How do you measure email campaigns’ success? 

Hint: email open rates. But, what if you’re not happy with the results? How to improve email open rates?


“That which is measured improves.” – Karl Pearson

One of the most common questions email marketers ask is How to increase email open rates? While some marketers resort to tricking recipients to open their emails (not a good idea), the recommended thoughtful approach is to focus on improving email open rates by providing value to your target audience in every campaign.

This article covers the following topics on how to increase email open rates:

  1. What is an email open rate?
  2. How to calculate your email open rate?
  3. What is a “good” email open rate?
  4. How to improve email open rates? 51 untapped fixes.

Ready to dive in?

The success of your email campaigns depends on your recipients opening them. But, if no one opens your email, you cannot generate new business. What can you do then to increase your email open rates?

Email Open Rate 101

Your email open rate shows how many times your recipients opened your email compared to the total number of emails delivered or sent – without counting the soft and hard bounces.

ESPs track email opens by embedding a small transparent image or a tracking pixel (a.k.a 1×1 pixel) into marketing emails which are recalled whenever a recipient gets your email. Yet, recently there has been quite the unrest regarding tracking pixels with Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection policy.

How-To: Calculating Your Email Open Rate

Most email marketing software automatically calculates your email open rate. Yet, if you want to geek out and double-check the numbers, you can always use this formula – 

Email Open Rate = (Number of Emails Opened / Number of Emails Delivered) x 100

Example: 13,500 opened emails / 37,500 emails delivered x 100 = 36%.

Recipients can open your email multiple times, which will be counted by your email marketing software increasing the open rate. However, if they don’t download the image, the open rate cannot be tracked. 

What Is A “Good” Email Open Rate? 

Well… that’s a big one. However, according to recent data, email open rates across industries hover around 25%. Though, if you manage to get anything above 25% then you’re certainly doing something right. 

Bear in mind that getting an accurate open rate is not child’s play and can be quite tricky. Some of your recipients might only open the text version of your email (which won’t register as an open) and some email clients block images by default (with Outlook, for example, you have to manually download the images). On the other hand, some recipients might use preview panes to view your email (Outlook and Gmail are an example). In this situation, an email open is counted but the recipient may not have read the email at all.

Unfortunately, you cannot always get the email open rates you want, for whatever reason. But, what you can do is figure out how to improve email open rates.

How To Improve Email Open Rates?

Email opens = Profit

Are your email open rates struggling? Sometimes all you need is answers or a little inspiration – fast – on how to boost email open rates. These 51 speedy untapped tips and fixes will help you get back on track in seconds.  

A Subject Line Extraordinaire

1) write a subject line that triggers urgency and curiosity
2) use personalisation – i.e. use the recipient’s first name (it’s a personalisation bare minimum)
3) utilise humour to foster a stronger, personal connection with your audience
4) take advantage of negative subject lines to trigger curiosity – i.e. we are all worried about looking silly or stupid, therefore, figure out how to play on such emotions in subject lines
5) use power words in your subject lines – i.e. rare, reserved, private, today, last chance, limited, essential, elite, thrilling, new, freebie, etc.
6) be playful – for example, use emojis (if appropriate)
7) always A/B test different subject lines to figure out which one will work best to boost email open rates

Become An Engagement Aficionado

8) use information gap to make your target audience crave more content
9) use re-engagement emails to drawback people who’ve slipped away
10) focus your email copy on the subscribers’/customers’ persona – i.e. needs, interests, occupation, age, etc.
11) enquire why someone unsubscribes from your email list
12) ensure your message revolves around more than one single call-to-action (CTA)
13) use a distinctive, recognisable “From” name and email address
14) proofread your email campaigns from top to bottom before unleashing them
15) add questions to your campaigns to increase engagement

Perfect Your Timing & Frequency

16) consistency is the foundation for all habits so always send your emails at the same time – i.e. if your subscribers expect your emails in their inbox on Tuesday at 10 a.m. with a cup of coffee in hand or on Friday at 10 p.m. with a glass of wine, you don’t want to disappoint them.
17) avoid bombarding your target audience with too many emails
18) be mindful of your email copy’s length
19) take advantage of automated behavioural triggered emails – i.e. you know your audience, use that to your advantage
20) allow your audience to decide the frequency of your emails to them
21) think about re-sending unopened emails 

Stay Away From The Dreaded Spam Filters

22) no misleading or false information in email headers
23) never use deceptive subject lines
24) clearly outline advertising messaging
25) plainly identify your business’s physical location
26) provide a clear opt-out/unsubscribe link
27) be respectful of unsubscribe requests and process them quickly
28) be aware of third parties (or others) actions on your business’s behalf
29) avoid using spam trigger words
30) always make sure you have the subscribers’/ leads’ permission to email them
31) do not abuse the email addresses of your target audience
32) ask your recipients to add you to their address book
33) try to avoid attachments (if possible)
34) always optimise your HTML
35) always optimise videos and imagery to be responsive and mobile-friendly
36) utilise email authentication to prevent fake accounts from sending emails in your name

Email List Segmentation Is A Must

37) segment your email list by interests/job role/demographic/psychographics/whatever works for you, so you aren’t sending irrelevant emails to people who won’t open them
38) regularly update/clean your email list(s) by purging unengaged, inactive or outdated subscribers – i.e. email list cleaning
39) start with simple email segments and evolve
40) keep gathering information about your audience to perfect your segmentation and personalisation
41) never send unsolicited email campaigns – a.k.a spam

Maintain A Strong Connection 

42) use social media buttons (or links) in your email to allow your audience to be close to you
43) always send “Welcome” emails to newcomers
44) always send relevant, personalised, beneficial email campaigns and product update emails
45) try to avoid too much promotional content
46) always include an unsubscribe link – it’s a legal requirement
47) encourage sharing/forwarding with “party favours” – i.e. a month free subscription, a free ebook or report, a discount, etc.
48) use email series to increase loyalty, curiosity, engagement and, of course, email open rates
49) write your email copy as you’re speaking to a friend
50) always deliver email campaigns specifically tailored for the recipient

A bonus tip (51): Never, ever buy/rent email lists. Purchased/rented email lists are not compliant with anti-spam laws and you’ll be in violation.

Final Thoughts

Email open rates matter. But… a 100% open rate with a 0% click-through rate is worthless. Yet, no one can click if an email is not opened. 

How to improve your email open rates? It’ll be an ongoing process that will require patience, analytical skills and a dash (or two) of creativity. Nonetheless, if you are unhappy with the current state of your email open rate, you now have what it takes to make them skyrocket. On the other hand, if you’re happy with your open rates there’s nothing wrong with some improvement, right?

How is your email open rate doing?

Highly recommended further reading –

1) Writing Marketing Emails 101
2) Email Marketing Automation 101
3) Call-To-Action Examples That Convert
4) Email Frequency 101
5) Email Marketing Campaign Checklist (PDF version here)

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