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Increase Your (Mobile!) Email Open Rates: How to Optimize the Only Three Lines That Matter

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Why mobile is crucial for your email marketing success.
  • What the only three email lines your audience might ever see are.
  • How to optimize those three lines to increase your open rates.

There are a lot of guides out there to help you increase your email open rates. Why? Simple: unopened email is a dead email.

Doesn't matter if your visuals seduce, your copy persuades, or your CTA compels. Unread is dead.

But here's the thing: Almost none of those guides focuses on the one thing that matters most in getting your emails opened: mobile optimization.

Just how important is mobile optimization to your email strategy?

A whopping 65% of all emails are first opened on a mobile device, according to US Consumer Device Preference Report: Q4 2013.

Thankfully, a few email marketing providers are finally offering genuinely responsive design templates (unlike many of the old, one-size-fits-all approach). And yet, only 25% of marketers optimize their email for mobile, eConsultancy's Email Marketing 2013 Census discovered.

To dramatically increase your mobile email open rates, let's take a look at exactly how to optimize the only three lines that matter.

Here's a series of screenshots of major mobile default email displays:



Notice what they all have in common:

In each, only three lines display automatically: the subject line, the first line, and the From line.

That's it. Just three. And that's exactly why those three lines are the only lines that matter for getting your emails opened.

1. Subject Lines

On average, you'll have 20-30 characters available for your subject lines. Once you exceed that limit, your subject line gets cut off or wraps down to the next line, thus displacing the second "ONLY line that matters."

That means, in either case, less is more.

In fact, for maximizing email open rates, the optimum number of words in the subject line is 4-15, per MailerMailer, and 6-10, per Retention Science.

Of course, the next question becomes what words you should actually use in that limited real estate...

  • Personal words. Use your recipient's first name. Use the words "you" and "I." Use slang, colloquialisms, emoticons, and unique punctuation. Above all, make it human. The more real it appears, the better the open rate becomes.
  • Emotional words. As in all marketing, lead with desire, pleasure, or pain. Work at loading the one key benefit right into the subject line in the same way you would your value proposition.
  • Pop words (as in, "popular culture"). "Subject lines referencing movies or songs were opened 26 percent of the time, while emails with more traditional subject lines were opened 16 percent of the time," Retention Science points out.

2. First Lines

The key here is personalization and conversation.

The first line of your automated emails should read as much like the first line of a real email as possible. How do you do that?

Joanna Wiebe of fame is a master at this. Here's a quick sampling of some of her recent first lines:

  1. today, does the promise of a/b testing match the reality?
  2. is copy everything... and are you ready for what comes with 'everything'?
  3. inside, is ogilvy's most famous quote - not the giants one - out of date?

Even her confirmation emails smack of personality:

Voila! Download your files, consume 'em... and craft better-performing copy... faster... and with more confidence.

My two most successful emails recently were both incredibly personal and conversational:

The Fast Company Article simply started like this:

Hi << Test First Name >>, This is freakin' awesome ... for both of us!

And the 5 Lessons from a "Failed" Copywriting Pitch was even simpler:

[Subject Line] I am a failure …
[First Line] Hey << Test First Name >>, Now there's a great subject line. ;-)

In both cases, as you can see, the results were fantastic.

3. From Lines

I'll keep this last point short: Unless you're Coca-Cola, Nike, or Old Navy, all your automated emails should come from a real person.

What that really boils down to is simply entering a real name (not a brand name) and real email into the From line in your mail client.

In other words, avoid at all costs from lines like,,, or, worst of all, the dreaded word "auto" in any and all forms.

* * *

So, before you fire off your next email campaign, take the time to optimize the ONLY three lines that matter. Why? Because if you don't, they might be ONLY three lines your audience ever sees.

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Aaron Orendorff is a freelance copywriter "saving the world from bad content" over at iconiContent. By day, he teaches communication and philosophy full time at a local college in Oregon.

LinkedIn: Aaron Orendorff

Twitter: @iconiContent

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  • by jrhmobile from my own dang self Tue Jan 27, 2015 via web

    If you're sending me an email, and expect me to read it on either my computer desktop or my smartphone, you'd better identify your business affiliation in that line too.

    Because if I get an email from someone I don't recognize -- or someone I do for such cheezy "buddy-buddy" identification pretending I know them personally, but instead is making a lame sales pitch -- it's getting flagged as spam for my future convenience, then tossed straight into the trash unread.

  • by Steve Tue Jan 27, 2015 via web

    Agree with jrhmobile... on point #3. Aaron I'd love to see the proof. And its not really the opens that count but the conversions (e.g. purchases). Opens don't pay the bills. Definitely agree on point 1. Point 2 really depends upon your audience.

  • by Aaron Orendorff Wed Jan 28, 2015 via web

    I think you're both right ... esp. about not being shady. You definitely don't want to sacrifice an open or a click for an actual conversion. Or worse, get a spammy reputation. It'd probably also depend on the nature of the relationship: B2B or B2C. For example, Unbounce always sends their emails "from" a real person ... but that make it clear that that person represents Unbounce.

    Thanks for the comments!

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