by Emily Bauer
When it comes to connecting with customers via email, one of your biggest hurdles is simply getting noticed. Your average customer’s inbox is teeming with competing messages and sales pitches.
So what does it take to ensure your email stands out, gets opened, and gets read?
We’re going to provide you with 13 proven tactics that will increase your email open rates for existing contact lists and cold email campaigns.
If you’re sending outbound emails to grow your business, you have 5 main levers that you can use to increase your open rate:
- Subject line
- Preview/intro text (preheader text)
- Sender name/address
Source: Campaign Monitor
This article will break down specific strategies for addressing each of these variables and maximizing the effectiveness of every message you send.
Even your most brilliant email campaigns won’t do your business any favors if nobody reads them. Fortunately, these tried-and-true strategies will help get your message delivered – and opened – successfully.
The first thing most people think of when it comes to optimizing your email open rate is the subject line. And there’s no doubt–it’s hugely important.
It’s the first thing most people see when your email lands in their inbox and a bad subject line can get your email deleted just as quickly as it arrives. MailChimp has done some extensive research on specific words and phrasing that may make your subject line stand out.
Let’s look at some tricks for optimizing your subject line to entice interest and get your email opened by important people.
1. Personalize it with a name
According to Mailchimp’s report on email subject lines (based on 24 billion emails!), subject lines that include the recipient’s first and last name have the highest open rates.
But subject lines can also be personalized based on other customer data, such as geographic location, company name, and job title. For cold email especially, you should gather as much information about your prospect and use various personalization techniques to see what resonates best with your audience.
Subject lines that are personalized in any way have a 22.2% greater chance of being opened, according to a report from Adestra.
- Is this right, John?
- John Smith + Michael Jordan connect
- Question for John Smith
2. Keep the subject line short (6-10 words)
In the world of email, your subject is your headline.
It’s your chance to catch the recipient’s eye and persuade them to open your message, ideally in as few words as possible.
A study from Retention Science found that subject lines with 6 to 10 words had the highest open rates. This makes sense, as it’s probably the ideal length to communicate an idea, but not long enough to feel salesy or spammy.
Some of the most famous examples of succinct subject lines came from an unlikely source – a presidential campaign.
To keep your character countdown without sacrificing salience, consider quoting relevant numbers or statistics, asking a question, and even using emojis if appropriate.
3. Get emotional in your subject
The folks at CoSchedule found that emails with subject lines that appeal emotionally to the reader perform better than those that appeal to our rational thoughts.
You can put this into practice by looking at examples of emotion-driven headlines or messages in other forms of marketing.
The Advanced Marketing Institute even provides a headline analyzer that can tell you about the emotional appeal of your subject line–nice for getting an idea about how your prospect may read your message.
- John – You’ll love this
- Acme Company is killing it!
- I’m sorry for this, John
4. Create a knowledge gap to spark curiosity
Knowledge gaps are the cliffhanger endings of email marketing.
They provide just enough information to pique the recipient’s interest without revealing too much. Leveraging knowledge gaps (also known as curiosity gaps, the basis for those aptly-named clickbait headlines) is a psychological trick that drives email recipients to seek more information.
This technique can work well for one-off subject lines as well as a multi-step campaign. Adding a knowledge gap to your subject line might involve asking a question or hinting at the value of your email content – anything that makes your email too irresistible to leave unopened.
In other words, leave a bit to the imagination to get people clicking.
- You won’t guess what just happened
- Check this out, John
- This is what it’s like
- Here’s why we do this
5. Test subject line effectiveness before sending
Subject line evaluation tools (like Touchstone, SubjectLine.com, and Adestra’s Subject Line Checker) use algorithms to increase your open rates.
This high-tech solution allows you to determine how likely a prospect is to click on a given subject line before sending – which reduces some of the risk associated with traditional A/B testing.
Use these to get a second opinion on a subject line or compare multiple possibilities.
If you have a large list that you’re emailing, you can do live A/B testing to choose a “winning” subject line. Do this:
- Start with a small section of your list (say, 10%).
- Split that group in half.
- Send one subject line to half of your test group and the other subject to the second half.
- See which subject line performs best.
- Send the winning subject line to the other 90% of your list.
This gives you a quick way to test and validate subject line ideas without sending it your entire list.
Most email clients show a small snippet or preview of the email you send. It’s usually a bit less pronounced than the subject line or sender’s name, but it can still be important in getting someone to read what you’re sending.
This is also sometimes called “preheader” text. Here are some ways to maximize its effectiveness in your email.
6. Structure your email with preview text in mind
The first characters of your email will appear in this preview section of the email client. This means you have full control over what shows up here–but you have to plan accordingly.
We’ve all seen the “Not displaying correctly?” message that’s at the top of many emails and makes its way to our email client.
This is obviously not ideal.
You could use white font to create a hidden preview message that only shows up in the email client–but that may feel a bit strange if the message is meant to feel personal.
In most instances, best practice is to simply make sure that the subject of your email and the adjacent preview text work together to create interest and encourage them to open it.
For example, take a look at how Warby Parker plays with the relationship between subject line and preview text:
7. Don’t rely on preview text
On the flipside, your preview text should play a supporting role to your subject line. Some email clients don’t display it, so relying on it to drive home your message is not a smart move.
Make it a nice-to-have element in your message, but not a must-have.
Sender name and address
Some studies have indicated that the sender name is actually more important to your open rate than the subject line. And that does make sense–you’ll probably open any email from a friend or colleague, regardless of the subject.
But that illustrates the importance of choosing your sender name and “from” email address carefully. The wrong message may immediately throw someone off from opening your message and even trash your chances of ever getting them to read your email at all.
Here are some ways to make sure you get them into your email.
8. Send as a person, first
If you’re sending cold email or outreach messages to an individual at a company (specifically those who have not opted into a newsletter or email updates), then it’s critical that you send your email as a person rather than as a business.
This means using a FIRST LAST sender name, even if it’s not immediately recognized.
CB Insights wrote a brash study on receiving cold email pitches. The results are about what you would expect: If it smells like a sales pitch, it’s getting deleted.
In some cases, it might make sense to include a company name (like “Emily from Propeller CRM”) but that could flag your email as a sales pitch and get you trashed.
Our best advice? Be human.
9. Send from a recognizable email address
Beyond what your subject line tells a recipient about the email’s content, they’ll also look at who is sending it to them before deciding to read further. Even if your message is friendly and relevant, using a nameless, faceless “Do Not Reply” address (or worse, a “sales@” address) won’t win you any points for hospitality.
Since 43% of recipients mark email as spam based on the “from” name or address, it’s important to send all messages from a real person with a recognizable email address. This is especially relevant when you’re cold-emailing and looking for ways to warm up prospects.
When your email is sent will have a huge impact on whether or not it ever gets read.
First and foremost, you should focus on delivering the message on a day and time when your prospect is most likely to have time to open, read, and respond to the email.
We all know what happens to the emails we receive when we’re busy–they usually get ignored, sometimes opened and lost in the inbox, or sometimes just deleted out of hand. Let’s look at best practices for landing in the inbox at just the right time.
10. Target the right day to increase visibility
There are conflicting studies on which day of the week is best for sending messages to busy people. Some find that mid-week emails tend to net better results, but it ultimately depends on your audience.
On one hand, many people work strictly Monday to Friday, which means a Saturday email will get buried before the recipient even sees it. However, since some people do read and respond to email on the weekends, that might be a good opportunity to get into their inbox at a time of low traffic.
11. Choose a time when people read and reply to email
Research shows that emails sent in the evening tend to have the highest open rates, but afternoon messages have higher click rates – so it’s crucial to consider your intention when scheduling your next email.
This is backed up by MailChimp, who also found that people tend to read emails after 12PM.
And it makes sense in context–most people return from lunch and have time to read emails before getting back to work. Use this time to your advantage to get in front of your targets at a time when they have an opportunity to read and respond.
Lastly, your email can’t get opened if it doesn’t get delivered.
There are many factors that play into the deliverability of your email. Here are some considerations you should take to ensure that your message gets where it’s supposed to go.
12. Avoid phrases that could be misread as spam
It’s crucial that your subject line and first line of body content (which is visible in most inboxes) doesn’t inadvertently resemble spam.
According to Convince & Convert, 69% of recipients who report emails do so based on the subject line alone. Not to mention that spam filters are getting more advanced and can divert suspected spam away from an inbox before the user has a chance to see it for themselves.
For example, spam filters tend to notice when a subject line includes too many words designed to sell, like “free,” “sale,” or “deal.” This type of language isn’t completely off-limits to your subject lines but use it sparingly if you want to guarantee delivery to an inbox.
13. Stop using marketing automation platforms for cold emailing
Sending outbound emails through a marketing automation platform like Marketo increases your chance of being labeled as spam.
That’s because you’re sharing a mail server IP with other users and everyone’s actions impact everyone else’s reputation. So when another company sends an untargeted email campaign using that shared IP, it hurts your deliverability, too.
On the other hand, sending from a trusted mail server reduces spam labeling, builds trust, humanizes the company, and improves your open rate. SalesFolk managed to increase a client’s open rates from 8% to 53%-66%, in part by switching them from Marketo to a software that permitted mail merges through Gmail.