The process of writing and sending emails and seeing how they perform has been picked apart by countless experts. Between them, they've analyzed billions of emails sent to tens of millions of people.
What wisdom can they share to help us improve email open rates and create winning emails?
Like almost any form of creative marketing, how somebody feels about an email is subjective. There is no perfect solution. Instead, marketers need to look at how different variables perform, increasing their odds for how an email is received with a best practice approach.
Knowing what not to do can be just as important as using the methods that have proven to be effective.
If you want to see email open rates increase (and by ‘opened’ we mean the reader has enabled any images in your email or clicked a link within it), look at some of the following suggestions to push your emails beyond the 25% average.
1. Use top quality data
Having the right data is the single most important thing to improve email open rates. Yet one study found that a staggering 89% of marketers do not segment their database.
If you’re blasting the same message out to everyone, without any thought to how relevant the message is to them, or without any form of personalization, little wonder few people open it. A more targeted approach to database marketing is a critical first step.
Data quality also plays a significant role. If an address is incorrect, that email isn’t going anywhere. If you send the same email many times, (because your duplicate data isn’t merged) it can frustrate recipients. So too will an email misfire if any attempts with personalization are based on incorrect data.
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2. Look at who's sending the email
One study found that 42% of people looked first at the sender or 'from' name before opening an email. People are more likely to open an email from a brand or a name that they recognize. An email from a company name is professional but not personal. Using a name makes an email more personable, but this name needs context.
This is why many businesses like to use a combination of both, e.g. an email from ‘Jen at BlueVenn’ could be better received than an email from ‘BlueVenn’.
As with most of these tips, the best way to find out what works best for you is with split testing. Unfortunately, a habit that can be easily forgotten by busy marketing departments.
3. Refine your subject lines
What makes the best email subject line has been a topic of discussion since emails began. Getting it wrong is disastrous. One study found nearly 70% of email recipients report email as spam based on the subject line.
But what is the current thinking?
- Subject lines should fall under one of three broad categories. This includes Benefit (the email will be advantageous to the recipient), Logic (common sense suggests they’d want to read it), or Threat (not so much sinister, rather a sense of urgency of a fear of missing out) (addthis)
- Length of subject lines: Hubspot found that 67% of emails opened take place on a mobile device. For subject lines to remain readable, it recommends they be less than 50 characters. MarketingProfs suggest shorter still, citing research showing that subject lines with less than 20 characters having the best open rate
- To emoji or not to emoji 💩: Whether you choose to use emojis in your subject line depends on your company’s tone of voice and how you wish customers to perceive you. ReturnPath found that using symbols in some emails – for Valentine’s Day and Father’s Day, for example – had better read rates than those without. For the moment, they are still a novelty – but novelty often wears off…
- Using personalization: A report from Experian found personalized promotional emails have 29% higher unique open rates and 41% more unique click-through rates than non-personalized emails. Another report supports this, which found consumers open emails with personalized subject lines at a 50% higher rate compared to emails without. Benchmark Email, however, do not recommend any form of personalization, suggesting that the strategy is too associated with spammers. If you do choose to personalize, consider the quality of your data and the relationship with your customers and prospects. Remember not to cross the line from cool to creepy.
4. Consider your timing
When is the best time to send an email? Recent studies seem to agree:
- Searchenginepeople say Tuesday and Thursday are the best day to send B2B emails, with the click-through ‘hotspot’ being between 8am-11am. Sender and Intercom seem to agree
- Propeller also say Tuesday or Thursday at 10am. However, if your prospects are likely to be workaholics, then B2B emails sent over the weekend have the highest open rate – possibly due to the lack of competition. This trend reverses for ‘normal’ people (who only check work emails Mon-Fri)
- If you like to send customers newsletters, Venngage found that the best time was between 9am-10am, with the worst time being between 6pm-7pm. Of course, you should always go from your own data if it shows another time.
5. Be human (because you are)
There’s something unusual about telling people they need to write emails ‘like a human’, as if they aren’t one themselves, or understand the basic motivations of other people.
The problem is that marketers writing emails from their brand can find it difficult to create a human connection with the reader, or when automating emails to lots of recipients.
Think about the ways that you engage with other people and how you build these relationships, and how you can include this in an email and subject line. For example:
- Make them feel special or important
- Show them that you care (with birthday or anniversary emails, for instance)
- Make them laugh or smile. Sometimes you can have a little fun, even if what you sell isn’t
- Include personalization where possible (and appropriate)
- Show an understanding of your recipients and what you’re asking from them
Proving that writing more ‘human’ emails will improve open rates is more difficult to prove but think: would you rather receive a boring, thoughtless, automated email – or one from another person?
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