Master Class: Get Your Message Noticed and Improve Email Open Rates

email open rates

So you’ve poured a ton of time into building out the perfect email list. Maybe you’ve even been paying attention to our Master Class and your even segmenting your email lists into smaller, more-defined groups. Today is the day. You finally have something you want the whole world to hear, but how do actually make sure they see it and not end up with an email open rate of… zero? It’s a great question, and with people busier than ever, attention spans are at a premium. Email can have some of the highest conversion rates in marketing when done properly, but it can be a rocky road. Fear not, we have some tips to help save the day (and your email campaign).

Track Everything

It may seem obvious, but we can’t count the number of businesses we have worked with who simply do not track their email deliveries. If you are not tracking your email open rates (the number of people who actually open and read your message once it hits their inbox), or click-through rates (the number of people who click a link in your message), you cannot effectively measure how your email campaigns are performing. As a result, you’ll blindly be throwing darts at the board, hoping something works. Tracking can even let you do some crazy fancy, but super powerful things, like A/B testing, where you can deliver one version of your message to some, and a slightly altered version of your message to others to see which is most effective. Most email platforms have built-in tools to let you analyze results, but you can also use other tracking tools like Google Analytics, which is powerful and free.

Stand Out (in a good way)

If you are sending out messages that blend in with the rest of a user’s inbox, and do not speak to a user directly, they’re probably not interested in reading it. It’s not rocket science. You want your messages to stand out from the crowd. You want to stand out in a good way though, not like Aunt Mildred’s ugly, two sizes too big, Christmas sweater. So how the heck do you do that?

Subject Lines

Write to a specific person. Email platforms are a dime a dozen today, but most will let you personalize subject lines to include a recipients name. Any time you can talk to a specific user, do so. So a message like “John, quick question…” does very well vs. “Answer this question about how you liked our product X!” We’d argue the first example does a better job of catching the user’s attention because it looks like it might be a message from a friend. It also does a good job of peaking the user’s interest to open the email to see what it’s about. Also, send from a single person where possible, instead of from your company as a whole. A short, transaction email, with a ‘from’ address of, is a red flag for most users.

Have you ever seen an emoji in a subject line? They are becoming more common to catch attention, but we’d recommend using them with caution. As they become more prevalent, users may come to associate them with spam. Also be sure to research all the various meanings of the emoji you are about to use. That chocolate ice cream swirl icon might not be what you think.

Also be wary of subject lines that just look spammy. Words like “Free”, “Deal”, and “Sale” are usually dead giveaways. ALSO, PLEASE DO NOT USE ALL CAPS IN YOUR SUBJECT LINE.

Treat Them Like a Friend

When most users check their inbox, it’s because they are looking for a message from a work colleague or friend. So when you write messages, consider writing in a way that fits what they are seeking. When sending out an email, consider whether you’d send the same content to a close friend. What would their reaction be? Would they think you were some weird sounding robot or would they reply back asking if your email account had been hacked? We favor short and transactional emails because these are the most natural among every-day users. A simple message to a potential customer letting them know about your super fancy new product line, doesn’t need to have 30 images, a pretty header with your logo, a footer with a ton of contact information etc. Keep it simple!

Hey John, just wanted to let you know we launched that XYZ product you mentioned you were interested in. I’d be curious to know what you think if you have a minute…


Don’t Over Do It

We touched on this in the last point, but it bears repeating. Almost all of our clients that have come to us, who currently send out some form of email marketing (or ’email blasts’ *cringe*), have been using some form of what was supposed to be a fancy looking email template. You’ve probably seen a few in your inbox. That one that has the super fancy header with their logo, maybe even a picture of their office, custom fonts, signature image, maybe an ad/coupon in relation to some product or service, links all over the place, and of course they include every contact method known to man (Phone, Fax, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Pinterest, Instagram). Yikes!

Don’t get us wrong. There is definitely a time and place for email templates (like email newsletters, or perhaps blog updates, etc.), but for short, transactional emails, they probably are not doing you any favors. Most users have their guard up when they see an HTML filled email because the majority of those they see is spam. Most email clients also don’t even load HTML, especially so for external images, until the users click a link, or hit a button. More often, the HTML layout looks different, in different email clients anyway, so it’s probably not getting seen the way you think to begin with. This is especially true on mobile devices, so be sure to test your email thoroughly. Even when you are not using HTML email, it could be something as simple as where a line of text wraps on a smaller device, that you hadn’t fully considered.

Provide Value

Don’t send emails with cat photos, unless users want cat photos from you. Some may argue what is ‘valuable’ but we’d just recommend sticking with what is obvious as a general rule of thumb. For example, if someone subscribes to your real estate updates, you should feel comfortable sending them messages regarding properties that have come to market. If that user comes to associate your message as spam, your messages might get marked as such. The problem with your message being marked as spam is that action is often shared across email users. So when one gets flagged, other users can have those messages automatically flagged as spam (and automatically filtered). In the real world, email cannot be ‘recalled’ (we’re looking at you Microsoft Outlook), so think carefully before you hit that send button. Most email platforms also allow you to test messages to make sure everything looks great, on every device.

Segment Your Audience

We’ve gone into this point in great detail before so we won’t get into much detail here, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so paramount to your email campaign. There are a ton of different ways to segment users (by niche, company type, time since last purchase). The point, however, is split your email list into smaller groups so that your message is more relevant to just that group. The last thing you want to be doing is ‘blasting’ your entire email list with content that is only of interest to 20% of your subscribers, resulting in unsubscribes from the others.

A/B Test

We regularly recommend A/B testing email campaigns to see not only what is most effective for your specific niche, but what is most effective for specific user segments. The general idea of A/B testing is that you send closely similar messages to different audiences and measure the results between the two for effectiveness. It’s sort of like your high school science/biology class, where you had controlled experiments in which you would test one variable at a time, and compare it to your baseline to see if your hypothesis was correct.

By iterating through these changes in a controlled fashion, you can really work your way towards incredibly successful campaigns down the road. We use the same technique for websites where we’ll send users to two different versions of the same web page, to see which is more effective. We can then take away the one that doesn’t perform as well, and strap rocket boosters to the other.

Timing is Everything

Okay, maybe not everything, but it’s important all the same. A recent study has shown that the timing of messages greatly impacts whether those messages get read. Knowing your audience and what causes them to see a message (or not see a buried message from last weekend), could play a big part of whether your next campaign is successful. It may also go beyond just getting your message read. User intent and buying patterns are also impacted by timing. If your users are more likely to buy your product on Saturday morning, it might not be good to send your messages every Tuesday.

Stop Buying Email Lists

This point often starts arguments with business owners but if you stop to think about it and give it a chance, we promise you’ll get better results. Many businesses purchase large lists of email lists ‘leads’ with the misguided hope of boosting their marketing efforts. This is usually a leftover from a dying era where businesses could purchase lists of physical addresses to send postcards and other mailers to. This numbers game is trial and error, but usually an error for email. We’ve never seen a client with high email open rates after using ‘lead lists’. It can also hurt your brand’s reputation. You are much better off just offering a freebie like a lead magnet or maybe even a contest in exchange for emails instead.

Prune Regularly

Regularly review your email list (and tracking data) to see which users are not active when it comes to your email. Be sure to also remove any users where email is bouncing and fix errors like misspellings in email addresses. Many email platforms charge by the number of users you have subscribed, so pruning these users (that aren’t generating you revenue anyway) will further help you reduce costs.


Like these tips? Want to see more? Let us know and also consider taking part in one of our live Master Class groups. We regularly hold completely free classes which are open to the public as well as private paid instructional classes on a variety of topics. Our Master Class Series is our way of helping small businesses like yours stick it to the big guys. Other agencies that charge over $10k for marketing secrets like these are ridiculous.

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