10 Ways to Improve Email Marketing Open Rates

Posted by Philip Storey on 21/05/19 12:18
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Philip Storey

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Some say that open rate is a metric that doesn't matter to email marketers anymore, citing it as a "retired metric". But open rate still has an important rate to play in improving email marketing performance. This blog uncovers 10 ways to improve email open rates. Open rates for email are in decline. Ask anyone and they'll tell you the same thing, including pretty much all of the industry benchmarking reports over the past two years. In theory, with all the segmentation and micro-targeting available, they should be soaring. 

I hope you find these 10 tips for increasing open rates useful - there's something here for everyone, no matter what industry or geography you're working in. 

Overhaul your segmentation and targeting

First things first, you need to overhaul your approach to segmentation and targeting. This is why most industry experts suggest that open rate is a retired metric - because if you are dramatically changing segments and targeting micro-audiences, then your open rate will automatically change too. The key to mastering this, is understanding how specific types of campaign typically perform. Once you have a benchmark for open rate for something such as a cart abandonment campaign, you can start to look to positively impact that number.  Get a handle on your typical open rate for specific types of campaigns and be mindful that as soon as you start to make changes to your segmentation and targeting, this will dramatically change. But this doesn't mean that open rates isn't worth tracking and trying to positively affect.

A/B split test subject lines

Split testing is a critical element of any successful email marketing campaign. It's so easy to split test subject lines in pretty much any email marketing platform or ESP,  but so many of us don't bother to test frequently. Instead of a B split testing, try A/B/C/D/E testing. Try five or more different approaches the subject lines and see what performs best. You might consider trying different persuasion tactics to get there a little bit faster, but split testing is the simplest and fastest way to create a positive impact on email marketing campaigns without having to go and do anything fancy with creative or data.

I describe split testing as "free optimisation".  there's no reason not to do it because it doesn't take much time to consider a split test for a subject line. factor in that extra little bit of time for all of your email campaigns to include split testing and you will quickly see a positive impact in your results.

I know what you're thinking. What happens if I already split test and I don't see incremental impact in those tests? This is often the most common reason that marketers stop testing or dismiss it as not being valuable. However, if you are not getting statistically significant results from split testing in email marketing, it can only mean one of two things. either you need to be more relentless with testing, trying the same tests at least three times across three different campaigns, or you need to be more disruptive in your approach to testing. A simple example of being more disruptive, is just trying more extreme persuasion tactics, such as a question, versus a very short subject line, versus an intriguing one, versus a discount, versus something generic. 

Start split testing and see your results sore.

Use emoji's

There's been a lot of debate over whether emoji's are impactful for improving email marketing open rates. My personal experience has been positive, observing hundreds of enterprise level brands seeing positive increases in opens from using emoji is effectively. But the key, is using them appropriately and effectively. For example, if you use are made using every single campaign, it's highly likely that they will start to diminish in terms of impact. If you start to use them sparingly perhaps for one specific campaign such as sale emails, it's highly likely that you will find that they perform really well for you.

Take a look at what other brands are doing in different industries with emoji's and subject lines. Step outside of your own comfort zone and only industry the inspiration and start to consider how you can bring emoji's into subject lines to get those open rates up.

Implement personalisation

I remember a few years ago when somebody in the automation team at Amazon told me of their amazement at the impact that personalisation was having on email marketing there. It was getting crazy open rates. For most brands, bringing the subscriber's name into the subject line has an instant positive impact on open rate. But just like emoji's, if you do it all the time the results will diminish quickly. Bring personalisation into subject lines, don't overdo it and try to do it in a way that makes it useful and perhaps playful.  don't do it for the sake of it, do it to stand out. Finally, make sure that you split test personalisation in subject lines versus no personalisation in subject lines so that you can measure the results. 

Use a super subject line

Do you know what a super subject line is? Well, basically it means that email clients such as Gmail show first line of text in the email next to the subject line. The reason this is called a super subject line, is because it effectively acts as a second subject line. This increases the propensity for somebody to open your email, significantly.

Lots of enterprise brands do this now, but there are still many that haven't caught on. Here's what my Gmail promotions tab looks like today:

Gmail promotions tab super subject lines

Look just beyond the subject line and you can see that the majority of these examples show a super subject line. If you haven't implemented a super subject line yet, get your template amended and you'll soon see a positive impact on open rate. if you're unsure of how to do this, get in touch with us and we can help you.

Utilise dynamic content

Dynamic content such as last product browsed in subject line can be really effective at increasing open rate. eBay are really good at this, often citing one of the auctions that you've been looking at recently within the subject line:

eBay email marketing subject lines

As you can see, eBay use product names and category names dynamically within subject lines to try and entice me back. eBay use an AI-based email marketing technology solution that enables them to do this very effectively. I'll talk more about that later on in this blog.

Be brand-congruent

This might sound simple, but just being congruent to your brand is a great way to increase open rates. Email marketers tend to have a bit of a free reign when it comes to copy and this can service really well. However, that creative licence when it comes to copywriting the email can shoot us in the foot with subject lines.

Whatever you are doing in terms of testing subject lines and trying to increase open rates, make sure you stay on-brand. Remember that your prospects customers and subscribers will be experiencing the brand across lots of different channels. If your subject lines aren't congruent with the experience that they have with your brand everywhere else, the propensity of somebody opening falls, potentially even leaving the customer to question whether it is actually your brand sending the email or not. Take this into consideration when you're thinking about getting creative with subject lines.

Master the length of your subject lines

The really easy test to put into place instantly, is a short subject line versus medium length subject line versus long subject line. Yes, I know this is extremely basic, but the great thing about email marketing is some of the smallest most obvious opportunities can yield some of the greatest impact on results.

Start by writing a relatively long subject line. Then cut that down a little, and then finally cut it right down to just three or four words. These are your three subject lines to test with. Split test your email campaign and measure the results. Remember to run this test at least three times across different campaigns. Look to see if there is any clear indication that either short medium or long subject line consistently performs better for you. You might be surprised at the results…

Be ruthlessly inquisitive

Be ruthlessly inquisitive. Curiosity is a silent skill in marketing. It's a critical skill if you are going to be an exceptional email marketer. It's easy to just do the basics and to do them well. But to take things to another level requires a mindset of always wanting and seeking to improve.

Improvement starts with curiosity. What have you never tried before with email? How could you try that right now without having to invest in developer time or for it to take a long time to put into action? A ruthlessly inquisitive email marketer will always outperform the rest, because they are always looking for opportunities to improve. If this mindset isn't familiar, try to take note of one idea every day that you've not put into action before and just log it somewhere. After a month, to take a look back at that list and start to think about what you might try first. Be ruthlessly inquisitive with email.

Pro-tip: Use Phrasee

Some of our clients are starting to use AI-based copywriting tools such as Phrasee. I must admit, when I first heard that AI was coming to subject line creation and email creative, I was a little sceptical. Having seen the results, I can say that this is the future now of improving email open rates and email copy in general. if you haven't yet checked out what our friends at Phrasee are doing, get in touch with us or the Phrasee team for more information.

Phrasee AI Email Marketing

Wrap Up

There should be plenty of ideas here for email marketers of all levels to start improving email open rates. If you're looking to positively affect your email marketing, check out all of these useful resources that we put together for you to help you to be the best email marketer you can be:

Learn the secret email strategies from top retailers
Free reactivation and reengagement email marketing guide
Use this free A/B split testing planner for email
Plan your email strategy with this useful strategic planning document
Get a free email marketing consultation today

If you're looking to take things to the next level and partner with an email marketing agency, get in touch with us today and see how we can help.


Topics: Social Media, Leveraging emotions, Colour, Email content, Email Marketing, Email marketing campaigns, Email marketing strategy, Email subject lines, Emotional marketing, Facebook, FOMO, Instagram, marketing content, paid social, paid social ads, Paid social campaigns, Persuasion tactics, Persuasive copywriting, Retail, Seasonal content, Seasonal marketing, Seasonal triggers, Social, Social media marketing, subject lines, visual impact, Visuals, marketing campaigns,, Father's Day

Philip Storey

Written by Philip Storey

Philip Storey is the Founder and CEO at Enchant Agency. Philip is an email marketing specialist in London, UK. He has enabled hundreds of brands to improve their email marketing. Beyond marketing, Philip is a business coach, personal and professional development coach and mentor to business leaders and senior marketers.

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