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Top 10 Ways to Improve Email Open Rates

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For marketers, achieving a high email open rate is highly desirable, and it is often a key metric for shedding light onto the effectiveness of a campaign.

Why is it important? The value of a high open rate is obvious. You need people to willingly open your email before they can perform any action. Without the open, there is not going to be any "close"—i.e., the recipient clicks a link, makes a purchase, or signs up for an event.

Successful email marketers use the following 10 best-practices to ensure open rates are as high as possible, using targeted messages to send timely information to the right audience:

1. Keep the subject line short (under 50 characters is best), and make sure you make one important point. Always keep your objective in mind and ask yourself, "If I received this email, would my interest be piqued and would I understand what the company wants me to do?" Read the subject line out loud and test it out on friends or colleagues to get instant feedback. The subject line needs to relay timely and pertinent information. Avoid exclamation points or overly enthusiastic language that might make your offer seem less legitimate.

2. Never try to trick your audience with a misleading or vague subject line. Despite your desire to be clever, most audiences want to spend no more than 15 seconds reading your email, so get to the point quickly. Make sure the subject line focuses on just one topic; there's simply no room for two different points.

3. Personalize the subject line by including the recipient's first name and other pertinent information. This step immediately shows recipients that they have provided at least some of their most basic information to you, which establishes an element of trust. You can also include some location data ("Event in Los Angeles"), as well, if you have that information in your customer database.

4. Build a sense of urgency with your subject line, and ensure there is an incentive for the recipient to open the email. You want to suggest scarcity without sounding too "salesy." You can imply there is scarcity to your products or services in order to encourage immediate action. However, avoid putting a date directly into the subject line so it does not become dated to those who check email only every few days.

5. The subject line should often include your company or newsletter name. You want to remind the recipients about why you have a relationship, which establishes a certain level of trust between you and the recipient. Many email programs show only the subject line when viewed on a smartphone, so including the company name is important.

6. Research, and avoid, typical spam words. Words such as "free" or "act now" or dollar signs can be a red flag not merely for spam filters; they also stand out as suspicious words to the recipient. An email caught by a spam filter will never have the chance to be read, so choose your wording wisely and lean toward plain language.

7. Choose the right "From" name and email address. These should reflect a professional brand image to encourage recipients to open the email. The email should also be relevant to what you are offering to your customer, while also matching the appropriate company department. For example, your returns should come from returns@companydomain, and a webinar invite might come from seminar@companydomain.

8. Experiment with various email send times. With smartphones, more and more people now access their email on the go. Try some unconventional send times to see whether you get a boost in open rates: for example, evening or early morning rather than the typical 9-5 work times. It's also important to compare weekdays against weekends.

9. Find the right frequency of communications. You can't bombard your audience, but you also can't ignore them. Separate your recipients into different groups that might warrant emails at varying frequencies. Keep track of results so you can uncover patterns and refine your methods over time. You do not want the recipient to sigh at the mere sight of your email in their inbox.

10. Test. Segment your list into meaningful groups. Perform A/B testing to see whether certain subject lines or "From" addresses pull in higher open rates. Every company and audience is different, so you need to test to find what works best for your specific situation.

Once implemented, the above best-practices should help you to achieve higher open rates and better email marketing ROI metrics. The trick is to be sure your email content and the offer can match your well-constructed subject line, personalization, and all of the front-end work.

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Kevin Gao is president and CEO of Comm100, which he founded in 2009 with the ambition to revolutionize online customer service and communication. Its solutions include Live Chat, Email Marketing, Support Ticket, Help Desk, Forum, and Knowledge Base.

LinkedIn: Kevin Gao

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  • by Steven C Thu Jul 18, 2013 via web

    You can in fact use "free" in subject lines; you just need to test it with your audience. Also, your company name of newsletter should be the "From Name" so as to not waste space in the subject line with this information.

  • by Jennifer Thu Jul 18, 2013 via web

    There is a lot of good informaiton here, although since this is definitely a balancing act, examples would be great.

    Also -- I don't know that I agree with personalizing the subjectline with the recipients name. When I see that in my own inbox, I automatically know it is a solicitation. Also, with MAP, you could be pulling in "names" that are merely a first initial (another red flag for me, if not for my SPAM filter). I guess it might just depend on how good your database is and how close a relationship you really have with that contact. Or, perhaps there is a B2C vs. B2B factor?

    Would be interested in the thoughts of others? (esp in the B2B space)

  • by Justin Thu Jul 18, 2013 via web

    I am not a big fan of names in the subject line. I quickly identify it as a tactic and email blast. For me it's more reputation. Are you providing me relevant and engaging content. If you are providing me with something that's beneficial for me, I'll continue to open your emails. If you don't, I'm opting out.

  • by Tea Kurpalo Thu Jul 18, 2013 via web

    This looks a lot like the infographic we posted a month ago: "10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Email Open Rates"

  • by Amber Thu Jul 18, 2013 via web

    Agree with your tips. Keep your subject short and simple and be honest. When I see a subject that is too salesy, I immediately delete it. No questions.

  • by Sarah Bauer Fri Jul 19, 2013 via web

    I like your thinking, Kevin. It seems to me that there's a philosophy at play when working to boost email marketing engagement - "stay agile" . Test, try out different frequencies, headlines, times, adapt to what works and what doesn't, and always learn from the results.

  • by Gracious Store Sun Jul 21, 2013 via web

    In my opinion the surest way to have people open emails is to send emails only to those who opted to receive in emails from your. Other than that, people trash emails they are not familiar with the sender or email they did not solicit for, no matter the subject heading of the email

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