How to improve email open rates

By Citizen Affiliate | Email Marketing

Oct 17
email open rates

If you’re doing email marketing (which you should be) and you’re collecting emails (like this, or even better, with Thrive Leads), and you are using an autoresponder like GetResponse, you’ll be sending out plenty of emails within no time.

But you need to focus on how to improve your email open rate. Because there’s not much point in sending lots of emails if nobody opens them! This article will give you plenty of tips on how to improve your open rate.

The problem with open rates

Open rates for emails aren’t great. They’re maybe not as bad as some people make them out to be, and they’re different depending on what region you’re in (in Asia Pacific it’s very low, in Europe it’s quite high, America is somewhere in between).

They also vary from industry to industry and from list to list. But most people see open rates of between 10 and 30%. Anything about 20 or 25% is considered to be very good. Anything about 40% is really amazing.

If you want to get your open rate up that high, you’ll need to put quite a bit of work into it. You first want to make sure your emails are getting delivered (I wrote a whole article already on how to improve email deliverability). If you follow those tips, you’ll have a head start, especially because some of them cross over with these tips. Anyway, let’s get started!

How to improve email open rates

Send with a good From address, From name, and Reply-to address

According to this article, the sender is the single most important factor in determining whether people open an email or not. Part of that is obviously building good relationships with your readers and sending them great emails. But there are some simple things you can do just with the From name and address.

Make sure to use your own domain email address as both your from address AND your Reply-To address. When I send emails, they always come from a email address, not my gmail address (which I actually use for email). And I have an automatic redirect set up so if people reply, I can read it in my gmail.

Using a generic email like or for your From or Reply To looks bad, comes across as cheap and unprofessional, and will make it much more likely for your email to end up in the Spam bin or the Promotions folder.

You should change your From name too. Don’t just put your business name, like 99% of people do (i.e. an email from “Citizen Affiliate”). Put your personal name, maybe in conjunction with your business name. My emails are all from “Leon at Citizen Affiliate”. The more personal and less corporate an email looks, the more likely people will be to open it.

Write short, engaging subject lines

Subject lines are the next most important factor in deciding whether people open an email. So make them good! Short punchy subject lines are great. Six to ten words seems to be sweet spot – not a lot, is it?

Subjects that are questions are often very effective, as are subjects that include the word “you” (our brains find it very difficult to avoid engaging with a question, and they are hardwired to focus on any mention of “you”).

Try to get your email subject lines to evoke a response of curiosity, controversy or humour. “Check out this new offer” isn’t going to seem original or exciting to anyone. One I did that had a great open rate was “Did you know I got slapped by a monkey?” (talking about the time Mailchimp suspended my account). It’s strange, funny, original, and invokes curiosity.

Use the recipient’s name (if you have it)

This is a controversial one. If you capture people’s first names when you get their email address, then any decent auto-responder will let you insert their name as a form field (if you put |FIRSTNAME| or something similar.

Now a lot of people think that doing this increases your open rate (it does), so you should therefore capture people’s first names as well as email addresses (I disagree). The problem is, it doesn’t increase the open rate by very much (about 1% is the latest statistic I’ve seen), and asking for more than an email decreases email opt-in rate (by at least a few percent, I believe).

So if you already have people’s first names, then use them in your email subject lines (and body). But if you don’t, then I wouldn’t bother collecting that (I don’t).

A/B test your subject lines

Most decent auto-responders let you do A/B tests. Once you have a few hundred subscribers (enough to generate a result of statistical significance), you can start running A/B tests on your subject lines.

You basically send out two emails, each to say one-quarter of your email list. Then after eight or so hours, the system compares the open rates on the two subject lines and selects a winner. Then it sends the remaining 50% of the emails out with that subject line. Pretty cool! I’ve seen some good results from this.

If you don’t have an auto-responder that lets you do this, get one that does.

Send repeat emails to non-opens

This is a sneaky trick that a lot of people are doing these days. You basically send out an email, and then a certain period of time later (usually eight to twelve hours), you send out a second version of that email, with a different subject line, to all the people on the list who didn’t open the first one.

So if people open the first one, that’s all they get. If they don’t, you get a second swing at them.

This isn’t something I’ve really tried much but I probably will at some point when my list grows larger. Keep in mind that it might result in some unsubscribes from people who think you are being a bit too spammy. But word on the street is that it increases open rates by 10% or more so it could be worth it with a large list.

Send your lead magnets over email

This is a basic mistake that I see a lot of people make. They get people to sign up for a list with a lead magnet, then they just show them the lead magnet on the website. “Well I got their email address, I might as well just give them the lead magnet right away!” they think. Big mistake.

You want to send it over email. You asked for their email address so you could email them the resource, right? Right? Not just so you could spam them, right? Right? Right. So send it to them over email!

The big thing here is that you are straight away enforcing an interaction over email. If your email goes to the Promotions tab (which it probably will), they will go there and open it and interact with it. This tells Google that this is an important sender, and it will be less likely to put future emails there.

If you want to build a relationship over email, then start right away with sending the lead magnet over email. People are crazy not to do this. Put a mention of this email on your Thankyou page (“hey we just sent you that guide, go check your email!”). You might want to even add a “Whitelist our email address just to be sure!”, but I don’t know how many people will do that.

Use less links

Email tools like Google don’t like to see emails with a large number of links. It makes an email look spammy and will likely send you straight to the Promotions tab (which is obviously not where you want to be).

I try to limit myself to one or two links in an email, max.

Avoid spam words

There are a bunch of words that will make your emails get dumped into Spam or Promotions. They include (but are not limited to) free, cash, money, offer, and loan.

Try and avoid using those words. If you have to, you can try mispelling them or putting punctuation in or around them, but I don’t know how much longer that stuff is going to fool the bots (it doesn’t fool the spam filters very well).

Check how your emails look

Make sure your emails look nice in a variety of screen resolutions. GetResponse includes the abiltiy to preview your emails on a bunch of different screens and clients. Making sure they look good on mobile is very important, because people do a hell of a lot of email on their phones these days.

Keep your list in good shape

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – keep your list in good shape. Drop the dud emails, unsubscribes (most auto-responders stop sending them but keep them on the list so they can keep charging you for them! How cheeky is that!), and the people who never open emails.

Advanced tips

Send at the right times

If you want to be really nerdy, you can even watch what times you send out your emails. Apparently the best time to send email is between 12pm and 6pm.

The problem with this however is that not everyone lives in the same time zone, not by a long shot. Even if your audience is entirely in the USA (unlikely), there is a three hour difference between west and east coast.

If you were going to be super nerdy about this email stuff, you could create list segments based on where people are from (which you should be able to roughly tell by the IP address of their ISP). And you could send an email to different list segments at different times.

That is way too much work for me, but if that’s what you’re into, go for it. And let me know how it goes!

Use list segmentation

If you are a more advanced email marketer, you will want to get into list segmentation. This means you divide your list up into sub-sections or groups, and you can split your email campaigns and send different versions or even entirely different emails to those segments.

Mailchimp was actually good at that, GetResponse isn’t super good but I just create a bunch of lists and pretend that they are segments (it lets you send an email to multiple lists in one go which is nice).


I hope you found these tips helpful! Can you think of any others? Let me know in the comments below!