4 Factors That Drive Email Open Rates

Before any email can be successful, it has to be opened.

Everyday, tens-of-billions of emails die on the vine: ignored or trashed without ever being seen. Marketers have come to expect piddly open rates as the norm, and that’s too bad, because a lot of marketing email is actually pretty good. Through a combination of human expertise and machine power, emails are better designed, better written, and more likely to contain valuable content than ever before. With this evolution, there are a few factors you can control to actually get your emails opened and deliver value to users.

There are many influencers on email engagement– from deliverability to behavioral tendencies. But when it comes to whether or not an email gets opened, there are relatively few factors.

Here are 4 primary factors that help optimize open rates, driving engagement, clicks and repeat visits for your business:

1. Permissions

Increasing open rates actually begins all the way back where your customer first opts in to receive your emails. People are less likely to open an email that they never wanted to receive in the first place. If you want more opens across the board, focus on making your signup experience transparent.

When a subscriber gives you their email address, they are bestowing you with an invitation into their inbox—one of the most direct forms of communication available! It’s up to you, the marketer, to consistently provide value and retain those subscribers with personal, relevant experiences.

2. Frequency

The number 1 reason people unsubscribe is “Too many emails,” but more emails = more engagement. This encourages marketers to drive up conversion numbers at the expense of brand equity… not a great long-term strategy. But, if you can increase open rates, you may find that you can drive up conversion without having to send more emails.

Look at longitudinal data and experiment to determine the email cadence that results in the highest open rate per email. As you get more nuanced, look beyond your overall cadence to understand the optimal frequency for different audience segments and email types… refine, review, repeat.

Advanced: Personalize email frequency to each individual recipient. Use advanced analytics and/or machine learning technology to drill right down to a “segment of one.” In addition to your open rate, pay attention to warning signs that indicate a churn risk and adjust your content and cadence accordingly.

3. Timing

Now that you know how often to send emails, you need to determine when to send them. It’s relatively simple to review your data and determine when in the week or day you get the highest open rates and then time your emails accordingly. This strategy is sound, but it’s pretty much guaranteed to result in incremental gains at best. Optimal timing is a deeply personal and highly individualized concept. Inbox position (how close your email is to the top of the list when first seen) also impacts open rates, and that “position bias” is another factor that needs to be addressed on a person-by-person level, which is not humanly possible.

Delivery Time Optimization (DTO) uses machine intelligence to optimize send time for each individual customer. DTO can be used to optimize for any number of KPIs, including open rate. It makes sure your message lands in your customer’s inbox at exactly the moment they are most likely to engage with it.

4. Subject

Your subject line is your last and best chance to convince your reader that on the other side of this link is something of value. You have a small handful of characters with which to answer 3 important questions: What? Why? Who cares? There are a lot of tips and trick out there, but remember, there’s no magic formula. The important thing is to test early and often.

1. Keep it short: most mobile apps cut off subject lines after 35 characters, and studies show that 6-10 words is the sweet spot for open rates.

2. But express a complete thought: don’t sacrifice clarity for character count.

3. Create intrigue: time sensitivity, provocation, unexpected pairings, questions… these are all ways to pique a reader’s curiosity.

4. Personalize it: You could rely on the olden days of “Hi, {First_Name}”, or look to the future to predict the best subject line and content for each individual user with predictive intelligence (More on that here!)

5. No Tricks! Once bitten, twice shy, as the saying goes. Don’t risk alienating your users with sly subject lines.

Reminder: Open rate is a means, not an end. Different patterns trigger different behaviors, and the permissions / frequency / timing / subject combination that delivers more opens could potentially depress overall engagement. First, optimize your email campaign for whatever action or KPI you’re trying to drive, Then, look at the aforementioned levers to boost open rate without compromising that engagement.

And, remember: the #1 key to increasing open rates (or any other email metric) is to test, test, and test some more!

The best modern marketers know how to create emails that recipients open. Download The Demand Gen Pro's Cookbook 2 and learn how to cook up your own recipes of success.

Author Bio: Lauren McCrea is the Director of Marketing and Partnerships at boomtrain. Boomtrain is a personalized notification platform that enables customer companies to send email and push notifications that are uniquely customized with content.

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