Increase Email Open Rates

A recent study on email marketing by Harte-Hanks revealed both good and bad news about consumer response to email marketing messages.

On the one hand, average email open rates declined to 17% for 2010, down from a 26% average open rate in 2009.  However, the study indicates the drop may be due in part to more users accessing email via smart phones as well as changing patterns in downloadable email images.

Now for the good news…

Overall delivery rates across nine major industry sectors have increased to 95% in 2010, up from 93% in 2009.  Moreover, unsubscribe rates have dropped from .32% to .19%, and bounce rates dropped to 5% from 7% in 2009. And click rates remained flat at 3%.

This means more emails are reaching the customer’s inbox more often, and you have to work harder to continue to increase open rates among a more crowded inbox.

Here are six tips for increasing your email open rates.

1. Consider the Source. Email recipients are more likely to trust a name they recognize. Determine which has the most recognition for your target audience – the organization name, company spokesperson or leadership, or even a mascot – and make that person the “From” name with a corresponding and recognizable “From” email address.  And remain consistent so recipients become familiar with the email source.

2. Short and Snappy Subject.  This seems obvious and elementary, but consider how many email messages your receive daily that you delete without ever opening.  Why? Because it took too long to figure out what the email was about or you lost interest after the first three words.  In an inbox, users typically can only see the first 5 or so words…so try to get your point across fast and with as few filler words as possible.

Don’t settle for being descriptive. If possible, communicate a direct benefit received by opening your email.  For example, “Tips for Email Marketing” is a more descriptive subject line compared to “Increase Email Open Rates”, which provides a more direct benefit to the recipient.

3. Segment Your List.  Take a look at your list and determine if there are natural divisions like customers vs. prospects, age categories, industries and even level of authority that could benefit from more targeted messages.  You can still target all segments with more general messages, but measuring and tracking results of targeted emails will increase the likelihood of the email being opened.  It can also potentially provide insight into behavior of certain target audiences you can apply across a broader marketing campaign.

4. Experiment – The More Scientific the Better. Even if you are satisfied with current open rates, consider there is always room for improvement.  Start with a hypothesis…For example, we get the highest open rates for sales-focused emails on Wednesday afternoons. Now test it…try Monday mornings and Saturday at lunch, Sunday night, etc.  And give it a chance to work…One blast on a Thursday morning will not provide enough data to know if this is a better time; revisit different delivery times consistently for several distributions, collect data on open rates and engagement, and then make an assessment.

5. Repetition.  To have meaningful impact, email communication with your list should happen frequently and regularly.  Expecting stellar open rates from one email push is like expecting to increase sales by 10% by running an ad just one time.  Give email marketing the time it needs to work.

6. Infuse Content Marketing. If it is logical for your business, consider one of two approaches to deliver non-promotional, useful content to email recipients.

Develop and distribute content focused, entirely non-promotional emails periodically to your list.  Provide information that helps solve common challenges or problems; become a trusted provider of information.

Include the same type of content within the context of a promotional email.  For example, to market a new line of food storage containers, an email might provide recipes that store or travel well with the new containers, and include a link to purchase that product.

Keeping with the first recommendation, if recipients associate your “From” name and email address with beneficial information, they are more likely to open your emails. This is true even when the emails are strictly promotional, because they will expect to receive an offer with a relevant and tangible benefit.

Need help strategizing and implementing a successful email marketing campaign? Contact kayleigh (at) sweeneypr (dot) com.

Jim Sweeney


Jim is a veteran of the agency industry and the founder of Sweeney. He is uncommonly passionate about the idea of creating and implementing insanely great marketing campaigns that achieve insanely great results. He pioneered the full-service, full-circle agency model and continues to forge new ideas in an ever-changing industry. And he is accessible to everyone about anything, seemingly all the time, serving as a mentor to all agency personnel and clients.