How to get people to open your emails

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This is how you’re going stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice you can’t get elsewhere.

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Without further ado, onto the advice.

[Update: This section’s previous email advice was wrong or outdated, so we’re replacing it with accurate email wisdom courtesy of the experts at Women of Email, including inspiration from the advice of Skyler Holobach, Nout Boctor-Smith, Stephanie Griffith, Laura Atkins, and others. Specifically, we’re rewriting this section to bust myths about email marketing, some of which were in this section’s previous version:]
  • Even if you execute an email campaign perfectly, it’s not realistic to judge the campaign’s success relative to an open rate of 100%. First, it’s technically infeasible to reach 100%. Second, open rate isn’t the ultimate email metric to focus on.
  • In terms of the technical infeasibility of reaching 100%, email open-tracking mechanisms aren’t flawless: Some prematurely load tracking pixels before the recipient opens their email, and sometimes the pixel is never loaded at all. More importantly, some of your recipients simply don’t care to read your email — and can’t be bothered to unsubscribe. That means some portion of your list is always going to be “unopened.” Consider that there’s always a distribution of engagement/interest among any audience.
  • Further, many companies see averaged tracked open rates of around 20% (depending on the campaign’s audience, subject, content, and other factors). So, don’t necessarily consider your campaign a failure if it’s not clocking an open rate much higher than that. Instead, get into the habit of comparing yourself to averages: What is the average open rate of your past email campaigns to the same audience? And what’s the typical open rate of a similar campaign sent by other companies in your industry? Your goal is to improve that number over time. Run tests in service of sending increasingly valuable emails to an increasingly higher quality, opted-in audience who genuinely want the content you’re emailing.
  • More importantly, keep in mind that open rates aren’t your ultimate metric. That belongs to engagement: are your recipients clicking the links in your email as intended, are they regularly opening your emails over time, and are they not unsubscribing above the average rate in your industry/campaign type? Keep your eye on why you’re sending emails in the first place: Providing value and increasing engagement — not getting people to open your email, which can be more a measure of how clickbaity your subject line is. That’s short-sighted.
  • The practice of avoiding “spam keywords” (e.g. “free,” “money,” “loan”) in your email’s subject and body in pursuit of avoiding going into spam folders is an outdated email tactic. Modern spam filters are sophisticated enough to not bury emails based on word inclusion if those words are otherwise in the context of a non-spammy, legitimate email campaign sent to an opted-in audience with a history of engagement. Follow email best practices; don’t over-optimize for hacking the system. The system exists for a reason.
  • And that brings us to the ultimate point of this section: Focus your email optimization energy on building a high-engagement, opted-in audience who enjoys your consistently valuable content.