How To Get People To Actually Open Your Marketing Emails


Part of running a marketing campaign is realizing that you’re not always going to get the results you were hoping for. Many a newly-minted marketer has had the unpleasant experience of coordinating a well-planned and creative email campaign, only to be disappointed when less than 10% of their target audience actually bothers to open their messages.

Of course, the overall open rate for email campaigns is only about 13%, which might at least offer some solace for the disappointed marketers out there.

But here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s often said that data is a marketer’s best friend, and that’s certainly true when it comes to email marketing. So, let’s turn to our old friend and find out what the data can tell us about how to actually get people to open our marketing emails.

The Data

Mixdata, a service that generates useful data for businesses, recently published a comprehensive look at the stats behind email marketing campaigns, and their data provides some serious insight into how we can tailor our emails for optimal results.

So, let’s look at the numbers.

With the help of over four billion emails, Mixdata generated a few interesting statistics. First, the numbers suggest that only 13.5% of emails actually get opened. Obviously, that’s not an encouraging statistic for email marketers.

But if we look at the median rate we do get a slightly more promising result. The median open rate for campaigns was 19.9%. That means that if you’re trying to judge how successful your campaign was then you should consider 20% to be the ideal target. And of course, if you achieve a rate any higher than that then you’re out-performing most campaigns.

But don’t worry: while aiming for a ten percent higher rate than the overall might sound difficult, it’s really not an unreasonable target.

To understand why all we have to do is dig a little deeper into the data.

Based on the numbers, we can look at the shared elements of emails that perform well and tailor our emails to reflect that. So, what does well?

It seems one of the most important elements of an email campaign is the subject line. First, the ideal length seems to be between 1 and 15 characters. Emails with subject lines in this range have a 27.2% open rate, well above the median. Meanwhile, we see a slight downward slope in open rates as you go beyond this range.

However, less isn’t always better. Emails without a subject line at all were opened less than half as often. Clearly, you need to include a subject line.

But that raises the question of what it should say.

Luckily, the data helps us there as well. The best word to include in a subject line seems to be any variation of the word “congratulations,” with emails with subject lines including “congrat” being opened 34% of the time.

And there are a number of terms that can help you get above the median like: Receipt OR Order (30.2%), Thank OR Sorry OR Please (26.6%), Expir (26.1%), and Try OR Join OR Onboard OR Sign (25.4%).

There also seems to be a link between the total number of people included in the email campaign and lower open rates. This suggests that mass emails are less effective. And there’s an obvious explanation for this link. The more people you send the email to, the harder it is to make it interesting to everyone.

Instead, the data suggests that the ideal email campaign is one that is carefully crafted to appeal to a specific audience.

So, what can we take away from these numbers?

How Can We Use This Data To Get People To Open Our Emails?

There are a number of important lessons to take away from Mixdata’s statistics, and they’re certainly worth a closer look if you have the time. But there are really two essential points. First, there’s a correlation between the number of people you send the email to and negative open rate. Second, there’s a strong relationship between specific words in a subject line and both positive and negative open rates.

Based on that information, there are two steps that we can take to increase the effectiveness of our email marketing.

Step 1: Consider your audience.

The data suggests that we can get the best results by selecting our audience carefully. Sending out emails to as many people as possible is just not going to have the same results as carefully selecting the audience. Base your email campaigns on which consumers you think are actually going to be interested in what you have to tell them.

And remember, if you’re consistently sending your subscribers emails that they just aren’t interested in, they are much more likely to unsubscribe.

Carefully craft your message, but spend just as much time considering who it’s going to resonate with.

Step 2: Choose your subject line carefully.

According to the data, the words we use in the subject line really matter. Everyone, whether they open the email or not, will see the subject line. Think of it as the opening line in your pitch. And as any marketer knows, the opening line has to grab the audience’s attention.

Of course, part of the reason so many emails go unread is that everyone knows that. And the average consumer’s inbox is full of emails that are trying just a bit too hard to do it. While one exclamation point can help you increase your open rate, stop there.

Consumers have seen enough emails with multiple exclamation marks in subject lines that they habitually tune them out. In fact, subject lines with “!!!” in them had the second-lowest open rate at just 15.1%. The multiple exclamation marks and similar “attention-grabbing” tricks, like emojis (15.5%), have become the hallmark of spam, and consumers know it.

For instance, why does “congratulations” do well? The obvious answer is because people who see it in a subject line assume they’ve won something. And who wouldn’t be interested in that?

Of course, if you decide to go down that route, it’s a good idea to really be offering something significant. Most people who think they’ve won a prize only to be offered the opportunity to purchase a product at 2% off wouldn’t consider that a positive interaction with a brand.

Instead, it might be a better idea to tune our pitches to grab the consumer’s attention by showing them something they’re actually interested in.

Now here’s the secret: if you’ve followed the first step, the second is much easier and more effective.

Looking at the data, we know that using the right keywords in a subject line can give a serious boost to your open rates. It’s a good idea to use them. But it’s also a good idea to make sure that the rest of the subject line is tailored to your audience and their interests. And because we’ve now carefully selected our audience, we know what those interests are.

The way that will change the way you craft your marketing emails will depend on your audience. But consider trying out some different wordings in smaller, hyper-focused campaigns. And when you get the results you’re looking for, expand to a wider audience.

Marketing is often a process of trial and error, but by following these two steps you can greatly increase your odds of success. And you can use this success to craft emails that will help you engage with your customers and drive sales.

Just remember, the key to an effective marketing campaign is what you say and who you say it to. By keeping this in mind and keeping an eye on the data, you can make sure that all of your email campaigns can meet that 20% target.

Wyatt is a writer and your friend. You can get in touch with him on Twitter @WyattRedd.

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