Increase Email Open Rates: Email Experts Give Their Top Strategies

Email marketing is one of the most effective channels to drive business growth.

Better than social media. For ROI it's even better even than advertising.

But if nobody opens your email, what's the point?

Your offers don't get seen. Your links don't get clicked. Sales don't get made.

To give your business the best chance at improving your email open rates, I asked email marketing experts a simple question:

Can you give our readers a recent strategy or test which increased your email open rates the most?

By posting this question on the leading and most active marketing communities, I got some excellent responses that you need to hear.

Jon Buchan, Director of Charm Offensive

The punchline subject line: "Re: Fake subject line to get your attention"

Don’t get me wrong, usually I hate using “Re:” in broadcast emails. It’s tricking the reader and I don’t like that.

However, this subject line admits that it’s trickery immediately. It’s kind of like a mini joke in the subject line.

People can get a hearty chuckle, and then they open your email.

Every time I’ve done this, I’ve seen my open rates go up significantly.

Of course, this is not something you can do regularly. People will quickly get bored of being told the same joke over and over.

But used sparingly, it’s an effective trick that makes most readers smirk, smile or laugh out loud before opening your emails.

A Few More Crafty Tricks To Maximize Open Rates

These are not the most sophisticated of tricks but they work.

You have a few variables to play with to get people’s attention in your inbox:

  • The subject line.
  • The first line or two of your email.
  • Your name.

Obviously, you can use urgency in your subject line.

For example, “Not long left," or the far less subtle, “LASTTTTT CALLLLLL.”

You can also use emojis. The more unusual the better.

You can include one at the start of the subject line, and a different one in the first line of your email.

These are all really basic pattern interrupts.

As people are scrolling through emails on their phone, they may stop because, well, they’ve never seen an email start with :star: or :snowman:.

However, don’t go overboard. And don’t do this all the time. Iit’ll lose its efficacy to your more long-standing subscribers.

The other trick I use is to change my name.

Instead of “Jon Buchan”, I become “JON” or “jon buchan” or “Charm Offensive” It’s a tiny little change. Sure, it’s a bit of a cheap trick, but at least it’s not dishonest.

That’s still my name. I’ve just written it differently.

Sure, it won’t force them to open the email. But it might stop them from scrolling. If your copy is good enough, they’ll open it. Mission accomplished.

Again, this isn’t something you should deploy all the time, as it’ll lose its effect.

But every now and then, you can deploy it, and it’ll work. You’ll get high open rates.

And none of it is unethical. It might be a little on the cheap side, sure. But I’ll pick ethical cheap tricks over sophisticated dishonesty any day, and I’d wager your audience would too.

My Thoughts:

My primary thought for all of Jon's strategies is to reiterate what he says a couple times: "This isn't something you should deploy all the time."

The worst thing with being in a business' email list is the frequency and repetitiveness of their mailouts. Nothing makes someone unsubscribe or mark as spam more quickly than a fun or quirky subject line they've heard a half dozen times already.

So my takeaway is this: Space out the same subject line type you use. Don't be the "always quirky" business, nor the "always very serious" business. Be both, sometimes.

Jeffrey John, partner at Conversations Business

For cold B2B emails, we find (for our clients and in our own outreach) that subject lines that use some form of personalization (e.g. a {Variable}) get the best opens. Using their company name always works well.

If I helped reduce churn some examples could be:

  • Reducing {Company} churn
  • Churn @ {Company}?
  • {Company} losing customers?

Some other quick notes:

  • Short subject lines are usually the best as they display fully on mobile. However if your subject needs to be longer to make sense, don't chop it down just to be shorter.
  • When not using variables/personalization your subject needs to be really unique and quirky.
  • "Quick Question" does not work well and is overused in 2018 going into 2019. This worked a few years ago, not so well anymore.
  • You can run into spam issues with cold emails if all your subjects are the same, therefore use personalization to combat this.
  • Look at bringing in custom information into the subject. For example, we identified Shopify agencies that were on the Shopify Experts site and took the information on their minimum budget. We then used the subject "clients with budgets of {Budget} for {Company}" which in practice was "clients with budgets of $10k+ for Agency". This got 85% opens on a cold email.

My Thoughts:

We improved our own cold outreach email open rates significantly when we added [company name] to the subject line, exactly as Jeffrey recommends.

In fact, there's nothing which has had a bigger influence on our opens (or replies, for that matter) than business-focused personalization.

My recommendation, therefore, is to start collecting lead information now, and create a segment of your leads with whom you can use personalization.

Related Reading:

I wrote about the addition of the "[business_name]" variable to our emails in my recent article examining "The Highest-Impact Email A/B Tests We've Run."

Felix Langlet, from Triggerbee.com

To my question, Felix initially responded with "I have some tests to talk about with ~80% open rate to a cold list of 600 people."

That got my attention. I followed up immediately.

Well, first thing is the offer. To get 80% opens and over 50% clicks you need a perfect offer.

We sponsored an event called Conversion Jam. As a sponsor, you got access to the emails of all the attendees.

So, we went to the event, listened to all the speakers, took notes, and compiled all our notes in a "Speaker Notes" PDF.

We had already prepared the email campaign and the landing page the day before, so all we needed to do was upload the list of emails and paste in the url to the PDF

.

We sent out the campaign the day after the event, and it was just a floodstorm of people downloading the PDF.

80% open and 54% CTR for a list of cold leads:

My Thoughts: This campaign might seem like a very specific one, but you can take away a single actionable thought:

Do your prep work fully before sending a single email.

This campaign worked as well as it did because they'd prepared for it before the conference even started. It worked well because it sent something which they were confident the recipients wanted. And it worked well because it sent that thing at the right time: not two weeks later, but as soon as the conference was over.

They did their homework, determined what would be desirable, built the framework to ensure the campaign would succeed, and launched at the right time.

Don't half-ass email marketing. If there's anything to take from these email marketing experts, it's that these people are successful because they put the work in.

Will Cannon, Founder & CEO at UpLead

There are proven elements that will make your cold email more likely to succeed.

For instance: your subject line should be short but sweet, and your email copy should show how your product/solution solves your reader's pain points. You might not hit a home-run and score a 35% open rate and click through rate on your first try, though, so be sure to constantly A/B test your emails.

My Thoughts:

Short and sweet, Will's advice (at the end there particularly) should be taken to heart:

You may not always hit a home-run, but don't let that get you down. Keep testing. Keep iterating.

Even if none of the strategies in this article - none of the subject line recommendations or takeaways - work for you, that doesn't mean that email marketing won't.

Arsalan Sajid, CEO at Cloudways

We at Cloudways improved our open rate from 4% to 6-7% by working on the email subject and scheduling the email based on the time zone of the target audience.

We used more action verbs in our subject line while keeping it relevant to the articles we added in our newsletter. We believe adding a call to action(s) in the subject line is working for us.

For example, "Analyze, Plan and Prepare - Make the Most of This Holiday Season"

My Thoughts:

These are two huge takeaways in a short response:

  1. Use actionable language in your subject line.
  2. Schedule your mailout based on your audience's timezone.

James Scherer, Head of Inbound Marketing at Wishpond

Yes, this is me. And yes, I'm adding myself to this article, but it's for a good reason:

I want you to know about one of our most impactful tests which increased our email open rates by 80%.

Yes, you heard that right. 80%.

And it was a test I didn't want to run.

Our outreach team tried a subject line without any capitalization at all, and saw a 10% improvement, so we used it as inspiration for our own tests:

Here's the newsletter a/b test:

Boom: 80% increase in open rates.

My thoughts:

My suspicion here is that a subject line without capitalization makes the email look like it was sent by a person, rather than a business or computer.

It's also one of the easiest tests we've ever run, so it's well worth a try.

Read more about this in my article "The Highest-Impact Email A/B Tests We've Run."

Final Thoughts

Hopefully the words and recommendations from these experts will give you the push and inspiration you need to improve your own email open rates.

If you have any questions about email marketing or how to optimize your business' communication, don't hesitate to reach out in the comment section!

Related Reading:

Written by James Scherer

James Scherer is the content editor at Wishpond. When he's not writing or designing for Wishpond he's risking his life biking around the city. Reach out to him on Twitter @JDScherer.