5 Ways to Boost the Open Rates of Your Email Campaigns

Open rates have long been the primary metric for measuring the effectiveness of email marketing campaigns. This comes as no surprise since they hold the key to discovering what engages your subscribers and what doesn’t.

How Open Rates are Calculated

Open rates are counted differently in Europe than they are in America. The European model is based on the relationship between viewed messages to sent messages, whereas the American method measures viewed messages as a portion of delivered emails, leaving out hard and soft bounces. This means that open rates as calculated in accordance to the European model will always be a bit lower compared to their American counterparts since it includes all messages sent.

The “open” in open rate is triggered by downloading a small graphic file of just 1px x 1px that is embedded in the HTML code of the message. Unfortunately, some email service providers block the downloading of graphics by default, meaning that it’s possible for a given message to actually be opened by a recipient but not register as such.

Still, despite these technical issues, open rates are a very important indicator of the degree of engagement that subscribers have with your newsletter and the effectiveness of email campaigns.

But before we jump to ways in which you can increase your open rate, let’s first look at averages in different fields.

Email Marketing: averages in different fields

Source: Smartinsight.com

As you can see, averages in different kinds of businesses are usually around 18 to 30%. The figure can vary significantly depending on the number of subscribers in a database and their level of engagement.

As the size of your database grows, so do the challenges associated with delivering the right content. New subscribers mean new expectations. Also, the interest of “older” subscribers can diminish as time passes. This is why it’s so important to use database segmentation to drive open rates and utilize behavioral, declarative, and transactional data to personalize your message.

Now, let’s move on to discussing the factors that influence the open rates that your campaigns achieve.

1.   Sender Name

Some marketers still overlook the importance of the sender name in their campaigns even though it’s the first thing subscribers see in their inboxes. It’s also the first factor that influences whether or not a message will be opened. Recipients use the sender name to immediately answer the important questions of “Do I know this company?” and “Do I trust this sender?”

Use a sender name that makes it clear that your message comes from a professional company. This means using a company domain and not a free service like Gmail, Yahoo, etc. You also need to use testing to see what kind of sender name gets the best response from your subscriber base. There’s no perfect recipe that works in every situation, but A/B testing can help to show what works with your audience.

Once you establish an identity in your subject lines, it’s best to be consistent and not change it too often. Slight changes can be made, as GAP did here:

Email Marketing: sender name

If you’re running lead nurturing campaigns, especially in B2B, it’s good to use different and expanded sender fields by combining personal names with the company identity. It enhances the personal connection and creates the impression of two-way communication.

Email marketing: sender name test

Email marketing: sender name test

2. Message Subject

There are a few misunderstandings around the idea and purpose of the message subject. One of them is that the shorter it is, the better. However, as with so many other aspects of your marketing, you have to experiment to find out more about what gets the best reaction from your customers. Bear in mind that more and more subscribers are opening messages on mobile devices—53%, according to Litmus research. This means a smaller screen and less space to get your point across in your subject line so best limit it to four or five words.

No matter how much space you have, the goal is always to get the recipient to open the message. Following the 4 U’s approach is a good way to increase your chances of success by making your subject line:

  • unique,
  • ultra-specific,
  • useful.

The fact is that subscribers will only give you a second or two to convince them to open your message so you have to optimize your subject line in every way you can.

Another absolute must for marketers is carefully checking every aspect of your content before your message goes out. Even minor mistakes make you look unprofessional and can drag down your open rate.

Pro Tip:

What decreases your open rate and what should you avoid in your subject line?

  • Using “FW” or anything that suggests your message is being forwarded can get a 17% lower open rate;
  • The word “newsletter” in a subject line cause a 19%

3. Preheader text

The first sentence of emails that are visible in inboxes often says something along the lines of “If this message does not display properly, click here…..” While not a huge mistake, there are better ways to use this chance to take advantage of subscriber attention. Preheaders should expand on the idea or promise in the subject line and move them a step closer to opening the message. It’s as simple as adding a sentence at the beginning of the content of the mail, above the header, in the same color as the background so as not to appear when the message is opened. Here’s an example of what the header looks like in an inbox:

Email marketing: TopShop header

Email marketing: TopShop

Careful! A clumsy or bad preheader can ruin your newsletter. Here’s an email from someone who gave subscribers a chance to leave the mailing list as the first thing they saw:

Email marketing: bad preheader

Obviously, this does not make a good impression. Unless getting people to actually unsubscribe from your newsletter is your goal, it is better to make sure to avoid such embarrassing mistakes.

4. Sending Time

The day of the week and time of day you send your email marketing campaigns can affect your open rates. A commonly repeated myth is that the best open rates come after sending campaigns in the morning hours. However, FreshMail’s research shows that opens do not directly correlate with sending times, meaning that subscribers open messages throughout the day. Here’s how it looks:

Email marketing: sending times

The chart showing opens and clicks is flatter than the one showing sending times, suggesting various delays in the time it takes recipients to open the message. A sending time optimizer can be very useful in determining more precise times when subscribers are more likely to react to your message.

The fact that only 23% of online shoppers have made an online purchase while at work is instructive. This suggests that, among other things, sending commercial offers later in the day in the afternoon hours could be more effective in reaching subscribers when they have time to react to your message. The inclusion of something like a discount valid for a limited time could be just the thing to result in a conversion. Good email marketing systems can help you discover which times of the day work best for you—mornings, afternoons or evenings.

If besides sending out promotional emails, you’re also communicating with journalists a lot, there is a study by Prowly where they analyzed open rates of press releases shared via the platform to find the perfect moment for sending out a press release.

When to send a press release: Prowly

Take a look how to improve your chances of getting noticed by the press here.

5. Personalization

Subscribers have become used to a high degree of personalization in the communications they receive. Still, the use of something as simple as their names in the subject line increases open rates by 126%. Remember that the degree of personalization you can achieve in your newsletter depends in part on the amount of information you can gather when new subscribers join your mailing list.

Here’s a basic signup form from Kissmetrics, asking for the first name and email address only, which is all they need at the beginning:

Email marketing: KissMetrics popup

The more information you get at the time of signup, the more precisely you can personalize your communications.

Research from Unbounce shows that the more valuable the content you deliver, the more willing subscribers are to share more about themselves. If you don’t offer potential subscriber anything valuable, limit your signup form to two fields.

On the other hand, if you’re offering something like a white paper, report, or something similar, you can ask for more information in exchange for what you are sharing.

Email marketing: HubSpot subscription form

Email marketing: Conversion

Apart from declarative data provided by subscribers, you can also utilize behavioral data, which can be collected in two ways:

  • subscriber actions in email marketing campaigns,
  • actions of visitors to websites gained through integration with Google Analytics, which can then be used to send autoresponders based on customer

Using this information can help you better react to what your subscribers are interested in, thus increasing your chances of conversion.

Behavioral data is also very useful in the creation of dynamic content, which automatically adapts to different subscribers.

Remember that we’re all bombarded with tons of online ads every day. Getting attention means standing out from the crowd. Using personalization can be just what you need to boost your ROI.