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How to Maximize Your Email Open Rate

How to Maximize Your Email Open Rates - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

The other day, I recommended to a client that we should add email marketing to the mix, and they replied, “That’s so old school. We’re not interested.” I then explained why email marketing was still relevant and will remain relevant as long as people use emails. They’re now generating emails to start an email campaign.

Email marketing has been around as long as there have been personal and professional email addresses. The reason companies still create email campaigns is BECAUSE THEY WORK. Email has come a long way from simple text and a link to a web site, to becoming fully functional sales and customer retention tools that increase the lifetime value of a client.

Let’s start with the basics. The important metrics to chase in email marketing are open rates (OR), click-through rates (CTR), spam counts, percentage delivered and bounces. For this post we’ll be focusing on Open Rates and what makes a person open an email.

You have a micro-second as a person is scanning the subject lines and the name of the sender for the person to decide whether to mark you as spam, delete or open. A boring email subject line will likely mean that your email will be quickly deleted and never read.

There are plenty of rules which most email filters will catch and assign as spam such as:

  • Spam words, such as “amazing”, “risk free”, “winner”, “cancel at any time”,
    “great offer”, and “order now”
  • Misleading subject lines such as “Urgent – Update Your Information” or “Thanks for Your Order” when you don’t have an account or placed any orders.

ISnotSPAM is a great free tool that scores your emails for deliverability and lets you know if they are likely to trigger spam filters.

NOTE: You can also be considered a spammer if your IP address was previously blacklisted. Two popular sites are MXToolbox and DNSStuff to check this out.

So What Helps Increase the OR on Your Subject Line?

Add a Date

Putting the deadline or a date in the subject line is a good way to encourage the recipient to open your email right away, instead of ignoring it for a few days. It makes the reader feel a sense of urgency to open and read the content.

Only one more day to save 50% on your flight to Bali

Add a Compliment on Their Work

An article, a talk, a video, their new product blog post —anything specific to this person, their company, or team, can help you make an authentic connection, and your email subject line will be much more likely to be opened. I find this to be the best and most effective way to increase open rates as it DOES require research and specific information about that person. This gets a bit technical, but in most email software, there are fields where you can add information about the person which you can update on the back end. As part of creating your email, you can add in all sorts of placeholders for individual fields. Let’s say that you are sending out emails to journalists in the telecom industry and want to know if they had considered writing about solar powered options. If you use one the fields to document the location of their latest article on telecom, you can use a placeholder for the publication in the subject line. In this example [PUBLICATION] = Harvard Business Review, so your subject line would be written as “I Read Your Article in [PUBLICATION] and Have a Few Follow Up Comments”

I Read Your Article in Harvard Business Review and Have a Few Follow Up Comments

Add a Shared Connection

People are more likely to open your email if you mention in the subject line that you are from the same hometown, went to the same university, or have some other shared connection. As a bonus, your knowledge of their background shows that you put in the effort to research them and that you’re not just messaging them from a random list. Again, this could be an additional field in your email database, where the subject line is: “[FRIEND] Highly Recommended You for a Great Job Opportunity”

Barbara Simons Highly Recommended You For a Great Job Opportunity

Add Their Name

This is pretty easy to do and using a person’s first name in subject line increases the likelihood of them opening the message, according to marketing software platform HubSpot. However, many tech savvy people know how simple this is to do and may still not open it since everyone has tried this at some point.

Sarah, How Often Do You Check Your Credit Score?

Add an Active Verb

If you’re getting a request from a potential connection to meet, your reader will be much more likely to open “Let’s Grab Lunch Next Tuesday – My Treat”, rather than “Networking Lunch Request.” Begin your subject lines with a verb rather than a bland summary of your request.

Add a Tag

Tags are required by the CAN-SPAM Act when an email is an advertisement so use this sparingly. I highly suggest testing this to see how these perform with the readers in your email list especially with your deliverability scores. Tags such as [Time Sensitive], [Urgent], or [Action Item] at the beginning of your subject can create an urgency to open and reply. This is not a field placeholder as above – just simple text.

[Urgent] Need Your Approval By End of Business Today


There’s a reason why traditional and online publishers love publishing lists. The human brain typically memorizes and learns information through categorizing content organized into lists. It can also help indicate how much time the reader can expect to spend reading your email.

Bad Example:
1,000 Great Birthday Party Ideas

Good Example:
Five Simple Ways to Save Money at Costco

Also, the human mind prefers odd numbers: 3, 5, 7, 9. Sometimes even 11, but the longer the list, the more time someone will feel they’ll be investing and it may get tossed. Add three and a link to more on your blog.

Email marketing is a great way to announce new products and services, reconnect with past clients, prospect for new business and to maintain relationships with your fanbase on a regular basis. Developing content can simply be lists of your most read, commented or shared blog posts. If you’re not doing email marketing today, please consider a small test to check response. It is surprisingly affordable and it may surprise you. If you’re not sure how to start contact us and we’ll walk you through the process and can get you started quickly.

Do you want to outsource this type of work so that you can focus on higher level activities? Subscribe today to learn more about building your business and receive a free PDF “Process Plan for Creating Your Own Innovation Program”. Feel free to email us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.


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