-sensitive urgency will improve your email open rate quickly. The following subject line examples all have an element of timeliness, highlighted in yellow:

Examples of timely subject lines
Adding deadlines and words like “breaking” or “urgent” can help bring a sense of immediacy to your emails.

Why is adding timely words essential to your subject line? Data from HubSpot reveals that emails with “Tomorrow” in the subject line had a 10% higher open rate. You can also use words like “Daily” or “Weekly” to lift open rates. You can also highlight immediacy by using the word “alert”, which can bring in a 61.8% increase in opens. MailChimp’s study had similar findings, revealing that time-sensitive words tend to increase open rates.

Using time sensitive words helps increase email open rates
Using time sensitive words, helps increase email open rates.

5. Optimize Your Preview Text

Apart from the “from” name and the subject line, don’t forget to optimize your preview text. Also known as pre-header text, this is the snippet of text that appears as a preview of the email when the user is looking at their inbox. 

Examples of pre-header text
The preview text of each email is highlighted in yellow. They often continue the subject line, show special offers, or include personalization.

Be deliberate in choosing your preview text, since your subscribers will use it to screen emails for relevance. Testing different types of preview text will tell you what works best to entice your subscribers to open your emails. A case study from Marketing Experiments showed that a newsletter was able to increase their email opens by 30-percent through testing their preview text.

While there’s no hard rule on what preview texts should contain, you can test the following types of copy and see which lifts your open rates:

  • Short summary of the email body
  • Personalization by adding the subscriber’s name or location (see the Sally Beauty example above)
  • Additional sales copy
  • Coupon codes and clear offers
  • Continuation of the subject line (see the example from Express)

How much text your subscribers see in previews will depend on the email client they’re using. Litmus, an email testing service, has a simple guide on how much preview text users can see depending on their email client. You can check your email marketing stats to see the software and devices your subscribers use, and use that as a guide. A general rule of thumb is not to go beyond 40 characters.

6. Personalize the Email 

Let your subscribers feel like you’re sending them content that’s tailored to their needs rather than a mass email. This is because a bit of personalization can go a long way toward improving your email open rate. 

A study from Experian Marketing Services found that simply adding the recipient’s first name in an email subject line can increase open rates above industry benchmarks. On average, the lift in your open rates can be as much as 29-percent, but results largely depend on your industry. Revenue per email also increased by 73-percent.

Email open rate lifts as a result of personalization
Most industries benefit from personalizing their email subject lines.

You don’t have to limit personalization to the subject line, however. You can add subscribers’ names  to the email body copy as well. In the example below from Workshop, a newsletter for freelancers, not only is the email addressing the subscriber by name, the body copy starts in the second person, making the content seem more personal and specific to the reader.

Example of personalized body copy

Don’t neglect personalizing the pre-header text as well. The example below, from cosmetics company Sally Beauty, the subscriber can see their name in the email preview. This makes the offer seem specially addressed to the reader.

Example of personalized pre-header text
Without the personalized pre-header, the above email seems like another generic offer.

7. Don’t Send More Than Once a Week

Apart from testing and optimizing elements of the email itself, you can also work on your sending frequency. After all, you don’t want to turn off your subscribers by sending emails too often. They might unsubscribe or, worse, report you as spam. You also don’t want to send so rarely that subscribers forget about your business.

The key is to find the “sweet spot.” This can vary depending on your business, industry, and customers. But you can have a good starting point by sending weekly. A survey from Marketing Sherpa found that 86-percent of consumers want to receive monthly promotional emails, and around 60-percent want to receive them weekly. However, less than 10-percent want to receive emails twice a week, and only around 15-percent want to receive them daily. This means that if you start by sending weekly, you don’t run a high risk of putting off your subscribers.

Bar chart of email frequency preference

You can also use your email marketing software to segment your users according to email frequency preference. When they fill up the sign up form, ask subscribers how often they want to receive emails from you. Use their responses as a guideline for how often you’ll email each segment.

8. Send Welcome Emails 

Welcome emails are usually the first email you send to a subscriber, welcoming them into your list after they’ve confirmed their email address. Often, the words “Welcome” or “Thanks for joining” are found in the subject line. 

Because a welcome email’s main purpose is to add a personal touch, we often don’t think of them as transactional. The truth is that welcome emails are among the highest-value emails your business can possibly send.

Research from Experian Marketing Services found that welcome emails four times higher open rates compared to promotional emails. Their open rates outperform industry benchmarks as well. More importantly, these opens lead to actual transactions: the average revenue from welcome emails is eight times higher than regular promotional emails.

Chart of open rates of welcome emails vs promotional emails
Welcome emails have an open rate that’s four times higher than regular promotional emails
You can make the most out of the high open rates of welcome messages by encouraging a purchase. The below example from Thrive Market, an online organic food store, offers a 15-percent welcome discount with free shipping.
Example of a welcome email
This welcome email example invites the reader to “Shop Now” with a discount

9. Use a Mobile-friendly Template

Have you ever opened emails on a phone or tablet and found that they didn’t load properly? You don’t want the same thing happening to your subscribers. 

For all your subscribers to see your intended preview text and email body, your templates need to be mobile-friendly. According to Litmus, mobile opens account for 56-percent of email opens. This means that your customers are likely to encounter your email on their mobile device rather than on their desktop.

Litmus mobile open rates chart compared to desktop and webmail
Litmus mobile open rates, compared to desktop and webmail.

If you don’t design your emails with mobile in mind, your subscribers might remember that your emails always look “broken” when opened. Then, they’re unlikey to regularly open your emails. Be sure you’re properly supporting mobile, which will greatly improve your email open rate if this is currently off target. 

If you want a ready-made solution, you can try using mobile-friendly email templates like Carma or Ecom. Both templates are compatible with most major email marketing software such as MailChimp and Campaign Monitor. 

Mobile-friendly email template Ecom
Mobile-friendly email template Ecom.

You can browse through professional email marketing templates on ThemeForest to find the right one for your business. Or, start with our curated selection of the best: 

  • Email Marketing
    25 Best Digital Marketing Email Newsletter Templates For 2020 Campaigns
    Marc Schenker

10. Segment Your Email List

Finally, your open rates can also be affected by how you segment your list during your email campaigns. Do you typically send the same email to all your subscribers, or do you change it up a bit depending on criteria like their location or purchase history? 

If you’ve never tried segmenting an email campaign before, it’s best to start testing it now. Data from MailChimp shows that segmented email campaigns have a 14-percent higher open rate than non-segmented campaigns.

Here are different types of list segmentation strategies you can try on your next campaign:

  • By location, area, or city
  • By their subscription date
  • Based on whether they’re a paying customer or not
  • Based on purchase frequency
  • Based on subscriber engagement (how often they open, click, or forward your emails)
  • According to different buyer personas

Remember that you don’t have to commit to one type of segmentation for your entire email marketing efforts. For example, after you’ve sent an email campaign segmented by location, you can try segmenting by purchase frequency on your next campaign. These tests will give you more insight into how subgroups of your customers respond to your emails.

Increase Your Email Open Rates Like a Pro

If it’s your first time attempting to optimize your email marketing efforts, the options can seem overwhelming. Focus first on improving your open rates. That way, you can be sure that customers are opening your emails in the first place.

Even though we featured ten tips in this guide, it’s unnecessary to use all of them at the same time. Simply start by testing one of the above techniques. If it works, keep using it. If not, test the next technique that seems applicable to you. In time, you’re likely to reach an open rate indicating that your subscribers are eager to hear from your business.

Editorial Note: This content was originally published on August 4th, 2017. We’re sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.

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