Why Your Emails Aren’t Getting Opened (And How to Boost Email Open Rates)

An illustration with a person sitting on top of a pile of greyed out envelopes, holding one shiny opened envelope. Symbolic representation for email open rates.Out of all the metrics out there, your email open rates are the best measurement of success. If a lot of people are opening your emails, then you’re doing a great job as an email marketer. And if your email open rates are low, in essence, nothing else you do matters.

Now, upon hearing this, a lot of marketers can get carried away and try to trick people into opening their emails. It’s not uncommon to see people get obsessed with clickbait subject lines and other tricks. While these can artificially get you more opens in the short term, they will hurt you in the long run.

Fortunately, we just put together this guide that will help you understand everything you need to know about email open rates. That includes knowing what a good rate is in the first place, and also all the best practices to getting there.

What is a good open rate, and how do you stack up

If you try to research this subject you might see tables where they break down open rates “by industry”, but I don’t think this is very useful.

There is no evidence that your open rate should be the same as someone in the same industry as you, especially since “industry” is a very wide category. There are just too many differences between business models even in the same industry. A mathematical average of everyone in an industry isn’t very useful to you.

I think it is much better to think in terms of a “good open rate” and a “very good open rate”. And a good open rate comes in the 15-20% range. If you’re not there yet, this should be your priority. And what is a “very good rate”? This if you get into the 25-30% range.

Does this mean everyone needs to get to the “very good” range?

I don’t think it’s always a wise idea to obsess about your open rate, or decide that your account as a whole needs a 25-30% email open rate. This is for two major reasons.

The first is that well-rounded marketers will find always market to both warmer and colder leads. If you do your segmentation correctly, you should be able to look at your open rates for each type separately. You shouldn’t aim to have the same open rate for your freshest and warmest leads, as with those that have gone stale over the years.

The other thing to note is shooting for a very high-opening rate might be incompatible with other parts of your business model or strategy. For example, if the only way to get to 25% is to purge your list of anyone except the most engaged and super-qualified leads, this is a “pyrrhic victory”. Yes, your open rates will go up, but you will make less profits over the long run.

Some of the reasons that your rates are low

Failing to leverage the subject line and preheader text

I am almost hesitant to talk about this point, because I find that people can take it to an extreme. When people first learn that subject lines can be pivotal in open rates, they tend to go over the top. I’m talking about spammy, clickbait-ish or downright annoying subject lines.

It’s completely fine if your subject lines just do a “relatively good job”. If you implement the other points on this guide, you should still get a pretty good open rate. That is going to happen even if most of your subject lines are just “good enough”. 

But what do I mean by a “good enough” subject line? It is a line that does its primary job – giving people a reason to open the email. It communicates what kind of value the subscriber can get out of the email. It doesn’t need to be especially clever, witty or fun, just communicate what’s in it for the subscriber, in a straightforward way.

Additional tricks to create curiosity, get attention or create suspense can become annoying if you use them too often. So it is a good idea to only introduce techniques slowly, as you become more experienced. In addition, you can limit them to special product launches, promotions, and one-off occasions. 

Does this feel limiting? I have good news

It might feel limiting to learn that you need to err on the side of caution with subject lines. Summarizing what is inside the email in a straightforward fashion can feel limiting if you want to try more fun stuff.

The good news is that you can try all the fun tricks you want inside the preheader text area. Emercury supports this option right on the email sending screen. You can define it right below where you define the subject line.

Unlike the subject line, you have more text work with. So you’re less likely to go over the top with superlatives as you would in the constraints of a subject line. 

To recap, my recommendation is to start off slow with the subject lines. Just learn to succinctly summarize what value people get by opening the email. You can gradually learn to do more in our guide on subject lines here. In the meantime, be sure to leverage the preheader text area to increase open rates even further.

Focusing on quantity over quality of leads

There is nothing you can learn in this guide, or really any guide, that will give you good open rates with a poor quality list. 

And the main reason that you might end up with a low quality list? A focus on growing a list at any cost. Even if it means tricking people into joining, or removing all qualifications just to make it super-easy for anyone to get on the list. A good, qualified and easily segment-able lead is worth 10 poor quality leads. 

Now, this isn’t to say that different marketers can’t use different strategies. In some niches and business models it does make sense to go for quantity and not filter upfront. That’s ok, however expect that your open rates will be smaller than other marketers.

Now, there are two ways to fix this issue

The first is to change the way you build your list and focus on getting higher-quality leads on the front-end. That means higher-quality sources of leads, clearer communication about what they’re signing up for, and getting more information about the subscriber upfront.

The other option is to learn more about your subscribers over time. That means getting relevant information that allows you to treat them differently. You don’t want to treat the highly-engaged the same way as those with passing interest. 

Obviously, you can, and should ideally do both. Work to improve the process before they get on your list, but also learn to segment people once they do get on your list.

A poor understanding of engagement and the big picture

If there is one overall concept I wish every email marketer understood, it would have to be engagement. In fact, I often say that engagement is The One Secret To All Email Marketing Profits. And while that might sound like an exaggeration, it is absolutely true.

In fact, the entire reason we even care about open rates is because they are a marker of good, quality engagement. Put in a different way, email open rates are a symptom of good engagement. And not understanding this point lies behind a lot of mistakes.

Many marketers will go and try to increase open rates directly, forgetting that they are just a symptom or a marker that you’re doing things right. You want to adopt a holistic approach where your overall goal is to increase engagement, and that in turn will result in higher open rates.

Failing to deliver on your promises

You might have heard the saying “It is always better to under promise and overdeliver”. The same holds true in email marketing. This is an overarching concept that also explains some of the mistakes we already discussed.

If you really want to annoy your prospects, overpromise to get their email address, and then fail to deliver. Then spend time wondering why you can’t fix your open rates.

And overpromising and not delivering isn’t just about the early stages where a subscriber is new to your list. You have to consistently keep this concept in the back of your head. With every email or campaign that you create, be mindful about any future benefits that you promise. 

This can be related to new product launches, future free content and programs, or anything involving future value received. Always err on the side of under promising, and see your subscribers’ enthusiasm rates increase.

Missing or lacking list hygiene

We already discussed the pitfalls of trying to engage a low-quality list. However, there is another side to having a quality list. Even if you do everything right and make sure to build a quality list full of qualified leads, proper hygiene is still mandatory.

This is for the simple reason that people and their needs change. Even if the subscriber was completely into what you do, their circumstances might have changed. They might have changed industries, life goals, or lost interest for any of a number of reasons. 

Keeping such dead weight on your list will result in ever lower open rates. You can do everything else on this guide to increase your open rates, but you would be fighting an uphill battle. The “dirtier” your list becomes, the more you have to do just to keep the open rates from dropping.

This is why it’s good to go with a platform that’s especially experienced with list hygiene. Emercury is renowned for an “obsession” with list hygiene features, strategies and expertise. When you’re with Emercury, you get access to the best list hygiene features, bar none. 

And if you’re one of the plans that include it, you get access to your own deliverability expert and consultations where we can help you with list hygiene in a personalized, customized manner.

How to improve your email open rates

Start off on the right foot 

First impressions count in everything, including email marketing. But when it comes to engagement, and consequently open rates, the first few emails are crucial. This is the period where you welcome the subscriber to the list, and deliver tons of value.

If you do it right, you should be able to get the subscriber “trained” in opening your emails. To learn more about this, check out: Boost Email Engagement: Get People in the Habit of Reading Your Emails, as well as the Guide to Creating a Welcome Email Series.

Keep the line going

While engaging in a killer welcome sequence will do wonders to kick start your engagement rates, it’s surprisingly easy to lose all of those gains. All you have to do is be inconsistent or mess up the frequency. I find this is the number one mistake among email marketers, and the main way in which they hurt themselves.

You can follow every other guideline, trick and tip in our guides, but if you’re inconsistent, you’ll see next to no results. In fact, inconsistency does more than just remove gained benefits. It makes subscribers annoyed and frustrated. Aside from reduced open rates, expect many unsubscribe requests and even some spam complaints.

Experiment with timing 

A lot of people are surprised with how much of a difference sending-time can make for your open rates. Depending on your topic, industry or niche, just changing the time of day that you send at can substantially boost your open rates.

Note that nobody can tell you upfront which sending times will work best for you, so testing and experimenting is a must. With that said, most people see the highest open rates on Tuesdays, with Wednesdays and Thursdays coming at a close second place. 

And when it comes to sending times, it’s often best to send during office hours if you’re in B2B, and outside office hours if you’re dealing with B2C. Remember that with Emercury it is easy to schedule the same campaign to different segments at different hours. This allows you to both treat different segments differently, and test what works best.

Level-up your personalization

If working on engagement is the number one secret to higher open rates, then personalization is the best way to improve engagement. In a sense, the better your personalization efforts, the higher your open rates will go.

There’s just one caveat. A lot of people go into the advanced side of personalization prematurely, and get overwhelmed. It’s enough to stick with the basics in the start. This will pull you ahead of most of your competitors.

That means understanding and performing segmentation of your subscribers, using merge tags, or even Emercury’s latest and easiest “secret weapon”, the “smart personalization” feature. When it comes to implementing personalization, you want to start off slow and implement the easy stuff. You can get fancier and more complex as you go.

Get A Strategic Partner On Your Side

There’s no need to go at this alone. While we do put out a lot of free content to help you, nothing beats a one-on-one conversation. In these articles we try to help clarify things as best as possible. However, every business is different, so we have to generalize.

If you want to understand better how to implement email marketing in your specific business, let’s have a chat. At the moment I am still able to do some free demos, so be sure to book one while I can still do these.

I would love to hear about your specific needs, challenges and any confusion you might have about email marketing strategies. And then, help you see how you can use Emercury to improve your bottom-line.

Alternatively, or in addition to booking a free demo, you can also grab a username for our forever-free-plan while we still have it. It’s probably the most generous email marketing automation plan on the planet. We include almost every feature in this plan, with very few restrictions.

Remember, you get to keep this plan for life, for free… Provided that you grab a username while registrations are still open. Note that we might decide to pull this way-too-generous offering at any point. So click that link to check if we still allow registrations.


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