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Want a better email open rate? Start by reaching the inbox

Posted by Tom Power on July 23, 2015

If you’re like most marketers who use email in their campaigns, you probably would like to know that you are doing everything you can to improve your email open rates. Well, before you get too wrapped up in that, it’s a good idea to first ensure that your emails are reaching the inboxes on your subscriber list.



It’s a legitimate concern, considering the fact that 17% of permission-based marketing emails sent worldwide don’t reach the inbox, according to a study by data solutions provider Return Path. The study found that 11% of those emails went missing altogether, largely because of changes in the way mailboxes make decisions, which has become increasingly complex. Signals from individual subscribers are playing a bigger role in determining whether messages are delivered to the inbox.


But the other 6% of those emails end up in the spam folder, which is something that marketers can proactively prevent from happening by carefully selecting the words used in subject lines and the emails themselves. After all, if an email doesn’t get to an inbox, it has virtually no chance of being opened.

According to email marketing service provider MailChimp, there are a few common email marketing mistakes that can result in accidental spam filtering.


These include using phrases like “Click here!” or “Once in a lifetime opportunity!” Using exclamation points or all caps, especially in subject lines, is another no-no.


MailChimp also discourages:

  • Using bright red- or green-colored fonts.
  •  Using the word “test” in the subject line. Agencies can run into this issue when sending drafts to clients for approval.
  • Sending to multiple recipients within the same company. That company’s email firewall will often assume it’s a spam attack.
  • Sending to stale lists. Permission generally goes stale within about six months.


Of course, just because an email makes it to the inbox is no guarantee that it is going to be opened. And if an email doesn’t get opened, it might as well have been lost in the spam filter in the first place. But don’t despair. There are tactics marketers can employ to increase their email open rates.



1) Don’t underestimate the subject line
One of the most important tactics in boosting open rates is crafting a compelling and relevant subject line. Marketers who treat the subject line as an afterthought and something you dash off just before you hit “send” are making a big mistake. The best subject lines are those that include the recipient’s name and clearly state what the recipient will find inside. If including the name isn’t feasible, use the word “you” to personalize it to improve your email open rate.


HubSpot recommends keeping email subject lines short and sweet, no more than 50 characters, and to include words that convey urgency, such as “act now” or “offer expiring.” It’s not easy to cram your message into such a short space, but it will pay off in the long run.

And make sure those few words in the subject line aren’t overly promotional-sounding. In a subject line study, MailChimp analyzed the open rates for more than 200 million emails. It identified some innocuous words and terms that won’t quite trigger a spam filter, but will negatively affect open rates. They are: “help,” “percent off” and “reminder.”


Once you have a short, clear and relevant subject line crafted, draft a couple of versions that are worded in a slightly different way and test which one performs the best for a better email open rate. You can easily do that if your email service provider offers A/B testing service.



2) Use a “friendly from” line
Another line that is crucial to strong open rates is the one right above the subject line: the “from” line. Most people don’t open emails that come from a name they don’t recognize. That’s why you should always use the same “friendly from” line so the recipients on your subscriber list know it’s from you. In fact, 70% of online consumers say they always open emails from their favorite companies, according to ExactTarget.

“Friendly froms” that use a person’s name or the company/brand name tend to perform better than those that don’t because they are relevant and recognizable to recipients. Email testing and analytics company Litmus recommends carefully considering the relationship between subscribers and your brand—are they more likely to recognize the name of your brand/product or the name of an individual at your company?

And whatever you do, don’t ever use a from line that begins with “noreply@.” This unfriendliest from line basically screams “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” and it will prevent recipients from adding your email to their address book.



3) Segment your lists
So, you’re a successful marketer and have acquired a healthy list of subscribers who have opted in to your emails. That doesn’t mean everyone on that list should receive every email. You have to consider who they are and what information is likely to be of interest to them. Then the thing to do is to segment that list into groups that have characteristics in common. You can segment your list by subscriber location, interests or activity so that the right information goes to the right people.


Segmentation helps you create stronger campaigns, builds trust with your subscribers and improves overall email open rates. According to MailChimp, segmented email campaigns get 14.7% more opens and 62.8% more clicks than non-segmented campaigns.



4) Change your send frequency
How frequently you send your email communications will depend entirely on your marketing goals. Regardless, if you’ve tested your subject lines and have segmented your list and find that your open rate is dramatically lower than the industry average, you probably should test the frequency. In general, sending more emails negatively impacts the level of engagement per campaign sent, but it’s different for everyone.


Are you satisfied with the results you are getting from your current email marketing efforts or are you searching for ways to increase their effectiveness? 

Topics: Email Marketing

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