Increase Your Average Email Open Rate in 20 Easy Steps

Want to increase your average open rate by 10-20%? Follow these steps and watch your open rates grow.

In your email marketing system (EMS), there’s a dashboard that gives you your email open rate – the percentage of users who opened an email from you. Typically 16% is an average number for the publishing industry, so if you have anything above, consider your efforts above average.

Unfortunately, on the web, you may find all kinds of fun information about open rates and how inaccurate they can be (like 11% to 35% inaccurate).

The unique open rates for the US, according to the 2014 Silverpop Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study had a mean of 20.1%; a median of 16.8%; a top quartile of 38.5%; and a bottom quartile of 7.4% all improved from years prior.

By industry, Healthcare fared the best, with the highest average unique open rate (22.4%). Publishing was at a 16.6% average unique open rate.

All official numbers aside, you can always measure whether your open rate is going up or down. If you want it to go up, use these 20 tips for increasing your open rate.

Get delivered. Make sure your email gets delivered to the recipient’s inbox or it’s unlikely that it’ll get read. The email newsletter should include a prominently placed white list request. Getting through an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and most email service providers (ESP) is the easy part. Getting through filters on the recipient’s desktop is best accomplished by permission. Due to this, your best bet here is to ask readers to “white list” you by adding your email newsletter’s “from address” to their address book.

Hand-craft your from line. The “from line” of an email newsletter should clearly identify the sender and be quickly recognizable to the recipient. Studies have shown that when viewing their inbox, readers start by looking at the from line; engaging readers here has been shown to increase open rates.

Make the subject line short. The subject line should be engaging, benefit oriented and talking about the content found in the email newsletter. Keep it short. Most email clients permit 40-80 characters. Generally, shorter email subject lines produce higher open and clickthrough rates.  Avoid outrageous claims that sound “spammy.”

Use deadline-driven headlines. Not everyone wants short pieces of manageable content. Some audiences like long copy. One way to increase opens and engagement with your content is to create email newsletters that have a shelf life consisting of deadline deals, which lead to long-form articles. Your audience members may open the email multiple times to consume the content and interact with the deadlines.

Mix up your templates. Don’t forget to use different types of email newsletters. According to Epsilon, certain email templates have better email marketing results. Emails deployed after a specific action experienced click rates 119% higher than “business as usual” email. These significant emails include Welcome, Abandoned Shopping Cart, Thank You and Anniversary emails.

Gain their trust. There are always those would-be consumers on the verge of making their initial purchase with your brand. If you have a specific deal or policy that is particularly beneficial to the customer, make sure you convey it − flaunt it, even. Return policies or money-back guarantees are often helpful.

Make them feel like they’re missing out if they don’t open. Mark Johnson, a copywriter and past Mequoda Summit speaker says, that when it comes to writing a headline that asks “do you want to save” or “who else wants to save” – go with the “who else”.

“People click on that because they don’t want to miss out,” Johnson says, “and the ‘who else wants to’ headline clearly suggests that it’s already happening, that it really happens and other people are getting this advantage and you’re missing out on it.”

Focus on the benefit to the reader. Again, Johnson says to do a read-through and ask, “What is the benefit to the reader?” Then come up with a list of subject lines and ask yourself which one offers the most benefit.

Make it quick and easy. “…people want quick and easy solutions to their problems, don’t they?” Johnson asks. They want the “15 minutes could save you 15 percent on your car insurance.”

Make it newsworthy. Johnson says to be current or relevant in your readers’ lives. “As they see the subject line about ‘fifty passwords you should never use’,” Johnson says, “they’re going to be wondering, ‘Oh, I wonder if that password I used a couple hours ago is one of them?’

Make them curious. Johnson points to a famous envelope teaser, “What never to eat on an airplane.” “It kind of sounded silly, but people were curious enough about that copy…to tear the envelope open…” says Johnson.

Stand out as much as possible. In a webinar with Dan Zarella, formerly of Hubspot, Dan reminded businesses that since 88% of people use their work email as their main email address, so your email subject lines can’t be boring. ”You’re competing with baby pictures and invitations to dinner,” he said.


Stay away from boring words in your subject lines. Boring, jargon-y words like evaluation, soon, administration, liked, please, minutes and enjoyed were the most common in top unopened emails in Zarella’s research.

Use words proven to increase open rates. You can’t listen to what just one test says, in fact you should really be looking at your own data for this information. Mailchimp, however, also has a collection of words proven to increase open rates that they pulled from a dataset of over 9.5 billion emails: posts, jobs, survey, week’s, e-newsletter, issue and digest. Zarella had another list pulled from Hubspot’s data: secret, e-sales, awesome, skills, ebook, helpful and shipping. To think, we used to get scorned by the marketing folks for calling things “secrets.” It’s nice to have data.

Give them a reason to stay tuned. Some recipients first check their email on their smartphone and go back to the message on their computer. If the content is very relevant to them, they’ll return to the content when needed. And if they believe a friend or colleague benefits from the information, they will forward it to them (forwarding, using the button in email software, is associated with an open by the original recipient).

Send at regular intervals. An email newsletter should be sent at regular intervals. Make sure the frequency of the email newsletter deployment is consistent with what they were told when they first signed up. This way the reader will already be expecting it, hopefully, looking forward to it, and thus more likely to read it.

Send at the right time of day. This is better judged by your own data, but make sure the newsletter is delivered to the inbox at an appropriate day and time. Yes, timing matters. Email newsletters sent in the middle of the night are easily overlooked or deleted. The best time to deploy email newsletter campaigns is weekdays during business hours for B2B, and weekends or evenings for B2C.

Make “specials” a thing they can depend on. According to Ron Levine at SIPA, “The top reason listed by respondents for subscribing to emails from businesses is “to receive discounts and special offers” (58%). That’s followed by “to take part in a specific promotion” (39%), “I am a customer supporter of the business/nonprofit” (37%), to gain access to exclusive content (26%)—I just did that to read these results—“the desire to stay informed on an ongoing basis” (26%) and “want to support a business/nonprofit I like” (25%).

Segment your lists. If you send a lot of emails, consider segmenting your list so that when users want to receive less emails, they can. According to Levine, “The strongest reason for people not opening an email is “not interested” (64%) with “get too many emails from an organization” next at 45%, followed by get too many emails in general (32%), too busy (29%), not in the mood (26%) and don’t remember signing up (26%).

Create continuity: When writing a series of emails, it’s personable to say to your readers that the email is part of a larger structure. By building this ongoing series of events, you’re likely to increase open rates on past emails too.

In an increasingly digital world, having a strong email program is important. Do you have any insider tips to add?

This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated.


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