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Open Me NOW! How to Begin Maximizing Your Email Open Rates

By Erin  |  December 03, 2012  |   Online Marketing

letter in envelope - improve open rates

According to the Palo Alto-based Radicati Group, the average person receives, on average, approximately 115 emails a day.

If you're "above average" then, like many business people I know, you're probably receiving closer to 215 or 315.

Dealing with the daily rockfall of emails seems nearly Sisyphean. (If you’re not familiar with Greek mythology, Sisyphus, as punishment for greed and deceit, was forced to roll a huge boulder up a steep slope only for the boulder to roll back down—for eternity. Ouch.)

Before you apply the principles, you need a list

Strong email marketing begins with a database of opt in emails. If your list is small or doesn’t exist, start collecting emails from your website right away. (Tip: request email addresses in exchange for premium content or offers.)

If you haven’t built that list yet, keep reading because this post will motivate you to get started.

If you have successfully and skillfully built a large database of opt-in emails, give yourself a pat on the back. You have a significant advantage over your competition. He or she with the biggest database often wins. Big.

But even with that database, the real work doesn't begin until you start cutting through the email clutter and successfully delivering your messages to your audience. Even people who want to hear from you are facing that Sisyphean email problem and will only open your emails if you follow best practices.

Fast Fact:
According to one of the industries top email newsletter service providers, MailChimp, the average email open rate is 14.5%, and that's actually down from 15% in July 2012.

Consistently high email open rates

Based on my experience, which is based on our data, there are two keys to consistently high email open rates.

  1. The subject line
  2. Routinely excellent content

Subject line

For the subject line, it can be valuable to look at the best practices from our brothers and sisters in direct mail. In that industry, the 6 - 10 words printed on the front of the envelopes can determine the success or failure of multi-million dollar campaigns.

Your emails' subject lines are no different than the words on those direct mail envelopes—and it's no surprise that formats that work in direct mail also work extremely well in the digital world.

Examples of direct mail envelopes with compelling text

What you need to remember

When writing your subject lines, remember: The subject line is the advertisement for the advertisement.  

The key here is to provide your readers with some intrigue and make them ask, “I wonder what's in this email?” 

Examples of highly successful subject lines

Remember, right now, the average email open rate is 14.5%.

Impressively, the open rates for the compelling example subject lines below range from 19% to over 30%.

  • Bad news unfortunately!
  • Why we love XXXX…
  • #1 key to making your life easier
  • 10 ways to improve XXXX
  • What you must know right now
  • 8 free places your dog will love
  • The most important information about XX
  • Only two days left to save

Notice any trends with these high-performing subject lines?  Did you make the connection that you can dramatically increase your chances of beating the average email open rate when you promise useful, salient, and valid information—and/or when you appeal to sheer greed by promising a substantial discount?

No trickery allowed

Not surprisingly, if you want to avoid a wave of unsubscribes, it's important to avoid trickery and hype. Yes—provide some intrigue and tease a little, but use simple and straightforward copy and make sure you  deliver on the promise you make in the subject line.

If your email's subject line reads: "10 Ways to Get Your Teenager to Listen to You," it's critical you provide 10 actual, helpful ways of motivating teens.  Sounds like a given, right?  You'd be surprised how many unfulfilled subject line promises are out there. Keep an eye on your inbox over the next couple of weeks and see if you can spot some examples. (And share them in the comments below if you do, we'd love to hear about them!)

Point #2: Routinely excellent content

I'm going to guess you feel frustrated when subject lines persuade you to open emails...only for you to find that the content of the email is vanilla or irrelevant. So let's turn this around: when you provide routinely valuable content and information in your emails, your open rates will increase and ultimately remain consistently high.

Real life example: A restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina, hired a copywriter to write regular, pithy, highly informative emails about the restaurant's offerings and events. Open rates soared north of 30%.

Real life example: Scott Martin, the former publisher of a Southern quarterly magazine, started a weekly email blast with ongoing, fresh news about the local area. His open rates averaged a whopping 70%.

Just like yourself, I receive plenty of "boasting" emails from businesses I've expressed interest in. “We achieved this…we did that…we are now #1…we’re the best.” That's great, but I'm busy. Delete.

However, when I receive truly informative emails that provide information that helps me run my agency more effectively, you can bet I pay close attention.

Same goes for hobbies. If a store repeatedly sends you emails containing boasts about how great they are, how long will you continue to open their emails?

However, when a store provides timely and valuable information that directly relates to your hobby (or provides great discounts), you're far more likely to open their emails each time they arrive in your inbox.

Key takeaways

If you're looking to maximize open rates and increase the impact of your email campaigns, pay close attention to BOTH you emails' subject lines and the content of your emails.

Yes—we're all getting more and more emails, but email absolutely remains a powerful marketing tool.  I advise clients—and you—to take your emails' copywriting  seriously. Otherwise, don't bother.  Your time would be better spent on other marketing tactics.

Oh, and one more thing: in the next few weeks, we'll write a post on getting a constant flow of opt in emails. Stay tuned.

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