How to Increase Email Open Rates in 10 Practical Steps

male hand clicking on email icon from behind a screen to open email

In building an effective email campaign, you must consider three things: deliverability, open rates, and engagement. Deliverability indicates whether your emails reach the desired audience’s inbox, open rates tell you what percentage of your audience opens your email, and engagement shows you their behavior such as clicking a link, or replying to an email.

If you’ve done all you can to ensure maximum deliverability, you may wonder how to increase email open rates and get your subscribers to react. If you wonder why email open rate matters — conversions depend on email opens, directly affecting your revenue and business success. Let’s look into some numbers and essentials to help you fully grasp the importance of email open rates.

What is a good open rate for emails?

Our benchmark for a good open rate is often around 30%: we find it necessary for a healthy open rate, especially considering the recent inflation of opens caused by updates such as Apple’s Mailbox Privacy Protection. You should consider your industry average to adjust goals and expectations. Know that rates above 20% are good, but the ones below 15% need work. If your open rates are below 10%, it’s a red alert signal and you’re doing something wrong.

Why is my email open rate low?

That is why you’re here, right? Different reasons could be causing a low email open rate, but one of the biggest ones is the quality of your email list. If you purchased your email list, you don’t maintain it well, or if it’s old, those may be some of the main reasons for a low open rate. Email open rates fall over time if you neglect your list and don’t acquire new subscribers. But, let’s return to the bigger picture and see the main factors affecting email open rates.

What affects email open rates?

Various factors influence email open rates, and we’ve compiled the most essential ones. If you address each of these points step by step, you can impact your opens noticeably.

The main factors that influence the number of email opens are:

  1. Email Deliverability
  2. Email list hygiene
  3. Audience Segmentation
  4. SPAM-filter awareness
  5. Great timing
  6. Content value
  7. Gripping subject lines
  8. An engaging welcome
  9. Personalization and friendliness
  10. Mobile-first policy

Let’s unpack these together and reveal how to get customers to open your emails.

1. Email Deliverability

email icon

Email deliverability is the most essential element of email marketing. If your emails don’t reach your targeted audience and land in their spam or junk folder, it’s a dead end for your business. It’s the first and foremost matter to tackle if you want your campaigns to succeed. The more emails get into your subscribers’ inboxes, the bigger the chance they will open them.

You can do different things to improve your email deliverability, but we have to mention — it’s a complex matter. Should you need help, it may be best to hire an expert. Campaign Refinery’s team dedicates time to helping businesses achieve maximum deliverability with instant results.

Our clients report their open rates increased by 2x, 3x, or even 6x since signing up!

If you’re set on improving your deliverability by yourself, here are some things you can do:

  • Add a double opt-in: At sign-up, double opt-in ensures that the subscriber will verify their email address, meaning they genuinely want to receive your emails. Sending emails to people who want them is the first step towards better deliverability and – open rates.
  • Motivate email replies: Get your audience to reply to an email. To motivate them, you can offer them a bonus case study, special access, or a coupon code as an incentive if they do, which will automatically improve future deliverability.
  • Become a trusted sender: Ask your subscribers to add you to their address book and mark you as a trusted sender. This action should keep your emails out of their spam and inside your contacts’ primary inboxes, increasing your chances of regular opens.
  • Clean your email list! It’s more challenging than it sounds. Read on as we discuss this in the next step.

2. Email List Hygiene

email list hygiene icon hand cleaning surface

While deliverability is the first action in email marketing outreach, an email list is, in fact, the first asset you must think about. Its quality needs to be impeccable, and you have to spend time maintaining it to achieve good campaign results.

Working on your email list, you should consider the following:

  • Email list quality: While quantity is important, quality trumps it. This means your list should have subscribers who opted in voluntarily – people who want your emails and are interested in your product. If every subscriber is genuine, you can achieve more with less.
  • Never, ever purchase an email list! If you want a quality contact list, you must never — yes, never — buy a list of random addresses who might not know who you are or what your business is about. If you decide to purchase a list anyway, know it can ruin your sender reputation, mess up your deliverability and leave you frustrated and without revenue.
  • Re-engagement with your audience: Run regular re-engagement campaigns targeting your less-responsive subscribers to check if they still want your messages. This will help your list remain clean.
  • Inactive contacts removal: Inactive subscribers contribute to lower open rates and can negatively affect your campaigns. After making sure they are and will remain inactive after six months of no action, remove them and move on. Additionally, such good riddance will help you segment your list well — more in the next step.

At Campaign Refinery, it’s our core belief that your email list is your biggest treasure. No amount of effort will help if you don’t take care of your email list. That’s why we created an automated email list hygiene tool, keeping our clients’ lists squeaky clean.

3. Segment Your Audience

audience icon

To perform meaningful list segmentation, you must understand your audience first. Consider the relation of your emails to certain demographics, learn from their behavior, and create lists within lists. A well-segmented audience can help significantly increase your open rates, lessen the unsubscribe rates, and improve overall deliverability. Segmentation improves your sender reputation and you need to do it consistently.

How do I segment my audience, then?

In short – give the people what they want, and here’s how:

  • Filter by engagement: Opens and clicks indicate who’s engaged and how recently. Filtering by engagement helps you can learn who is interested in which aspect of your business and keep them engaged with relevant content and enticing offers.
  • Nurture recently engaged contacts: After removing the inactive contacts, focus on the ones who opened your emails in the past 30 days. This will boost open and click rates and improve your sender reputation with the ISPs. Doing so creates a positive feedback loop that improves deliverability for future subscribers, which makes the recently engaged audience larger.
  • Group by interest: You must stay relevant to keep your contacts interested. Not every aspect of your business is relevant to every subscriber, so be sure to differentiate and target specific audiences on specific topics. You can do this by using tags.
  • Use tags: By using tags you create in your email service provider tag functionality, you can easily differentiate between segments of your larger audience. Tags are a powerful tool because they allow you to build virtually unlimited segments within larger, broader audiences on your email list.

4. Beware of SPAM Filters

warning icon

Being flagged as spam or reported is the worst nightmare for any email marketer. This messes with deliverability, open rates, and overall performance, and it’s hard to get out of once it happens. Knowing that even with all the precautions, your emails may end up in spam, ensuring there’s a minimal chance of it is crucial.

How do I keep my emails out of the spam folder?

Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing or CAN-SPAM is an act passed in 2003. It establishes the rules for commercial email and messages, giving the recipients the right to have a business STOP emailing them. It also states the penalties for those who disobey the act.

Your messages absolutely MUST abide by the CAN-SPAM Act, and here are some of the actions you can take:

  • Keep your list organic: Be sure your subscribers opted in voluntarily. And — we will repeat this — do not purchase email lists!
  • Verify your domains: Prove you are who you say you are, so ISPs (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc.) know that any content you send you also own. This increases trust as you live with the good and the bad from what you send.
  • Use a clean IP address: You should be sure nobody used your IP to send spam before. Still, know that being among other good senders is often better than a low-volume sender using a dedicated IP.
  • Keep your HTML clean: Unoptimized code can negatively affect inbox placement, giving your less chance to get to the subscriber.
  • Personalize: Use dynamic tags to personalize the “To:” field and the emails.
  • Time emails well: If you don’t want to be flagged as spam, don’t act spammy! Send your emails in reasonable time sequences — 100 emails in a day to a single subscriber is not a good idea.
  • Don’t Lie: No deception, clickbait, or phishing attempt will go unpunished. Don’t go there.
  • Write a Good Subject Line: Use lowercase letters, don’t use overly aggressive, salesy language or use words such as “free” – all of this can mark your emails as spam.
  • Be transparent: Include your business name, clear information, and location. Be transparent about your offer.
  • Allow people to unsubscribe: Make the unsubscribe button easy to access. Ideally, show the unsubscribe link at the bottom and top of your emails to make unsubscribing easy. It’s far better for you if someone unsubscribes than if they report you or file a complaint.

5. Timing and Frequency

clock timing icon

Your open rate also depends on the time your subscribers receive your messages and the frequency of your emails. Sending email blasts at the right time of the day increases both opens and click-through rates, while the right frequency can keep your customers interested but not bored or overwhelmed.

It’s impossible to know the best sending time and frequency immediately, so you need to perform A/B tests to see how your subscribers react. Be mindful of their responses according to your list segments, and you’ll be able to time your campaigns right and get the best open rate results possible.

While both timing and frequency vary greatly depending on the industry, product lines, but also email campaign types, there are several general rules to keep in mind:

  • Start with one email a week: It’s best to start sending one email a week unless you’re following up on a specific, time-sensitive behavior. This is not spammy, whereas consistency will always keep your brand on your customer’s mind. Over time, you can increase your frequency to one email a day, but the best strategy overall is to stay consistent.
  • Work days over weekends: People don’t look at emails over the weekend as much, so you should pick a work day to launch your promotions.
  • Any work day will do: There is no preference. Test and see what works best for you.
  • Mornings first: Higher open rates happen in the morning between 8 and 10 am, approximately. However, this can also depend on the product and approach, as better click-through rates can occur in the afternoon since people have more time to spend on casual interests.
  • Location: Time your campaigns according to the recipients’ locations. Nobody reads an email they get at 2 am, and it can easily get lost between other unread messages.
  • Demographics: People of different ages, occupations, and interests will likely open emails at different times. Again, know your audience to determine the best time for them.

6. Create Great Value, Without Exception

good value icon hand offering heart

No amount of perfectly timed emails sent to an immaculate list of organic subscribers will help your business if your content offers nothing.

Mediocre and meh content won’t do – it has to be exceptional and always add value. Your subscriber will not commit their money to something average. They will, though, pay for something awesome! You need to entice, woo, charm, and engage them to click and purchase.

And you have to be smart about it. Your subscribers will always think, “What’s in it for me?” And you should always provide something of value to them.

We at Campaign Refinery believe subscribers should have fun when opening their email, so we created a special engagement feature. Our clients can use a unique gamification option through which they can allow your subscribers to collect points each time they open and click on their emails’ content. You can customize the number of points and set up a reward system, which gives people an incentive and a completely new experience in email. It’s a GAME changer for open rates. Wanna try it out? Apply to join Campaign Refinery today!

7. Write Amazing Subject Lines

greeting icon saying hi

What do we see first when we get an email? That’s right – the subject line!

Your subject line is the first point of contact between your message and your subscriber. It’s a pick-up phrase, a conversation opener, and it must be good. No, it needs to be great! People will ignore your emails if your subject lines are lukewarm, boring, or generic.

There are several creative and technical ways to make your subject line stand out:

  • Give clues: Make your contacts curious about your content without giving them too much information or being overly mysterious. You’re not selling top-secret stuff (we presume); no need for over-the-top drama. But a charming hook will make a person click.
  • Use numbers: People like to see numbers. How many people are happy with your product, you say? Put it in the subject line, but explain why that is so in the email.
  • Watch the length: You should make your subject line the perfect length for the message and give the gist of your message. If in doubt – shorten it. Less than 40 characters for desktops and 25-30 for mobile devices works best. You should know that some of the best-performing emails have really short subject lines, so sometimes – one perfect word can be enough.
  • Be friendly: But without actually calling your subscribers’ friends’. That’s a bit too familiar and can feel creepy.
  • Have fun: Don’t shy away from humor, slang, or casual language – this is where you can make it work.
  • Personalize: Personalize the subject line whenever possible to make the subscribers feel appreciated. People are more likely to open an email with a personalized subject.
  • Don’t sell: Steer clear from sales words like “free, discount, subscribe, pay.” They’re a spam trigger.
  • No clickbait: Never clickbait the contact; maintain honesty. Words like “shocking, quickest, top secret, must-see” can make your subject line feel sleazy and trigger another spam filter.
  • Announcements are OK: You can announce a sale or sale ending and create urgency that way but in a transparent and accurate manner.
  • Test and then test again: If you’re building your email marketing strategy from scratch, you should test everything. The same goes for subject lines.

8. Welcome New Subscribers and Set Expectations

greting icon saying welcome

The moment a person subscribes to your email list, your open rates are affected. Honoring and welcoming your new subscribers is essential as it will make them feel appreciated.

In a welcome email campaign following the sign-up, you should set the expectations and explain the value of signing up to your list, what you plan to send, and how often. This is the time to be clear and transparent and establish basic trust between you and your subscribers.

Your new subscriber should know the following:

  • Types of emails you will send,
  • Time and frequency of your emails,
  • What they will get from being on your list (discounts, bonus points, gifts, etc.),
  • How you will use their information,
  • How to get in touch with your customer support and,
  • How to unsubscribe.

After a respectful welcome email, your campaigning can start.

This is also the ideal time to show the ISPs that new subscribers really want what you’re sending. So maximizing engagement is disproportionately important on those initial emails. If you would like to learn how to engage with your new subscribers and get as many as 7.56x more clicks, we can help:

Get Campaign Refinery’s brand new mini-course teaching you how to get more people to read and click on your lead magnets — for free!

If you use it – you can keep this awesome knowledge asset forever. Get the deal here.

9. Personalize and Write as a Friend

high five friendliness graphic

Have you ever sold anything to a friend or family member? Put yourself in that situation and imagine your subscriber as your friend. Friendly language is warm, open, and welcoming; it can be funny or quirky but gentle and appreciative.
If you hook your contacts with your language, they will likely develop loyalty to your brand.

To enhance this response, personalize your messages:

  • Use clear “From,” “To,” and “Reply to” to identify yourself: Avoid “No-reply” emails or obscure sender names.
  • Add first names to the subject line: People are more likely to open an email addressing them directly.
  • Use geo-targeting and consider weather conditions: If it applies to your brand, you can send special offers during different times of the year or bad weather.
  • Send birthday offers or gifts: Congratulate your subscribers and make them feel special on their special day. They will remember.
  • Be natural: Keep your approach natural, friendly, but professional. Too much familiarity can get weird fast.

As you grow and build more customer relationships, you will learn more about your audience and will be able to create precisely personalized campaigns benefitting your brand.

10. Think Mobile First!

mobile device icon

Over half of all internet traffic comes from mobile devices, according to research by Exploding Topics. And mobile email will account for 26-78% of all email opens, depending on the target audience, industry, and campaign, according to eMailmonday 2021 research.

The scale is shifting in the mobile direction, and it’s clear email marketers cannot ignore smartphone users any longer. This is why we optimized all the default settings for email in Campaign Refinery for mobile.

While we’re still dealing with customers, several technicalities remain:

  • Mobile devices have smaller screens, and you should be careful about your subject lines (25-30 characters for mobile, remember?) and make your content responsive.
  • Also, keep in mind how people interact with mobile devices: they tap. Make your content tappable! For example, create a large, thumb-sized call-to-action button at the end of your message. Or make room between links, so people can tap on each separately.
  • Use simple formatting and keep the width under 600px for better readability.
  • Adjust the font size for better visibility — larger fonts look better on mobile.
  • Don’t rely on images because Android can turn them off automatically. Make good-looking content without them.

Make sure to follow mobile marketing trends and go with the flow with the look and feel of your email campaigns. Combining the two can help your strategy overall.

Key Takeaways

Now, that’s a lot of information, right? Yes, but read carefully, and you’ll see the steps are straightforward and intertwined – none can go without the others. If you follow our tips to increase email open rates, you should see results. To speed up the process, you need to make sure you set up your email operation correctly, and all the elements are in place. Should you need help in this process, consider reaching out to an email deliverability service.
We at Campaign Refinery are dedicated to helping our clients get the best out of their email marketing campaigns. Our team created a superior tool to increase email open rates and ensure your emails reach the primary inbox.

Our clients experience email open rate increases from 2x to 6x since they sign up with us!

Also, we’ve identified and organized the best-proven email practices in a comprehensive guide called “The Inbox Formula,” where we give concrete insights into the industry secrets from top experts and teams sending millions of emails daily. We enjoy teaching people what actions to take to get those open rates as high as possible.

And we would like to gift you this knowledge-packed report for free!

Click here to download “The Inbox Formula.”

Written to assist you in finding your best email marketing path, our guide to better deliverability and open rates will completely change your sender’s experience. Let us know how we did!

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