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7 Ways To Supercharge Your Email Open Rates Right Now

by Andrey Milyan October 12, 2017
Email open rate optimization

Despite obvious signs of aging and an endless stream of spam, email remains one of the most effective channels for ecommerce and other direct-to-consumer businesses.

Of course, just like with your content marketing strategy, the goal is to maximize visibility. You want your emails read and then acted upon.

The first step in this process is to improve your email open rate. Here are 7 ways to supercharge your email marketing results right now:

1. Tell a Story in a Series of Emails

Don’t expect to craft a single killer email message that converts immediately. Few products are impulse buys and consumers typically take some time to consider their options, especially if the price is high. A series of emails is usually the way to go.

A nurture email series creates room for storytelling. Instead of a prescheduled series of unrelated messages, weave the copy together into a story and let your subscribers know when they should expect to hear from you next. If the content is engaging enough, you’ll create anticipation and make it more likely that your next email is opened and read.

An average ecommerce email open rate is under 20%. For one client, we’ve worked to create a series of emails coming from the founder, where he mentions when the next email is coming in every message. Even three emails later, the average open rate in that series is 48%!

2. Optimize Your Subject Lines

Improving your subject lines is perhaps the easiest way to increase email open rates. According to Return Path, 33% of email recipients decide whether to read an email solely based on the subject line, with almost 70% reporting email as spam using the subject line alone. So how do you optimize your subject lines?

Length – One of the debates that’s been going on for years is the ideal subject line length. Return Path looked at the read rate (a KPI very similar to the open rate) for various subject line lengths and here is what they found:

Email subject line length

On average, a subject line that are just under 50 characters seems to generate the higher read rates. Of course, this is the average and might vary considerably from company to company. What is clear is that anything over 60 characters is probably too long.

Spam filter triggers – There are a number of keywords that make your email more likely to be caught in the spam filter, like “free”, “cash”, “no catch”, “prize” and so on. HubSpot has a comprehensive list here.

Special characters – If the use of emojis and other special characters is in line with your brand voice, having something that stands out usually has a positive impact on the open rate.

3. Personalize Your Messages (Including The Subject Line)

This is an obvious one but keep in mind that there is usually an inverse relationship between your ability to personalize your email campaigns and your ability to collect such information. In other words, the more information you ask for in your email capture efforts, the lower your submit rate.

Asking for the subscriber’s name is usually the first step in personalizing your messages and it will have a huge impact on your open rate if you include it in your subject line. According to MarketingSherpa, including the person’s name in the subject line increases open rates by almost 30%, on average. For consumer products and services, the increase is roughly 42%.

4. Make Sure They Can Read It Across Devices

Over half of all emails are opened on mobile. You need to make sure your emails render correctly across most screen sizes and email services.

That is actually easier said then done since there are so many different service providers, apps and screen sizes. Here are a few tactics to keep in mind:

Use responsive design – This Kissmetrics infographic is a good place to start but you can also get more info here.

Stick to 600 pixel width on desktop and 320 pixels on mobile – While the 600 pixel width is an old rule from the Microsoft Outlook days, it is still a good rule to follow to make sure your emails look sharp on all devices.

Keep your preview text short and punchy – Preview copy (sometimes called pre-header) is important on desktop but it is even more important on mobile, where the space is very limited. For example, Android native email app uses an average of 40 characters to display the preview while iOS shows as much as 90 characters.

5. Use a Conversational Tone

I’ve already talked about how consumers want to do business with other people, not faceless corporate entities. You don’t need to use slang if it’s not consistent with your brand voice but your communication should have a certain tone and personality to it.

Think about a simple confirmation email you get from Airbnb and, say, United Airlines. Both have the basic booking information. The first one has a few small hits of personality. As for the second one, well, I’ll quote Gus Portokalos from My Big Fat Greek Wedding – “No honey No jam just toast, dry toast.” Make sure your subject lines and the rest of your copy don’t taste like dry toast.

6. Send It Again

There are many reasons why your emails might not get read. The subject line is not appealing enough. The recipient doesn’t check her inbox very often. She is away on vacation. Whatever the reason, it is a perfectly legitimate strategy to send the same email again to the recipients that haven’t opened your email after a few days.

Of course, as the saying goes, doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Test a different subject line and see if you can get more people to give your email another look. This will have an added benefit of helping you figure out which copy your audience is more likely to respond to in the future.

Most email marketing platforms make it relatively easy to isolate subscribers who have not open your email and target them specifically. For example, here are the detailed instructions for Mailchimp.

7. Test. Rinse. Repeat.

There is a lot of advice out there on the perfect email length or the best time to send an email. The somewhat unsatisfactory reality is that it all depends. Think about it, why would a retiree read her emails the same way a busy office worker might? That’s why every study out there comes up with a slightly different answer.

In this article, I’ve highlighted the most common scenarios but your best bet is to test what works for your audience. Alternate different approaches and see what they do to your open rates. If you have a sizable list, many email marketing platforms will let you split-test subject lines and other elements within a single email. Try a plain text version and see if you get a better result.


Email is one of the strongest channels in your arsenal. Not only does it convert well but it also allows you to reach your audience without paying a middleman, like Google or Facebook. With a few minor tweaks, you should be able to improve your email open rate and extract even more value from your email marketing efforts.

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