What Does It Take To Improve Email Open Rates?

Chris CrumAdvertising

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Email is the most important tool for work, according to a recent study from Pew Research. 61% of those surveyed consider email "very important' to doing their job, compared to just 4% who said the same for social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Smartphones have only served to aid in the continued relevance of email as our primary communication tool. With push notifications, we are alerted every time we get an email. It's no wonder that mobile is driving a continued increase in email open rates.

Have you seen an increase in open rates? Let us know in the comments.

In Q3 2014 in North America, open rates were up 6.5% year-over-year (though click rates were slightly down) thanks to mobile device usage. This is according to a report from Epsilon.

Mobile seems to be having an even greater impact on open rates in the UK. eMarketer points to Return Path research from December finding that 62% of emails were opened on mobile devices compared to 21% on desktop. In the U.S. it was 48% from mobile compared to 25% from desktop.

"As consumers rely more heavily on mobile devices and engage frequently with email in this format, marketers need to get smarter with their digital strategy and more targeted with their communications," says Epsilon's Judy Loschen. "Mobile devices make it easy for consumers to read their messages on-the-go, yet they’re less likely to click and purchase due the mobile experience. With this in mind, there are strategies and tactics marketers can implement into their email marketing program to help increase click-through rates."

Triggered Messages

"Triggered email messages are sent as the result of consumer action such as welcome, thank you, abandon shopping cart or confirmation," she adds. "From July 2014 to September 2014 Epsilon sent approximately 340 million triggered emails across multiple industries.Triggered open rates were 76.7% higher than business as usual (BAU) messages in Q3 2014. Triggered click rates continued to perform well, reporting 151.9% higher than BAU messages. Because triggered emails are deployed based on a consumer action they tend to have higher open and click rates."

Best Practices For Stronger Open Rates

Forbes suggests keeping the subject line to 50 characters or less, instilling a sense of urgency, and focusing on the benefit to readers, as well as using numbers (5 Tips to...), personalizing the "from" Field, and of course avoiding spam triggers.

Naturally, you'll also want to look at which of your emails are already getting the best open rates and analyze accordingly.

"To win the battle of the inbox, emails need to stand out and be welcomed -- open rates will tell you who’s winning," says email marketing service provider StreamSend. "Step back and judge if you are providing information that is genuinely valued. Sometimes even the best marketers are guilty of drinking their own Kool-Aid; don’t be one of them. Serve the customers."

According to BrainShark, simply using the word "video" in a subject line boosts open rates 19% (not to mention click-through rates by 65%).

Jackie Wright, owner of Arizona marketing firm Rainmaker Integrated, has some thoughts about "how to fix that awful open rate" in 2015. These boil down to improved list management, increased focus on delivery and A/B testing, and of course subject lines and valuable (to the specific audience) content.

CakeMail's Mireille Tessier makes a great point about considering the first sentence in the email: "The email’s first sentence, also known as the pre-header text, appears often even before the email is opened. It’s a good way to extend those confining 25 characters in the subject line with complimentary information. Make sure the first sentence of your email says more than, ‘Click here to unsubscribe.’ If the first item in your newsletter is an image, the ALT of the image will be used as the first sentence. It’s a stealthy way to have great pre-header text that disappears like magic.”

"Customers who have given you their email contact information want to feel like they are getting something of value in return for sharing their information," she says. "Chances are, 10% off of a dinner or a free dessert is not going to get people off the couch to take action. Create consistent offers and content that are specialized and only for your email database members. Discounts of 20 percent or more, invitations to free events or demonstrations, webinars, free business tool kits (whitepaper, downloadable forms, etc.), case studies and free trial offers tend to have the biggest response rates."

Personalization is a major component of a successful email campaign. You have to do things that will make your message stand out from the rest of those appearing in users' inboxes. Location is one, possibly under-utilized aspect of personalization. Location also happens to go hand-in-hand with mobile.

One approach is to combine location with real-time events.

"Real-time email marketing campaigns based on consumers’ current locations and major geographic events have 2.5 times more open rates and double the amount of unique clicks than traditional email campaigns," claims Jason Warnock, VP of market intelligence and deliverability for Yesmail Interactive.

Timing, in general, is a big thing that often goes overlooked. You need to consider when your audience is most likely to be reading email, and try to time delivery accordingly. Often, early in the day is the best bet, though it does depend on the audience. Still, even well-timed messages can slip through the cracks.

Boosting Rates By Firing Again

Neal Taparia co-CEO and co-founder of Imagine Easy Solutions recently contributed an article to Forbes based on the concept that email should be about unique reach, not just open rates. He suggests sending follow-up emails to those who didn't open the first email. The thinking here is that this will help you reach those who may have actually been interested in the message, but just didn't get a chance to open it the first time.

"Have you ever seen an interesting email in your inbox and thought to yourself, 'I’ll read that later'? You leave it unread with every intention of eventually opening up that email," he wrote. "Then later that day at 7:47 PM, after dinner, you catch up on email from friends, and start reading the various newsletters that have sprung up in the top of your inbox. Did you ever get to that email? Despite the fact that you made a mental note that you wanted to read it, chances are you didn’t. You got distracted by all the other emails that landed in your inbox. You were probably also distracted by your Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn feeds, and very important group chats on WhatsApp."

This is certainly a common scenario, though as he acknowledges, you do run the risk of annoying subscribers with follow-up emails. Still, the strategy appears to have worked for his company. They increased overall reach by 54.7%.

"To put it in perspective, all the hours of investment dedicated to this content piece and email became 54.7% more effective," Taparia wrote. "We were able to nurture 54.7% more leads. More importantly, we increased our sales potential by 54.7%. We did this just by investing another 50 minutes in sending out a second email to those who didn’t open up the first."

In the example he discussed, they sent the first email to 2,723 people, got 579 opens and 224 call-to-action clicks for an 8.2% click-through rate. The second email (again, sent only to those who didn't open the first one), got 309 opens and 114 clicks. Unique opens between both emails were 32.6%.

Taparia noted they were concerned about annoying people who had seen the original email and deleted it, and that to address this, they send a second email a week later with minor changes. The unsubscribe rate has apparently stayed in line with the norm, though he does suggest trying to get a sense, based on your own list, of when a follow-up email is one too many.

Wrapping Up

As much as we like to think there is an exact science to this, there's really not. If there were, there wouldn't be a need for advice on the subject. Everyone would just have all of their emails opened. There are so many variables and factors to consider that you really have to pay close attention to your own audience and how they engage with your campaigns. The best thing you can do is develop a more analytical eye, and continue to test and tweak. That assumes you have the content to warrant the opens in the first place.

The good news for email marketers is that email as a medium is as relevant as ever. It's 2015, and much of the industry chatter is about how everyone is starting email newsletters. Opens are on the way up as mobile is now the norm, and that means there is plenty of opportunity to get your emails read and engaged with. There may be new challenges (Google Inbox, anyone?), but that's always been part of the game, and it always will be. The bottom line is that it's a pretty good time to be in email marketing.

Are you optimistic about your email campaigns in 2015? Share your thoughts.

Chris Crum

Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.