10 Actionable Strategies To Improve Your Email Open Rate

You are a rockstar!

You’ve learned 23 strategies to improve your list building, and you’ve written the perfect email for your loyal audience.

What now?

Time to connect with your audience, build that relationship, and lead them down the path of continued engagement.

One of the strongest ways to accomplish that goal is through your email communication.

In future posts, I’ll be sharing strategies to improve every step of your email marketing program.

Right now, the focus is on getting your emails opened.

Before discovering 10 strategies to improve email open rates, it’s important to know where you stand.

The median open rate for emails worldwide is 17.1%, as shown in the 2014 Silverpop Email Marketing Benchmark Study.

average email open rateSource: Marketingcharts.com

As you can see, there is a significant variance in open rates between the US average at 16.8% and the top quartile at 38.5%. What’s incredible is that a quarter of emails are being opened at an even greater rate.

Unless you are already in that upper quartile (and even if you are), you should be properly motivated to improve.

After checking out the following strategies, leave a comment, and let me know which one you plan to focus on first.

Now let’s get going!

1. Use list segmentation

Mailchimp did some deep diving into their data to uncover the benefits of list segmentation.

Here are a couple of the more interesting stats from their research.

Overall, segmented campaigns increased open rates by 14.444%.

Campaigns segmented by a custom signup field increased open rates by 18.852%.

It’s clear that you can create highly targeted lists by asking the right questions within the signup form itself. Then you can use that information to custom tailor different messages to various groups of subscribers.

In another study, Dan Zarrella of Hubspot asked readers why they decide to join certain newsletters over others. He found that 38% of responders subscribe if they feel they will receive emails relevant to them.

email relevance

Those same subscribers will stop opening emails if they find that the information isn’t targeted enough.

Think about what questions you could be asking to segment your list into different subscriber profiles.

Then create custom messages for each profile, with unique subject lines.

To help you get your segmentation cap on, check out 27 Ways To Achieve Better Segmentation.

Pro tip: The exciting part comes with what you can do once you’ve built trust with a solid base of segmented users. When promoting your product offerings you can create custom landing pages for specific segments. Watch that conversion rate pop!

2. Pay attention to your send frequency

How often you send emails can have a significant impact on how often those emails get opened.

When you rarely send emails, you have a greater chance of having people forget who you are. Send too frequently and you could see unsubscribes as people get annoyed.

To emphasize the importance of this check out this chart from Bluehornet.

reasons people unsubscribeSource: Marketingcharts.com

The amount of people who unsubscribe from email lists due to frequency issues has grown over time.

The best advice is to create an email schedule and stick to it. Rather than randomly sending out email blasts here and there, tie your email frequency to a schedule that subscribers come to expect.

Pro Tip: In the same BlueHornet study they found that 47.1% of people who had unsubscribed would have chosen to stay a subscriber if they had had the option to receive email less often.

Consider allowing your subscribers to choose their own email frequency, and segment your list based on what they choose.

For more insight, check out 17 variables to consider when determining your send frequency.

The best part of that article is that it gets you to think through your unique situation. A daily deal site like Groupon is going to have a much different email pattern than a blog that comes out with new content three times per week.

Think through the type of content you want to include in your emails, and then test out different frequencies over time.

Consider segmenting your list and doing a long term frequency a/b test.

3. Send your emails at the right time

You’ve crafted a perfect email, and now you need to send it.

What day and hour give your email the best chance of being opened?

This really depends on your individual list and audience. However, there are some general trends worth knowing.

GetResponse wrote a great article breaking down the engagement metrics for various days of the week, as well as for times of the year.

best day to send email

Of note is that they found Thursdays to have the highest open rates on average, at just under 10%.

The weekends are slower than the week, which makes sense as people aren’t on their computers all day to check email.

Fridays also see a dip as people get off early from work. However, it’s important to note that there are some industries that would naturally have the best open rates on the weekend.

For example, if you are promoting local events and parties, you’d be sending out reminders on a Friday or Saturday. Those emails would get opened because people are looking to do something fun.

Consider your industry, and when your audience will be looking for what you have to offer.  Work to give people what they want when they want it most.

To dive into the best hour to send email, check out this chart from MailerMailer:

email open rates by hourSource: MarketingCharts.com

In MailerMailer’s study they look at each half of 2013. The first half is H1, the second half is H2.

The line that goes through shows the time of day that emails were opened. Since 7AM to 11AM has the highest open rates, it would appear that it’s best to send email at that time.

However, the bars are actually highest between 6PM and 1AM. This shows that the emails opened in the morning were actually sent the night before.

People are looking at where they last left off in their inbox, and opening those emails first.

Try getting ahead of the morning email frenzy by also scheduling your emails to send at night.

As with every statistic, they are useful barometers, but you also need to apply your common sense, and test everything. Unmarketing.com shared a post referencing a variety of studies, all showing different times as the best time to send email.

Even though I’ve referenced some studies earlier, I wanted to include their post to drive home the point that testing for your own list is really the best method of finding the right send time.

The main point is that there will be a best time for your list, and you should find out what that is. Go ahead and start with the recommended time from one of these studies, but then optimize from there.  Keep testing over the long run, as the optimal time could change.

When possible, I like to include case studies and examples in my articles.

Fortunately, Econsultancy.com wrote a post with six case studies and examples related to email send time.

The most interesting result was that eBags.com increased their revenue per recipient by 187% after optimizing their send time.

Don’t leave money on the table.

4. Include an attention interrupt in your subject line

Writing an attention grabbing subject line clearly has a significant impact on your open rates.

First, let’s discuss unique ways to stand out in a crowded email inbox.

President Obama’s 2012 email campaign was a huge success. Much of the $690 million that he generated in fundraising came from email outreach.

Every time they had an email to send they would first do several split tests to a small portion of their list.

They then kept track of which subject lines were opened the most, and which generated the most donations.

Surprisingly, the subject line, “Hey”, was one of their best. Throughout the campaign, they found that personal subject lines, which might come from a friend, worked best.

Personal subject lines work because we aren’t expecting them.

Most companies send promotional type emails that are easy to skip right over.

Try going oddly personal and see what happens.

Technorati has a great post about how “weird” email subject lines can increase open rates by 50%.

They share the example of how Rick Roberts achieved a 50% open rate with the line, “…is this you?”

People will naturally want to click that even if they don’t know the sender. It sounds like a personal message.

Now, the key to having success with this style of subject line is to follow it up with email copy that instantly draws the reader in. We’ll be covering that in detail in an upcoming post.

For now, just remember to keep your email copy personal, so that it aligns with the subject line.  Being consistent in your marketing style is important.

5. Write a subject line that evokes emotion

This one definitely relates to the last point, but rather than just getting oddly personal or “weird,” you are attempting to create an emotion.

Copyblogger shares four words that have achieved an average open rate of 90%.

“You Are Not Alone”

This works because of the natural human desire for community. People want to feel like there are others going through their same challenge.

This subject line grabs at you, and makes you think, “I don’t want to be alone, maybe this will help.”

Test it out. Use that exact line and see what open rates you receive.

Next, I have to share this SlideShare presentation, with 100 inspiring subject lines. It’s a historical progression from 2006 to the present.


Let me know in the comments which of those is your favorite. Mine is #53, “Shop here. Get your face licked.”

Really not sure what to think with that one, but it’s definitely intriguing. Turns out it promoted pet products from Bed Bath & Beyond. So much better than, “Check out our latest pet deals!”

 6. Send emails from a real person

Hubspot tested “HubSpot” versus “Maggie Georgieva, HubSpot” as the sender name.

They found that sending from a real person increased both the open rate and click rate.

email sender name

This falls in line with much of the other advice in this list. Getting more personal is almost always better when it comes to increasing engagement.

7. Keep your list clean

Keeping a clean list means removing inactive subscribers. Internet service providers keep track of how active the people in your list are, and use that information to impact your deliverability.

Shockingly, if an email isn’t delivered, it’s not going to be opened.  Alright, not shocking, but you get the point.

Therefore, it’s important to have a process for removing people that are not engaging with your emails. You may be hesitant to purposefully lower your number of subscribers, but it’s really for the best when considering your overall list health.

Deliverability.com shares three tips for keeping your list clean to improve the percentage of emails that actually reach the inbox.

First, decide what inactive means to you. If they haven’t opened an email in six months, it’s likely they could be hurting your inbox rate.

Next, segment your inactive users and create a reengagement campaign to try to get them active again.

This could be offering special promotions, or even getting personal and asking them why they aren’t opening your emails.

Finally, if they still don’t engage, remove them.

8. Always Be Testing

We’ve discussed testing a few times already, but it’s so important, it deserves its own spot.

Mailchimp shared the results of seven years of a/b testing.

Changes to the subject line resulted in an average open rate increase of 9%.

Updating the From Name increased open rates by 12%.

Finally, testing the send time increased open rates by 9.3%.

As you can see, testing works. It’s great when you have a successful email campaign, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get better.

Kissmetrics shares tips on how to setup a proper a/b test for your email campaign.

The biggest takeaway is to test one change at a time.

As you begin testing send each variation to just a small portion of your overall list. That way, when you find a variation that works well, you can then send it to everyone.

9. Avoid the spam filter

We’ve already discussed how to keep your list filled with active subscribers.

Now let’s discuss ways to ensure you stay out of the spam filter.

avoid the spam filter

ReturnPath notes that 83% of delivery failures are caused by reputation issues.

In order to solve those issues, take a look at this post from HubSpot.

They share 14 things to avoid if you want to stay out of the spam box.

In addition, they also share 15 things you should do to get into the inbox.

One odd tip is to stay away from red font. I don’t think most legitimate marketers would actually choose a red font in their emails. However, it’s still interesting to learn that text color can have an impact.

Another tip I hadn’t heard before is to include the date in your email.

Apparently this proves that your message is current, which helps your credibility to the internet service providers.

This one surprised me since I’d normally assume an email was current if I received it that day.  Perhaps someone can help explain that one in the comments.

Check out the rest of the list for 27 other tips to get in the inbox.

10. Make an incredible first impression

Improving email open rates starts with improving your customer experience.

If you promise a giveaway or guide for subscribing, make sure it’s incredible in every way.

In fact, imagine the impression you could create by giving away a free surprise to people who join.

Promote a great lead magnet, and deliver on that. But also give them a second reward that they didn’t expect.

This will set you out from the crowd and make them want to open emails.

You could even do regular surprises that give your subscribers something extra.

They’ll love you for it.

Here’s a great example of a successful lead magnet from ConversionXL:

lead magnet

Peep Laya of ConversionXL also shares a great article on how to create a perfect lead magnet for your list.

The essential point is to create a giveaway for new subscribers that blows them away.

Figure out what your audience really wants, and give it to them.

Keep in mind the classic cliché of under promise and over deliver (but don’t under promise too much, as they need to be drawn into your offer).


I hope you’ve found these 10 strategies for increasing your email open rates useful.

Please leave a comment below if you have any strategies to add.

I’d also greatly appreciate a social share if you enjoyed this article.

Image attribution:

By Renny t a (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By EFF (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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WomplifySapph (ArtofEmails.com)David (ProfitPursuits.com)Davide Di Prossimo Recent comment authors
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Davide Di Prossimo
Davide Di Prossimo

Hi David, This is wonderful. Congrats. I thought I was an email-marketing pro, but after reading this, I understand how much I still have to learn. So many insights here … very well-crafted piece of content. By the way David, I am Davide from Follow[dot]net. Don’t know if you remember, but a few weeks ago you left a comment on Matthew Woodward’s blog about some mysterious traffic from a source called Follow Weekly. Well, that was me (us). That was traffic from the 57K+ email newsletter I manage at Follow. I will share this piece tomorrow with our readers on… Read more »

David (ProfitPursuits.com)

Hi Davide,

Thank you for the wonderful comment, and for sharing the article in so many places. It is encouraging, and I really appreciate it.

I do remember commenting on Matthew’s blog, and I’m glad you decided to reach out. Definitely helpful to fully understand a good source of traffic.

Just followed you on Twitter, so I’ll be sure to stay in touch.


Davide Di Prossimo
Davide Di Prossimo

Hey David,

Thanks to you actually. This piece of content is very insightful. You’re welcome, we love sharing great articles with our readers.

Oh yes, I wanted to reach before, but between “this and that…” I did not have time. Glad I did now though. I followed back on Twitter. We’ll keep in touch David, for sure!

Have a good weekend.


Sapph (ArtofEmails.com)

Wow, really detailed rundown! Segmenting subscribers by where/why they signed up (e.g. for a discount, to download a product) and sending different emails to those lists is key to driving opens and clicks.

Not sure about weird/misleading subject lines though. Sure they may boost curiosity opens but the reader will just move on once they discover the content is not relevant.

David (ProfitPursuits.com)

Hi Sapph, Thanks for your comment, glad you enjoyed the article. I definitely see your point about weird headlines (I’m not recommending misleading subject lines, just getting extra personal, which people don’t expect from a company). Saw the results from Technorati and the Obama campaign and decided it was worth mentioning. You are correct, there should be a balance between just getting an email opened, and getting opens that lead to a high click through rate. I think the key is to follow up the weird subject line with immediately compelling email copy. Then deliver really high value within that… Read more »


Excellent article and I’ve shared it on Twitter. Everyone says ‘the money is in the list’ but if the list isn’t responsive, or responds negatively (ie. unsubscribe/bounce/spam complaint), then there’s no money being made. Everything needs to be tested and optimized to avoid leaving money on the table.

David (ProfitPursuits.com)

Thank you for the great comment!

You are definitely correct. Data and case studies are always a good place to start when testing, but just testing in the first place is what’s important.