Do you know what your email open rates are?

Think about it: you’ve put the work into the email you’re sending. Wouldn’t it be nice if people actually opened it and read it?

According to Campaign Monitor, a 20 – 40% open rate for email is typical, depending upon who your audience is. Higher open rates are associated with religious or sports content (dedicated followers), while e-commerce and marketing tend to hover around 20%.

If your emails are less than the average 20% email open rates, what can you do to bring that up and get more eyeballs reading your email content?

1. Treat Subject Lines Like Headlines

Creating the subject lines of your email follows similar rules as making great headlines.

Like a blog post headline, your email subject line bears most of the responsibility of getting your email open rates up where they should be. Good subject lines have a few characteristics:

1. No trickery. Your subject line should tell your reader what they’ll read, and not use subterfuge to trick them into opening an email. Remember the boy who cried wolf? That kind of email subject line will only work once, if they don’t unsubscribe.

2. No yelling. It should go without saying that using all caps in your subject line is a poor idea. However, both title case and sentence case can work magic. Title case works when you are using a shorter subject line which has headline-like quality (e.g. “The 5 Most Important Email Tips Ever”). Sentence case works when you have a longer or more conversational subject line (e.g. “Have you made these 3 blogging mistakes?”)

3. Numbers do work. Using numbers in your headline has shown to increase reader engagement. The same can be said for your email subject lines. Don’t shy away from a subject that contains a number.

4. Some words don’t work. There are words you should avoid using, even if you aren’t using them in a scam way. Spam filters are already working overtime to protect inboxes. You don’t want to give them something to work with on your emails. There are also words that spam filters leave alone, but so do your human readers. For these, MailChimp identifies their three worst offenders as Help, Percent Off, and Reminder. Spammers have unfortunately desensitized a lot of readers; be sure you don’t sound anything like spam.

5. Hit the ideal length. The general rule of thumb is that your subject line should be around 50 characters. That’s not to say 40 won’t work, or that 65 is a bad idea. The key is that you must be aware some email programs might cut characters off and if you have your most important word at the end of a long subject you might lose them. Keep important words at the beginning if you have a longer subject line.

6. Story wins. Whenever possible, approach your subject line as a story. In other words, pique your reader’s curiosity in your email and get their emotions (fear, humor, curiosity, anger, joy, gain, logic) involved; anything that suggests there is more to be read gets readers to open your email. “Our Latest Newsletter” is much less interesting than “Have You Missed The Biggest News Yet?” Sometimes a statement-type subject line is necessary, but do try to ping emotions in the subject line when possible.

2. A/B Test Your Subject Lines

We regularly test the subject line of our weekly Content Marketing Update. We do this to find out which subject line will get the most opens and perform the best for a limited number of random users before sending it out to our entire list.

In the example below, using A/B testing, our sample group helped us select the most successful headline of the two we’d come up with, and increased our open rate by an estimated 70%.

A/B Test Subject Line

Version A carried the subject line of “Are You A Content Hacker?” which forced the reader to ask themselves a question they likely didn’t know the answer to, since it is a new term. They clicked to find out. It’s similar to the quizzes we get sucked into in magazines or online; we’re curious to find out who and what we are.

Version B carried the subject line of “How To Make A Living Blogging” which is a helpful topic with a very specific audience of those who actually wanted to make their living blogging.

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I was the one creating the email, and I thought that Version B would be the more popular option. After all, there seems to be a spate of people concerned about making a living and our list was likely filled with people who wanted to do it with writing and blogging.

But I was mistaken.

Our list has a broad readership, with many of them serving in professional content marketing and social media marketing capacities. They were less interested in making a living blogging than they were to find out about what a content hacker might be. The email with “Are You A Content Hacker” was the winner of our A/B test, and it sent out to our entire list with good success.

A/B is based on the very simple idea of having two ideas, and letting your audience tell you which one they like. Most email providers, such as MailChimp and AWeber, offer A/B testing that makes it simple to test your subject lines.

3. Consider The First Sentence

It’s easy to forget that some email programs show the first few words of the first sentence in the inbox. My Gmail doesn’t show me the first sentence and I forget that other email software, such as Sparrow and Outlook, does.

Why should that matter?

Because some of your readers are going to use both the subject line and the first line to give an indication on whether it’s worth opening or not.

email first line

The first line of your email will show in some email software.

In the example above, you can see that our recent Content Marketing Update email, in this view, had a truncated subject line and the first sentence had to help sell it.

How many bloggers use email software that places a notice at the top that says the reader can “click here” if the email does not appear correctly? The first words of your email should help sell the email, not take care of maintenance. This particular situation is the case for my personal blog’s RSS-driven email, and that means the great headlines I might come up with are followed by a mundane message that suggests there’s a chance my email won’t look correctly and might not be worth the hassle.

That’s not very enticing. Maybe it doesn’t hurt, if your headline is unbelievably superb, but it certainly doesn’t help.

Think of the opening line of your email like the next level headline. Do what you can with your template so that the first words are valuable. Change your email template to reflect something that feeds the curiosity that the subject line started.

4. Make Email Personally From You

The “from” portion of your email is a way to humanize your email. When we send out our weekly email, we send it from Garrett, not from CoSchedule. Why?

Our emails are by people, from people, for people. They aren’t from vague brands, apps, or objects with a possible nefarious agenda against humans. People connect with people, not with inanimate objects.

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There are, however, brands that prefer to use a “brand generic” email as the sender, and they have legitimate reasons. They have larger teams and might send several kinds of emails to you that would not come from the same person. Or, perhaps they don’t want a single team member’s email out “in the wild” as target for spammers or customers who start to use the email as a place to send support requests.

Whatever you fill the “from” line with, be sure to keep it the same as much as possible. This trains your reader and spam filters to expect the email from the same sender.

5. Use Email Authentication

Email is easy to spoof. That is, it’s easy for someone to send an email claiming to be you when they aren’t. This is how phishing and scamming happens. In order to prevent these emails from wreaking havoc, email providers such as Gmail and Yahoo! have a system in place to verify if the sender is who they say they are. Individual ISPs also have methods that they use to protect their users from scam emails.

By using email authentication, you increase the chances of getting through and into your reader’s inbox. Authentication is a way to prove that you are who you say you are, that you are a legitimate sender. Emails that fail authentication checks might not make it into an inbox and instead get caught up in a spam filter.

In other words, if you can prove your email is authentic, you increase your chances of getting through to the inbox.

Check with your email newsletter provider and see if email authentication is available.

6. Clean Out Your Email List

We’re talking about improving email open rates, and that means we’re basing that percentage on how many emails are opened out of how many are sent. Your email list likely has dead weight, meaning you have email addresses that are no longer valid, are bogus (the infamous, have typos, are bouncing, are sending out to entire lists (whether everyone wanted your email or not), etc.

Most email clients have the ability to help you clean up your list, particularly if you’re receiving spam complaints from users who don’t want your email and failed to click on the unsubscribe option (which should be very easy to find and never hidden or tricky to use).

Cleaning out a list with problem email addresses means you’re left with a list of emails that are active and receptive. Your open rates will improve dramatically once the dead weight is gone.

7. Change When You Send The Email

The magic question is this: when is the best day and time of day to send my email?

MailChimp has done an excellent job collecting information from the millions of emails that have been sent using their system, compiling data and coming up with a basic conclusion: it varies by industry and for each list.

Generally, according to MailChimp, emails are opened more between 2 – 5 pm. Emails get more opens during the work week, specifically on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

This is another chance to do a bit of testing of your email, tracking when you send and what your open rate is over several months. You can find out for yourself when your emails get the best open rates.

Email marketing is a strange animal in some ways. To get people to open and read your email, you have to use marketing techniques and yet still stay human. You’re competing with a very busy inbox, full of work, personal, and marketing emails. Make sure your email stands out.