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Strategies to Boost Your Email Open Rates

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This post is part of a series called Email Marketing Jumpstart.
How to Write Great Subject Lines for Your Marketing Emails
How to Maximize Your Clickthrough Rate in Emails

You can spend hours crafting the perfect copy for you marketing email. But if your email gets ignored, all your efforts will be wasted.

On the flip side, the more people who open your email, the greater the impact of your hard work.

The most important strategy for making sure your emails are opened is to write effective subject lines. According to this study from MailChimp, a good subject line can be the difference between an abysmal open rate (below 10%) and an amazing open rate (above 50%).

Aside from writing good subject lines, what else can you do to boost your open rate?

Think About the Name in the "From" Field

When you set up your email marketing platform, you'll get to choose the name that goes in your "From" field whenever you send out an email.

Why is this important? Because every time you send out an email, the recipient sees two pieces of information:

  • the subject line
  • who sent the email

This is all they have to decide whether to open the email.

Using either of the following in the "From" field will reduce your open rate:

  • an email address (e.g. sales@example.com)
  • your company name alone

Research by Pinpointe found that using a real person's name in the "From" field rather than using a company email address improves open rates by up to 35%.

Meanwhile, Hubspot compared using their company name ("Hubspot") to using a personal name together with their company name ("Maggie Georgieva, Hubspot"). Again, emails sent with a real person's name had a better open rate.

Tweak Your Subject Lines With Split Testing

Scientists conduct experiments to find out how things work. They form a hypothesis (a best guess about how they think things work) then test that hypothesis to see if their guess was right or wrong.

Marketers have long recognized the value of testing. For marketers, testing involves seeing how well a particular marketing technique works.

Marketers began split testing in the early 20th century. Copywriters would run two slightly different ads for the same product in the same newspaper. Each ad had the same coupon that readers could return in exchange for a special offer. The only difference between the coupons in the two ads was a small code in the corner of the coupon. These codes allowed copywriters to track which copy was most effective in getting readers to take action.

Back then, all this tracking had to be done by hand. Office clerks counted up the various coupons that had been returned and calculated which ad performed best. Today, thanks to the power of the Internet, all this tracking is done automatically. So marketers can easily run tests at very little cost.

How does this apply to your email marketing? You can test various aspects of your emails to see what improves your open rate.

Variables you can test include:

  • subject lines
  • how often you send emails
  • the time of day you send emails
  • the types of email you send

Subject lines are the most significant factor. Many email marketing services provide tools that allow you to pre-test subject lines. You provide two potential subject lines. These are tested on a small segment of your list to see which subject performs best (i.e. gets the most opens). Then the top-performing subject line is used for the rest of your list.

Email frequency and regularity, the time of day you send emails, and the types of email you send will all influence your open rate. It's worth keeping track of each of these factors as you send emails to see how they impact your open rates.

Remember, split testing is a process of incremental improvement. Once you've run one test and found that a particular subject line formula or time of day works well, don't stop there. Keep tweaking and testing. Even for a small list of 500 people, a 1% increase in open rate means that five more people will read your email. For a list of 5,000, that's 50 more people. Remember, only the people who read your email have the potential to click the links in your email, visit your website, and make a purchase.

Follow These Simple Techniques to Avoid Spam Filters

Having your emails blocked by spam filters will reduce your open rate. Fortunately, this is something that's easy to avoid.

Spam is unsolicited email sent out to a list. If you send messages to email addresses you found online or that you bought from a marketing agency, that's spam. So as long as people have subscribed to your list by choice, and you include the option to unsubscribe in every email, then your emails aren't spam.

Over the years, email providers such as AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo learned how to spot and block spam. Spammers caught on and adjusted their tactics. They began breaking up words using periods (fr.ee) or using special characters and numbers as letters (spec1@l 0ffer) to get around spam filters.

From time to time, you'll even see non-spammers using these "tricks" to try and avoid spam filters.

The truth is, these tricks no longer work. They actually trigger spam filters, making it more likely that your message will be marked as spam and blocked.

What can you do to avoid spam filters? Follow these simple rules:

  1. Don't spam. Only send emails to people who have signed up for your list.
  2. Write as you ordinarily would, in a professional way. Follow basic email etiquette. Don't SHOUT IN ALL CAPS or use crazy punctuation (like this!!!!), and you'll be grand.

Of course, there's always a chance that something you do could trigger a spam filter, but if the rest of your email is legit, then filters nowadays are sophisticated enough to recognized that.

There's one other way that you could end up being blocked by spam filters. That's if your subscribers mark your messages as spam. How can you avoid this happening? Send out relevant, valuable messages to your list. More on that later.

Get Around Gmail Inbox Filters

Gmail is the world's most popular email service, with around half-a-billion users. As such, a significant proportion of subscribers to your email list will receive their emails through Gmail.

Unfortunately, these subscribers recently became less likely to open your emails. That's because last year, Gmail started dividing its users' inboxes into "tabs." So instead of having one inbox where they check mail, Gmail users now have to check five tabs. This includes a "promotions" tab, where it's likely that your email newsletter is being filed.

Gmail users tend to be younger and more educated than average, so if this is your target market, you need to be especially aware of how Gmail filters emails into tabs.

Tabs are good news for Gmail users. The emails they really want to read—from friends, family and business colleagues—go into their "Primary" tab. Less important emails, such as social media updates or email newsletters, go to other tabs.

As a consequence, Gmail users are less likely to see your emails, and less likely to open them. A study by email marketing provider MailChimp found that open rates from Gmail users dropped by over 1.5 percentage points after tabs were added to Gmail's inbox. That's a massive fall, considering average open rates are around 15%.

What can you do about this?

There are no tricks here. There's no way that you can ensure your emails end up in your subscriber's Primary tab. However, you can reach out to your email subscribers who use Gmail and ask them to redirect your emails to their Primary tab.

To do this, they'll have to drag and drop one of your emails into the "Primary" tab. Gmail will then ask if they'd like to "do this for future messages" from your email address. If they click "Yes," then all your emails will go to their primary inbox.

This is a simple way of making sure your emails to Gmail users are given VIP service, and it keeps your open rates up.

Segment Your List

If you've read our article on subject lines, you'll know the secret to getting your emails opened: relevance. The more relevant your emails are to your subscribers, the more likely they are to be opened.

The problem is, once you've grown your list to thousands (or even tens of thousands) of subscribers, it's difficult to be relevant to that many people. As the relevance of your emails declines, so will your open rate.

How can you stay relevant to your subscribers while running a big list? The easiest way to do this is by segmenting your email list.

Segmenting involves dividing your list into groups. Each group is made up of subscribers with something in common, so you can target your emails at them.

You can divide your list on a huge range of factors including:

  • age
  • gender
  • location
  • job
  • interests
  • needs and wants
  • psychographics
  • past purchases
  • the links they click inside your emails
  • how often they open your emails

How do you find out this information? There are a few ways you can do this:

Ask people for their details (age, gender, interests, etc.) when they sign up to receive your emails. However, it's worth noting that the more information you ask during the sign up phase, the harder you'll find it to win new subscribers.

Offer special deals to specific people on your list. For example, let's say you're planning to launch a new product that will only interest the business owners on your list—especially business owners who struggle with their marketing. Before launching your product, you could offer your list the opportunity to download a free report that shows business owners how to win more customers. To receive the report, they have to sign up to a new list.

This technique allows you to segment through self-selection. When you offer freebies that are relevant to a particular audience, your subscribers will want to segment themselves.

Track how they interact with your emails. A really easy way to boost open rates is to only email your most loyal fans who always open your emails. This allows you to send out emails more frequently, while knowing that you're not annoying your full list by sending out too many emails. Some email marketing providers track subscriber interaction for you.

You can also track the links subscribers click. This gives you an indication of their interests.

Track buying behavior on your site. By observing the purchases that customers make, you can send them relevant offers. Note: This only works if your email marketing software is integrated with your ecommerce platform.

Always Provide Value

This is the most obvious tip of all, yet many email marketers ignore it. For the best possible open rate, write emails that people want to read. If your subscribers look forward to hearing from you, then of course you'll have a better open rate.

You might think you're providing a free service by sending out your email. So why should subscribers be fussy about the emails you send?

The truth is, every email a person receives costs them something. Whenever you send out an email, you're asking your subscribers to give you two of their most valuable assets: their time and attention. Make sure your emails are worth what your readers are "paying," and you won't have to worry about open rates at all.

Learn more about jump starting your email marketing in our multipart, foundational series on the subject.

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