Top 10 Proven Techniques to Increase Email Open Rates

Do you know there exists a marketing channel that gives 41x the ROI? We’re talking about the humble emails! With other marketing channels like social media and display advertising generating a ROI of 10 to 22 times, email marketing seems to be one of the most cost-effective channels.

increase email open rates

Here’s a caveat – your email marketing strategies will only be effective so long as they are getting opened. An important metric to measure the effectiveness of your email campaigns, the open rate represents the number of recipients who opened your mail and it is denoted as a percentage value. A open rate of 20% means that for every 10 delivered emails, 2 were opened by the recipients. You must always pay close attention to the open rate because it shows if customers are actually engaging with your content.

Know more about: Email Marketing Predictions for 2017!

If you want to improve the open rates (and the overall effectiveness) of your marketing campaign, here are 10 actionable techniques that you can use.

Here is Top 10 Proven Techniques to Increase your Email Open Rates:

1. Deliver Mails When Your Customer are Active

Your email must land in your customer’s inbox when they are checking their mails. Why? An average office worker receives around 121 mails per day and if the customer doesn’t get your email when his inbox is open, there’s a good chance that other mails will pile upon yours and make it disappear. Schedule emails to be sent during times when your subscribers are actively checking the inbox and not sleeping. But, how do you find the time or the day that works for your business? Every email list consists of various people with diverse interests and habits. You could go with studies that suggest the best time to schedule emails for your industry. For example, this study conducted by Vendasta reveals that B2B emails sent on monday sees the highest open rate of about 4.7% higher than the industry standards.

Apart from this, you must also experiment with your send times. When Campaign Monitor wanted to find the best times to send out their emails, they monitored the email opens for every hour and factored the time zones. They also grouped the open rates according to how a typical workday functions ie., 9am to 5pm (work day), 1pm to 1.30pm (lunch time) and so on, to notice the pattern. The system showed them that open rates increase as people wake up and start their day but dwindle as the day goes by. Also, they noticed that the peak open times are just before and after the lunch time.

Action PlanIf you are email list comprises of millennials, avoid sending mails early in the morning. Early afternoons and late mornings will work well for younger audience. Look at industry-specific statistics and analyze your email results to see which time of the day is more lucrative. But, the only sure shot way to find out which day and time works best is to test campaigns. Try A/B testing to find when your customers are active (more on this later!)

2. Keep Testing to See What Works for Your Audience

One of the main reasons why email marketing becomes ineffective is marketers fail to test and restructure their strategy to meet the interests of their audience. Also, without testing, you will not be able to track the impact of changes in your email marketing strategy. One of the most effective ways to improve the open rates through testing seems to be through A/B testing. With A/B testing, it is easy to get an idea of what your entire email list is looking for – is it more personalization or content or just images. In an A/B test, you can set up two variations of a campaign, each with different elements, and send them to a small number of people from the entire mailing list. Half of the group is sent one version while the other half receives the other version. The version with the most opens will be sent to the remaining recipients.

With A/B testing, you can test subject lines, layout of the content, call to actions, subject line, images, headlines, closing text, footer, body, personalization and if you want to include elements like testimonials.  Each of these elements have different effects on the conversion process. For example, your subject line has a direct impact on how many people will open your email while the CTA will have an impact on how many people click through your landing page. You should optimize elements that have direct impact on the open rate (think personalization, subject lines, sender address etc) before you test other elements like text body, content and the footer.

Action PlanDecide what you’ll test before even setting up an A/B test. You might consider testing different elements like the subject line, body text, images, layout and call to action. If you want accurate results or if you want to get a pulse of what your audience wants, test one element at a time.

A B Testing

Recently, Hostgator A/B tested over 300 million emails to discover the elements that worked for their audience. By A/B testing, Hostgator figured out that the email with more text had 11.83% spike in open rates and that positioning an offer in terms of “$$$” gave better open rates than “% discount” offers.

3. Personalize the Subject Line

To capture the attention of the recipient instantly, personalize the email subject line. Let’s face it – the inboxes of our customers gets flooded every day with newsletters, spam mails and affiliate offers. However, crafting an email as if speaking to an individual is a subtle trust builder. Ensure that you collect first names of your customers when they sign up and send out emails that look as if they were sent to only one person. According to email marketing experts, personalized subject lines lead to a 22.2% spike in the open-rates. Also, when a popular marketing services company tested personalized subject lines for different brands, it noticed a considerable spike in open rates ranging from 1.1% to 41.8% depending on the industry. While personalization works best for travel services and consumer products, business products and multi-channel retailers also benefit from the same.

Action PlanIt is not enough to just include the first name of your customer in the subject line. Understand your buyer persona and find the likes, dislikes, interests and problems of your audience. To enable a greater level of personalization, use specific action words derived from your buyer persona in the subject line.

The Subject Line

4. Optimize for Mobile

About 15% to 70% of all emails are opened on mobile devices. A lot of your subscribers use a smartphone to open and view their emails. Though the number of mobile users vary depending on your product, target audience and the email type, you must not ignore them! One obvious way to appeal to your mobile audience is to make sure your email is mobile-friendly with loadable media and responsive elements. Pay attention to finer details like the way subject lines and images will be displayed on mobile devices. Given that email subject lines have a direct impact on open rates, it becomes important than ever to optimize it for mobile.

For example, while a typical inbox shows about 60 characters of an email subject line, mobile devices show just 25 to 30 characters. If a considerable amount of your subscribers are opening your email on an Android device or iPhone, keeping your subject lines under 30 characters will ensure that it’s displayed in its entirety.

Optimize Email for Mobile

Action PlanMake sure that the website and landing pages that link from your email are mobile optimized, you might want to consider using AMP for landing pages. Also, use a larger font and ensure that your elements are large enough for the mobile users to interact. Use a large CTA button and make sure that the images load fast.

5. Increase the Relevancy of your Emails

One of the important factors that people consider when deciding if they should open an email or not is the relevancy. Will the email benefit them in any way? Is it relevant to their needs and problems? Does the email offer a solution or cater to their interests?

And one of the best ways to make an email more relevant is by segmenting your email list correctly. The Lyris Annual Email Optimizer Report suggests that when email lists are segmented, 39% of the respondents reported higher open rates.

When Mention added segmenting as an important part of their restructured marketing strategy, their average open rates skyrocketed to 40-50%. They segmented their email subscriber lists based on the user persona by sending out surveys and conducting interviews, and the life cycle stage – based on if the customer is in the awareness stage, the consideration stage or the decision stage. The emails were designed to subtly guide them through the marketing funnel. The email copy and subject line was customized to create an engaged prospect. For example, the subject line for email sent to social media marketers in the ‘consideration’ stage was, “Crush Social Media with these Killer Tools”, but the subject line for social media marketers in the ‘decision’ stage was “Why Social Media Marketers Rely on Mention”.

Action PlanStart by including tags to your subscribers based on their purchase behavior and demographics. So you can send different emails for customers who are yet to purchase a product, customers who have purchase a product for the first time and to customer who are regular. Also, try to segment your lists based on how the customer got on your email list. Once you have segmented subscriber lists, you can also customize the subject lines and email body to a greater extent.

Look at how this newsletter is targeting Indians as a demographic!

Increase the relevancy of your emails

6. Bypass the Spam Filter

Spam filters are becoming more sophisticated with each passing day but you can still bypass them. If your emails are getting caught in the spam filter, your open rate will plummet. Well, what if I told you that certain phrases could direct your email to the spam folder? Try to avoid spam-trigger keywords like FREE, 4U, free leads and all natural. Also, ensure that you send your emails from a trustable IP address and ask subscribers to add you to their address books. Most important of it all – don’t bait and switch!

Here are some tips that will help you escape the spam filters –

  • Don’t use unnecessary exclamation marks and all uppercase letters in your subject line.
  • Avoid using excessive images and links in your email body.
  • Make sure the email header is filled in a proper way.
  • Be careful when using purchased email lists. They contain a lot of dead emails that will bounce and your provider will get a signal that you are trying to send bulk spam mails.
  • Don’t use misleading subject lines.
  • Avoid using Javascripts, videos, survey forms and Flash content.
  • If you are sending bulk emails, avoid having a PDF/Word file attachments.

Action PlanEnsure that the IP from which you are sending your emails hasn’t been used to send spam emails in the past. Also, check if all recipients have opted-in to receive your emails. Do not forget to include a way for subscribers to opt-out.

bypass the spam filter

7. Create Purposeful Content

If you think you’ve won the battle when a customer opens your email, you are wrong! The actual content of your email is important to open rates because if users find the content useful, they are more likely to open your emails in the future. But, if a subscriber is not happy with what they read or if they don’t engage with the content, they probably won’t open your emails again or may even opt out of subscription. The key is to deliver some content of value every time and not just send emails.

Take the case of how David Huffman from Deaconess Health Systems increased open rates by 20% just by sending emails with purposeful content. David wanted to re-engage “cold leads” by showing them the benefits of their program and harnessed the power of content to offer customers the right information to make purchase decisions. The team alternated between gated content with strong CTAs (that require users to fill a form before they can be accessed) like articles & whitepapers and non-gated content. The content for this campaign was in the form of ebooks, blogs, invitations to events and video success stories. The results were impressive – open rates increased by 20% in 6 weeks and there were zero subscribers.

Action PlanOne of the easiest ways to make your content more engaging is by linking to a free resource like ebook or a webinar. Understand the segment and the buyer person and try to solve a problem or fulfil a specific need of your customer.

Look at how Harvard Business Review sends a short, crisp management tip to their subscribers. The content is useful and it caters to a specific audience.

create purposeful content

8. Don’t Cause “List Fatigue”

List fatigue happens when your customers become tired of your emails if it is sent too frequently. While it is difficult to sustain good open rates when you are sending emails less frequently, sending a lot of marketing emails each week does no good too. Sending too few emails has a number of negative effects like reduced visibility and missing the right selling opportunities. If you send too many emails, you face problems like higher un-subscription rate and less engagement.

One good solution to combat this problem is by offering frequency options while signing-up, by letting the subscribers decide the frequency. You can also try testing or conducting a survey to find out the frequency your subscribers prefer. According to experts, only 46% of email users receive fewer than 5 promotional emails per day.

To determine the frequency that works best for your business, follow this process –

  • Fix your hypotheses (“increasing email frequency will improve my open rates by 10%”)
  • Decide on the baseline metrics (open rate, click through rate, unsubscribe rate etc)
  • Select a list segment (choose one segment that is sizable enough to offer meaningful results)
  • Create test emails and schedule them to rotate through your sample list.
  • Measure results, analyze and form conclusions.

Action PlanAim at that happy land amidst forgetfulness and fatigue. Check your cancellations rates, unsubscribe rates and open rates after every campaign and calibrate your campaigns accordingly. Decide the frequency based on the type of email. While sending newsletters on a frequent basis is good, sending promotional emails more than twice a week doesn’t work!

don’t cause list fatigue

9. Maintain Consistency

One subtle way to improve your open rates is by being consistent. We are naturally drawn towards the familiar and this is especially true when it comes to email campaigns. Follow a regular schedule, maintain consistent tone throughout and opt for a consistent design. Always send emails from the same address, this will help your readers to quickly associate with you. Also, if you switch the email addresses on a constant basis, you will not only confuse customers but will also face the risk of being caught by a spam filter.

Action PlanMaintain standard color scheme, design and personality for all your campaigns. You can play around with creativity, but make sure all your basic elements are consistent.

Look how Medium maintains a consistent format and color scheme while sending out their Daily Digest emails.

maintain consistency

10. Resend Unopened Mails

In an interesting experiment, entrepreneur Neal Taparia discovered that by sending the same email again to the recipients who had not opened the previous mail, improved the reach by 54.7%. Around 50% of your recipients are NOT OPENING your emails when you send it for the first time. Maybe the person was just distracted or was in the middle of something when your email hit his inbox. By sending the same email to the same list after an interval, you are piquing their interest again.

Action Plan – Consider changing just the subject line before you resend the same email to the same segment again. Also, keep testing to see the interval that works for you. You can also try bringing up an old email again if something related happens in the news. 


Like every other marketing medium, email marketing also requires constant optimization to improve engagement rates. While using industry averages can offer you a basic benchmark to measure how your campaign performs, your ultimate goal must be to outperform your previous campaign.

Now that we’ve told you how to boost email open rates, do you know of any better technique that has helped you improve your open rates in the past?

Article is contributed by Masroor Ahmed, he works in Invesp.

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