Email Marketing: How to improve your open rate

Taken from my regular class at the General Assembly, here’s a handful of my top tips to help you increase your email marketing open rates.

Spam filters

The first hurdle that your email will hit on its journey to anyone’s inbox is the dreaded spam filter. Whilst spam filters are constantly improving, you still need to do everything you can to help your email get through it. Otherwise, you may experience a swift and unjust end to your carefully planned campaign.

First off, always ensure that you are sending from an IP address and domain name that have a good sender reputation. You can check your reputation at Sender Score. You can use a reputable email platform such as Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor or Pure360 to help with this too.

Avoid using spam trigger words in your subject lines and emails like ‘satisfaction’, ‘cash’ or ‘congratulations’. These keywords are like big red rags to the spam filter.

Watch your image to text ratio. Too many images can be seen as a flag for spam so the recommended balance to use as a benchmark is 80% text to 20% images.

Finally, you can double check by running your email through a spam checker such as Mail Tester before sending.

Subject line, sender name and sender email address.

Once your email lands in the recipient’s inbox, the subject line, sender name and sender email address are your tools to convince them they should open your email.

When it comes to your subject line, it should give the recipient a compelling reason to open the email. Avoid vague subject lines like ‘August Newsletter’. Instead try subject lines that describe a specific benefit or insight the recipient will gain from opening your email.

Urgency can also work in subject lines, making the recipient feel that they’ll miss out on something if they don’t open the email on arrival (or at least soon). Be careful though as using this approach too frequently can be off-putting and may lead to an increase in unsubscribes. It’s the equivalent of a store that has a sale because it claims it’s always closing down.

Keep an eye on your subject line length. With so many people reading their emails on mobile devices, screen space is limited and it’s common for subject lines to be truncated. Make sure that your subject line is brief and to the point. If a longer subject line is unavoidable then try to include the ‘benefit’ as early as possible.

Some webmail clients such as Gmail and Yahoo truncate sender names so be mindful of their length too.

Research has found that ‘trusting the sender’ is the single most important factor in deciding whether an email should be opened or not. Because of this, it’s crucial that you use a name and email address that is instantly recognisable. Avoid generic email addresses such a ‘noreply@’ or ‘info@’ for a more personal approach.

You can also try name personalisation in the subject line. This helps reassure the recipient that the email isn’t spam and that it is meant for them specifically. Eg. ‘Adam: your recommended books this week’.

As well as all of the above, you can try experimenting with the time of day you send your emails. For example, people may be less likely to open your email if it arrives first thing on a Monday morning because they’re likely to be busy dealing with their inbox before starting the week.

The optimum time and day to send will depend on your audience and the content of your email so don’t be afraid to try something different. The best way to assess what works for you is through trial and error so keep a track of the data.

For obvious reasons, I often get asked what a good open rate percentage is. The answer is that email open rates vary within different sectors and industries but Mailchimp publish their open rates which is useful for benchmarking.

Open rates will also vary depending on the ‘health’ of your recipients list so you should work to ensure your list is in the best shape it can possibly be. Make sure that everyone has explicitly opted-in to receive emails and use the list regularly to help keep it clean and current. Where possible, you can also use segmentation to send the right content to the right people.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can attend my next Email Marketing Optimisation class at the General Assembly, London on Tuesday 11th July. The workshop is for beginners and will equip you with a solid foundation of knowledge around the basics.

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