It doesn’t matter how creative your email marketing campaign is if no one is getting the message. An open rate refers to the percentage of email recipients who are actually opening a given message in their inboxes. While research shows that email open rates are notoriously low, the good news is that businesses can take action to track and improve their open rates, and even a small boost in opens can make a huge difference in your email campaigns overall.
Best Practices for Solid Email Open Rates
Once you’ve tested new approaches to take with your email marketing, you can begin implementing steps to improve email open rates. It’s a good idea to keep some of the following email marketing best practices in mind when crafting your messaging:
One of the best ways of improving open-rate percentages is to craft your messages with a personal touch. A recent TopRank article recommends sending emails from a specific company employee, like a president or CEO, instead of a generic business address. Research shows that subscribers are more likely to open an email from a person rather than one from an organization.
Short, Eye-Catching Subject Lines
Because subject lines are the first—and sometimes the only—part of your mailer a client reads, it’s only logical that they are one of the most important aspects of your email campaign. In general, businesses should try to keep subject lines short and to the point, using 50 characters or less when possible. If you want to optimize for mobile devices, keep it under 36 characters. When possible, send multiple subject lines with each newsletter and keep track of your learnings; eventually, patterns will emerge. Learn more about how to test subject lines below.
An Excellent Email Body
While people need to open the email in order to see the body, having consistently good content is more likely to increase the open rates of return viewers. Here are a few tips:
You probably know that it’s useful to break up blocks of text on a page, but studies show it’s even more powerful to integrate intriguing images and graphics to catch the reader’s eye. Find an image that is both eye-catching and relevant to your business or email, and remember to keep photos small in size so they don’t take too long to load. It’s also a good idea to use alternative text in case some of your subscribers have image blocking on as a default (this can be done using the “alt” tag in HTML).
Another critical part of a good email is the call to action, which clearly directs the reader to take the next step and convert. Before sending your email campaign, decide what action you want your readers to take, and compose a clear call to action to reflect that. Maybe you want readers to “Order Now for Free Shipping” or “Book Travel Today to Save 25%.” Whatever call to action you choose, remember to be clear about the intention of the message early in the email, as you don’t want subscribers to have to read the whole email to find out.
Tools for Tracking Open Rates
Before you can assess the success of your email marketing campaign, you need to track your open rates. Fortunately, a number of web tools exist to help marketers record and evaluate open-rate data. Services like AWeber and Yesware offer valuable analytics information about the number and, in some cases, types of subscribers who are opening your emails.
Email analytics allow you to determine what subscribers opened your email and which, if any, links they clicked within the message. Knowing who opened a particular message helps you to segment your subscriber list and follow up with those recipients who demonstrated an interest in particular products or services. Analytics also provide you with the data necessary to analyze different variables that may have affected success, which will be discussed in more detail in the section below.
If you requested additional information from subscribers before they joined your mailing list, you can cross-analyze email open rates in relation to other demographics, including location, gender and age. Perhaps women are more likely to open different subject lines than men, or maybe people on the West Coast open emails during a different timeframe than those on the East; the more you know about your subscribers, the better you can analyze and understand their patterns.
Testing and Improving Email Open Rates
Once you’ve determined your current email open rates and have tracking tools in place, you can begin testing new approaches for your email marketing campaign to improve your percentages.
Testing different subject lines is one of the most effective ways to improve open rates for your email list. Experiment with direct selling subject lines, which clearly indicate the product, service or deal, and soft subject lines, which infer what’s inside but require the user to click through to the email for the full story. You can also experiment with other variables, such as capitalizing the first letter of each word, using more urgent language or sparking curiosity by phrasing the subject line as a question. You can also personalize your subject lines to increase their appeal; instead of a line that reads “Save Now,” use one that says “Special Savings for Our Valued Customer” or try using the subscriber’s name. As you begin to understand what subject lines are most effective for your audience (or for a segment of your audience), you can begin tailoring your messages accordingly.
Another way to test your email open rates is to vary the time of day your campaign is being sent. By dividing your list into smaller subscriber groups, you can determine whether your audience is more likely to respond to emails sent in the morning, afternoon or evening. It might also be worth testing different days of the week or the month; for example, you may find that more customers are willing to buy after payday at the end of the month.
Segmenting your subscribers also allows you to test for optimal message frequency. You don’t want your customers to feel overwhelmed by message volume, but you don’t want them to forget your business exists either. Experiment with different communication timelines to find the ideal number of emails that your customer base responds to.
The second potential variable to test is actually inside of the email. While the first sentence of the email, also called the preheader, won’t be visible for some readers until they open the message, in several popular email services—including Gmail and Outlook— as well as on mobile devices, users can see the first few words before they even open the email. While altering the preheader will not be as influential as the subject line, if you’ve tested all other variables, it’s another element to consider.
Low open rates are the bane of many email marketing campaigns. However, companies can do a great deal to boost their rates. By tracking opens, testing different approaches and following the best practices, marketers can raise their email open rates and reap the rewards of more business.