How to Improve Email Open Rates


Email open rates are one indicator of how successful an email marketing campaign is. Here are factors that improve your email marketing campaign open rates.

How to improve your email open rate is a question of major concern for many businesses. It’s of particular concern when you’ve crafted what you thought to be the perfect email campaign but got few if any responses. 

Decades ago, when email marketing was in its infancy, individuals received so few emails that they opened almost everything in their inbox. But those days are long gone. Spam (unsolicited email) and other fraudulent email have caused Gmail and other services to put new regulations and filters in place to block unwanted mail. Those filters along with consumer disdain for spam can play havoc with the deliverability and open rate of your email campaigns.

Fortunately, though, there are steps you can take to get your mail delivered and increase the open rate of your email campaigns.

What is an open rate?

Simply put, the open rate is the percentage of email subscribers who opened an email campaign you sent. If you have 500 subscribers on your email list and 100 of them open your email campaign, the open rate for that campaign is 20%. Average open rates vary by industry and type of mailing sent. Generally, however they range between 12.6% and 20.6% according to Kinsta.

Why are open rates important?

Email marketing has one of the highest ROIs (Return on Investment) for marketing, but your emails must be opened first and then read in order to sell either a service or product. If you have a big mailing list, you might send thousands of emails at one time and get no response if the mailing doesn’t get past spam filters or doesn’t get opened once it hits your subscribers’ inboxes.  By contrast, a mere ten emails that are sent, opened, and read could bring you better results.  Thus, there is not much reason to waste time and energy on email marketing that doesn’t achieve close to the average benchmarks mentioned above.

Build your own permission-based (opt-in) mailing list

You need a mailing list to send email marketing campaigns, and the way to get that list is to build the mailing list yourself by getting permission from people to add their email addresses to your list. Never buy email addresses, scrape email addresses from websites, or copy email addresses from business cards without getting permission.  Sending promotional emails to lists of people who haven’t requested your mailings can give you a reputation as a spammer

In case you are new and unaware, spam regulations exist.  The regulations, known in the US as the Can Spam Act, establish rules for sending commercial emails. No matter how big or small your business, the regulations say you may only send email campaigns to individuals who have opted into your emails (in other words, agreed to receive email from you.) In addition, every campaign you send must provide a way to opt out (unsubscribe) from future mailings.

This is the law and your ISP (Internet Service Provider) or email service provider (or both), can and probably will shut you down your email sending capabilities if you get many spam complaints because you are sending mailings to people who haven’t asked to be on your list.  Take the time to develop a good list of your own through genuine sign-ups to your list. 

14 ways to increase email campaign open rates

Using a permission based mailing list is a requirement, but by itself, won’t get your email opened. To get your campaigns opened, they must get delivered. Then, it has to get noticed. The average number of emails in an inbox is 200. Therefore, to get opened, your mailing must be recognized as email the recipients have requested, and must stand out as something they want to receive and read now.  

Here are 14 ways to make that happen:

  1. Authenticate your domain email with DMARC records. DMARC is a protocol that lets email receiving servers detect whether an email really came from the domain name showing in the From line. If the email can’t be authenticated, the servers can block it from being delivered.
    Read more about DMARC email authentication and how it affects small businesses
  2. Use a reputable email service provider to maintain your mailing list and send your campaigns. Even though your mailing list consists of only opt-in subscribers, your campaigns could accidentally trip spam filters and not be delivered or wind up in recipients’ junk mail. If you try to send a mass mailing without using an established email service provider, your mailing could be blocked. Local ISPs usually will limit the number of emails any email account holder can send at one time. Not only could your emails never reach your audience if you use your email account to send a mass mailing, you also could get labeled as a spammer and lose your email account. Thus, be sure you use an established email service provider to send your marketing campaigns.
  3. Avoid using words that trigger spam filters in the body of your message or in the subject line. Those include words such as “free”, “huge” and “earn income,” and similar phrases.
  4. Don’t capitalize every word in the subject line or a lot of words in the body of the mail, and don’t use a lot of exclamation points or other gimmicks you think might get attention. These are common tactic used by spammers, and can trigger spam filters
  5. Use a “From” name that recipients will recognize. For a business, that’s usually the business name. But if you are a consultant, influencer, or are better know by your name than your company name, you name would go in the From line.
  6. Alternately,, when appropriate, put the name of your business in the subject line.  For example, “A Quote from (YourCompanyName) Mortgage.
  7. Put key phrases that matter to the reader at the beginning of your email subject line. Subject lines have to get attention and interest readers to get the mail read. A subject line that reads “Pest Control Monthly Newsletter” is a lot less likely to get the mail opened  and get clients to call than a subject line that reads, “Got Ants? We Can Help.”
  8. Keep the subject line relatively short. Long subject lines get cut off in email, especially on mobile devices.  For example, the subject line, “Fashions at prices you can’t afford to ignore,” might show up in the inbox as “Fashions at prices you can’t afford,” reducing the likelihood it will get opened. 
  9. Emphasize the fact that there is a limited amount of merchandise available (if that’s true) or that your special offer is only good for a set number of days. If a customer thinks they can purchase a product at any time, they’re likely to wait to make a purchase until they have more time or a more immediate need. But if they fear they could miss out on an offer or that you’ll run out or merchandise they’ll be more inclined to buy now.

    >>Related: How to Use Scarcity Marketing to Improve ROI
  10. Pay attention to what the reader will see if they use a preview pane in their email software.  The preview the readers see should give them a reason to open and read the email all the way through.    
  11. Test the best days and times of days to send your email campaigns. Your goal is to send your mailings when your readers have the time and inclination to read them. A mailing for a candle store might do better in the early evenings or on the weekend than it would at 10 am on a Monday, while a commercial alarm service would be more likely to get their mailings opened during corporate business hours. To find out what works best for your business, test several times and days, and look at the open and clickthrough rates.
  12. Segment your list into sub lists. In the beginning, you will probably start by sending general emails to all of your subscribers. But as your mailing list and the number of products and services you provide grow, you can improve your open rate by segmenting your list (creating sub lists) according to subscriber interests and then targeting your mailings to specific segments.  For instance, if you sell candy, you might have one segment for people who are allergic to nuts and only promos for nut-free candy to that segment. Other segments might be for taffy lovers, or for diabetic and want sugar free candy. You can create segments by asking subscribers to choose which emails they’d like to receive when they signup for your mailings, assigning them to specific lists based on what giveaway or other landing page people saw when they signed up, or using other features offered by some email providers for segmenting and tagging lists.
  13. Reactivate subscribers who aren’t opening email. You may have subscribers on your list who still would like to hear from you, even though they haven’t opened your mailings recently. Your email service provider software should help you identify these non-openers and send them reactivation emails. These are some examples of campaigns to send to re-engage customers and increase your email open rate.
  14. Purge your list periodically. People who subscribe to your mailing list may lose interest, may change their email address, or sign up with an email address that becomes undeliverable (bounces). Those subscriber email address are useless to you and should be purged from your list.  Not only does purging allow you to send only to those who remain responsive, but it also can save money since email service providers charge by the number of subscribers you have or the number of emails  you send each month. Email providers generally have tools that let you remove bounced emails as well as tools to help you sort subscribers by their activity.  It’s a good idea for most businesses to purge their mailing list every 6 months.

Other Email Success Factors

Getting subscribers to open your email campaigns is the first step to success. But open rates aren’t the only factor that determines how effective your mailings are. Check out this article for more ways to make email campaigns effective.

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