Five Tips for Boosting Email Open Rates

Email is likely the most common form of direct marketing used today, and why not? It’s affordable and effective, that is, IF you can get your audience to open your emails. For many small businesses and nonprofits, it's getting this open that is the most challenging obstacle to a successful campaign.
In our over two decades of experience in creating email marketing campaigns, we've had several new clients come to us asking for help in increasing their email open rates. Time and again we’ve been successful in turning their campaigns around by following these top five tips for boosting email open rates:

1. Scrub that list!

As much as you truly believe that your message is important to every single person that you've ever met, the reality is your message is only going to be opened by the people for whom it is relevant and that number may be a lot lower than you think. Take a long, hard look at the names on your list and then take a look at their current open rates. If someone has been on your list for five years but they haven't opened anything in the last three years, they're probably not interested. Now don’t take this personally! In our tech-obsessed world, change happens quickly. Accept it and either reach out to the contact on a more personal level (that’s right, pick up that phone) to see if they still have an interest in your company, or simply remove them from your list and put your energy into more engaged prospects.
As you scrub your list, consider creating some relevant segments. Divide your list into segments based specific interests, past experiences with you, or other demographic or behavior patterns that you know. By removing people who are no longer interested and dividing your list into segments to deliver more targeted and relevant messages, you'll boost open rates considerably.

2. Think about your subject line… and rewrite it -- twice

In a world where the average business person receives dozens if not hundreds of emails every day, the subject line is likely the most important factor in whether they open your email or send it directly to the trash. A subject line that quickly and effectively communicates why the information you're providing is essential to their day, to their business, or to their life is essential to the success of your email campaign.
Well-written subject lines should be enticing, but not ‘spammy,’ and should be short and succinct. Remember, most people read email on their phone first where character limitations mean that anything longer than 160 characters may be cut off. With so little time to catch your audience’s interest, consider your subject line as one of the most important pieces of copy in your entire campaign.

3. Don't forget about the preview text

Depending on which email service provider you use, there is an opportunity in the email settings or body to add something called "pre-header" or "preview" text with every email you send. The preview text appears in your email client window, just under the subject line.THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL INFORMATION. In fact, the preview text is one of the most important elements of your email after the subject line. Like your subject line, your preview text is likely limited on mobile devices. A good rule of thumb is to limit your preview text to 140 characters.
A pre-header helps support the statement you made in the subject line, and provides a second opportunity to entice the reader to open your email. Again, just as with the subject line, this information is going to help a reader determine if your message is relevant or not. Consider your preview text very carefully, and be sure to use it to sway your readers towards opening, not deleting, your message.

4. Think about delivery time

The Internet has brought us a world of 24-hour activity, which includes the opening and reading of your email campaigns! With the expansion of global opportunities for business both small and large, it’s certainly possible that your audience could be starting their day while you’re climbing into bed. So what’s the best time of day to send your email campaign?
Unfortunately, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer that works for everyone, as it really depends on your organization and your audience. If you know the behavior patterns of your readers, you can probably make some good guesses to start. For example, if your audience has many teachers, you might not want to send emails during the school day, as they won’t have time to read them during class, but early mornings, evenings and weekends might be a great time to catch them when they’re catching up on correspondences.
The best way to determine when to send your emails for optimal results is through regular testing. Try sending to your list on different days and at different times. After you’ve run several campaigns, you should start to see trends for when your audience responds best. Use this information to determine optimal delivery times to achieve the best results for your email campaigns.

5. A/B Split Test Everything

Just when we think we know an audience they always seem to surprise us. That’s why I encourage my clients to A/B split test their campaigns at least a few times per year. 
A/B split testing is a process that compares two versions of your campaign to see which one performs better. You can A/B split test against different subject lines, email content and delivery times. Some email service providers will have an embedded email testing process that you can use to help make your testing easier or  even completely automated so take advantage of that if you have the opportunity! 
When you run your tests, be sure to use a large enough sample size to get accurate results. If you test your campaign variations on a very small sample size you may not get an accurate enough result to provide constructive data.
I encourage you to try at least one of these tactics with your next campaign and see what happens and, of course, be sure to measure, measure, measure! With some extra attention given to the above along with diligent measurement, you’ll be able to quickly see which tactics work best for you and your audience and begin to reap the results of a finely tuned email marketing machine.