get seen--increase your email open rates with these 5 tipsEmail open rates: Do you ever feel like your life revolves around them? Every send leads to email tracking leads to questions about how many opens and how many clicks. And every send is a chance to ask the question, “How do we increase our email open rate?”

First, know what you’re capable of. Know what your current rate is and determine what you want it to be. Figure out what’s reasonable for your organization, and take steps to reach that goal.

The standard email open rate
Start by knowing the email marketing industry’s standard and whether it’s trending up or down. According to an email marketing benchmark report from Epsilon on the second quarter of 2013, business-as-usual (BAU) emails are trending up, with open rates that were higher than the previous year at 28.5%. That might not be an open rate you can attain, or it might be lower than you’re capable of, but at least it’s a place for you to start your own benchmarking.

However, this is a generic number that might not apply to your situation. You have to figure out what is possible for your business. And you can. All you need is some useful information about open rates (which I offer here) and some good email tracking software, and you’ll be able to estimate your potential open rate.

After that? Go for it! Use the 5 tips that follow to improve that open rate…and keep on improving it.

“What kind of open rate can I expect?”
First off, let’s set some expectations, so you have a reasonable idea of what kind of open rate might be normal for your business. Several factors come into play:

Your industry
Not every industry does as well in the email marketing space. Some types of businesses are better suited to email marketing because of the type of business and/or customer base. See this Mailchimp email open rates chart to see how your industry fares in general.

Types of email
In general, marketing emails have lower email open rates while transactional emails have higher open rates…in some cases much higher. Triggered emails also tend to perform better than standard marketing emails. According to Epsilon, triggered email open rates were 70.2% higher in Q2 2013 compared to BAU messages. So the type of email matters, but I assume it’s your email marketing messages you’re concerned with.

The size of your list
There’s a direct correlation between list size and open rate: the bigger the list, the smaller the open rate. Does that surprise you? More people on the list should equal more opens, right? But it’s a matter of relevance. Bigger lists have lower open rates because the emails are less likely to be engaging when you’re talking to a big, broad audience.

Now that you’ve factored in industry, type of email, and list size, you should be able to set a goal for your future email open rates. Next is to implement these 5 tips for improvement:

Tip 1: Separate your big list into small ones
Remember how I just said a bigger list has a smaller open rate? That’s not a bad thing if you have a big list. In fact, it’s an opportunity. All you have to do is segment that big list into smaller, targeted ones. (And segmenting is something you should be doing anyway.) That’s equivalent to multiplying your potential. Say you have a list of 100,000 and you determine 10 distinct segments among those 100k. That means you’ll need to create 10 different messages for those segments, but it also means you might have 10 much more active lists!

Tip 2: Strive for stellar subject lines
Subject lines have a huge effect on open rates. After the “From” line, it’s the second factor that will either entice or deter someone from opening your email. It’s worth investing time to write really good, really effective subject lines. It’s also worth taking the time to test to determine the best one for each campaign.

Tip 3: Get them engaged from the start
According to an Epsilon email marketing benchmark report, 64% of new subscribers were unengaged during Q2 2013. That means they were pretty much ignoring emails they’d signed up for, not bothering to open them. That’s two-thirds, folks. And these are people who were interested enough in your business to subscribe! They raised their hands and said, “Talk to me,” but so far they haven’t liked what you’ve said. What to do? Launch a welcome email a.s.a.p. Make it engaging and relevant. Make that first email they get leaving them anticipating the next one…and the next…and the next.

Tip 4: Keep right on engaging with fresh content
And then? Keep it up! Once you’ve got the subscriber, and that subscriber is opening your emails, it’s your content that will keep them opening, the freshness of the messaging and the usefulness of the information. If you keep sending the same content over and over again, it won’t matter what your subject line says, people will stop opening your emails. 

Tip 5: Test, test and test again
Pay attention to the trends you see in your email tracking. Do detailed email analysis. See what’s working and what isn’t as you track those email open rates. Then test, test, test to try and improve the open rate for each segment (if you have a big list broken down) or your whole list (if you have a small, niche list). Test your send times, subject lines, offers and content. Then test again. Find something to test with every single campaign. Your improvements might be incremental, but they will add up!

And one more thing…
Keep in mind your email deliverability rate too. Any time you can incrementally move that email metric up the scale, you have a chance to increase your email open rates too…because if your email isn’t delivered, how will it ever be opened?  


Published On: January 15th, 2014Categories: Email marketing best practices

About the Author: Sharon

Sharon Ernst from is on a mission to improve the business and marketing writing skills of today’s workforce with her blog, newsletter and online classes. Her newest class on intermediate email copywriting covers 19 tips and techniques non-copywriters can put to use right away for better results. The class has real-life examples and before/after comparisons to make the lessons stick. Find her class at When she’s not busy helping employees, managers and marketers master their writing skills, she and her husband are busy raising pigs, cows, chickens and vegetables on their 20-acre farm.

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