Act fast to improve email open rates

5 min read
Jennifer Dunn

In today’s fast-paced business environment, people are much too busy to waste time trying to decipher cryptic marketing emails. Our average attention span is down to eight seconds. That’s a good barometer for how much time you’ve got to capture email recipients’ interest before they move on to the next message in their burgeoning inbox.

So you had better capture their attention — stat!— by telling them these three things:

  1. What is this email about?
  2. Why should they care about it?
  3. What should they do about it?

It all starts with the subject line

If your email subject line answers those three questions, you’ll have taken a big step toward boosting your open rate. Our good friends over at Mad Mimi offer some great advice for writing email subject lines that will improve open rates, including this little gem:

“Ask your friends and colleagues what they think the subject line should be or have them edit your subject lines. Better yet, come up with a few options and ask them to come up with some themselves. Then see which ones are best. You’ll be surprised at how often this results in the perfect subject line.”

Other email subject line tips from Mad Mimi include:

  • Be specific. Tell readers what they’re going to find in the message.
  • Capture the essence of the subject matter.
  • Include your company name, product name, or both. “Of Mad Mimi emails that had the highest open rates, 76% of them had either their business name or the product name mentioned in their subject lines,” Mad Mimi’s Dean Levitt writes in “Write Great Subject Lines to Increase Your Open Rate.” It’s a great post. Read it.

Now, check out this subject line example: “Select Marketing Software On Sale”

Does it answer the three questions? Is it super-specific? Does it include a company or product name? Nope. It’s vague and doesn’t tell you what the software is or what it will do for you. Here’s a better subject line that quickly tells recipients what’s for sale, why to buy it, and what it will deliver: “5 AmazingBiz Software Programs to Jump-start Your Marketing Plan.”

Be catchy and concise

Say your email subject line does the trick and entices recipients to open your message. How else can you get a reader’s attention in just eight seconds?

  • Include eye-catching images. Reading takes time, but an arresting image can capture your reader’s interest in just seconds. Make your images count.
  • Keep headlines concise. Sending an e-newsletter or an email with multiple points of entry? Your reader might only be interested in one part of your message. Make headlines clear and concise for easy skimming.
  • Pay attention to design elements. Try attracting attention to your main points by including a different colored background or bolder font size.
  • Include a clear call to action. Readers should come away with a clear message – whether it’s to buy a product, visit a link, or something else. Make sure your call to action is easy to find, eye-catching and clickable.

Along the same lines as A/B split testing website copy, you can test variations of a subject line to see which gets the best response. Try it. Send the same email with two different subject lines — maybe one that highlights a call to action and another that puts the emphasis on a specific product — and see which generates a better open rate.

Target your audience

With the basics of strong subject lines under your belt, you’re well on your way to improving your email open rates. But there’s more you can do to achieve that key marketing goal.

By segmenting your audience into interest groups (a feature offered by many email marketing programs), you can learn which types of emails your customers enjoy.

Some subscribers might only be interested if an email includes a special sale or offer; others might attach more importance to educational content or professional advice. Create a sign-up form that lets subscribers choose their interest group (promotions, in-store events, product information), then create campaigns that speak directly to those groups.

Get familiar with your subscribers

To continue improving your email open rates, study your analytics to learn when subscribers open your emails, find out which links get the most clicks, and identify campaigns that worked.

Once you’ve figured out when recipients are opening your emails, segment your recipients according to timezone to further pinpoint the best send time. With just a little effort and organization, you can improve open rates by sending the same campaign at different times based on subscriber preferences. A few other tips:

  • Try sending campaigns twice per week, then limit it to once. Did your open rates change based on how often you appeared in customer inboxes?
  • Examine your demographic information to see if a certain group is more actively engaged with your campaigns, then target your message to this audience.
  • Look carefully at high-performing campaigns and compare them to ones that didn’t do as well. Was there a difference in voice or tone? Was there a strong call to action in the email header? Where were the links located?

Keeping the eight-second rule in mind, targeting your audience, testing your message, and getting to know your subscribers will help you optimize every bit of your email marketing campaign and improve those all-important open rates. To learn more, check out this post.

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