How to get people to open your emails

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Improve Your Email Open Rates

You may have spent hours curating the perfect email content for your customer database; editing images, writing copy and adding compelling call-to-actions. Unfortunately, members of your email database may not even open and view your email at all.

If you send your email using an software platform (e.g. MailChimp), you should have a good idea of what your average open rate percentages are, but you may not be sure how to improve a poor open rate.

Some of your email sends may end up in ‘Junk’, some may ‘Bounce’ and even if your email makes its way into your customer’s inbox, the subject line may not tempt them to open it.

The UK average open rate for B2C emails is approximately 19%, however we have steadily increased our average email open rate to 39% for our full customer lists with a few tried and tested tips and tricks. This tends to be even higher for our segmented lists, such as Annual Members. Avoid your hard work going to waste with our top tips for encouraging people to open your emails.

Clean Your Database

Remove customers who haven’t opened your emails in the last 12 months or emails that ‘Bounce’

Of course this will improve your open rate percentage by eliminating users who are less likely to engage with your emails or receive them, but it is also important for another reason.

Those who haven’t opened your emails in 12 months are more likely to report your email as ‘Spam’, which means your future emails will probably not be reaching them anyway and going straight into their junk. Your email is probably not spam, but sometimes it is easier for someone to report spam than to unsubscribe.

If you receive enough spam complaints, it damages your sender reputation and means you may start to end up in the junk section of other customer’s mailboxes, even if they have never marked your email as spam. Read our blog on how to avoid spam reports here.

Additionally, under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) the onus is on you as a business to ensure that those you are emailing have a ‘Legitimate Interest’ and that you are not storing personal data longer than necessary.

Your email software should also have a post-send report which lists email addresses that have ‘bounced’. This is usually due to an inactive email address or a typo error in the email address. You should remove bounces from your lists.

Spam Phrases and Blacklisted Words

Email filters may identify your emails as spam just by the content of the subject line. The use of certain words (i.e. Cheap, Free, Discount), too much punctuation (!!!), too many emojis or words all in capitals (FREE). Run your email subject lines through this checker which scores them based on predicted open rate and spam:

Subject Lines, Sender Names and Pre-header Text

If your email does successfully reach your recipient’s inbox, you still have a few more hoops to jump through! Before your recipient opens your email, it exists only as a ‘from’ name, ‘subject line’, and ‘pre-header’, so it is critical that you get these right.

email analogy

From/sender name

Your ‘from’ or sender name should be your business name, so that it is immediately clear to your recipients who the email is coming from and should be consistent to establish trust.

Subject lines

Subject lines are like headlines, but for the whole email. They need to work overtime to catch the attention of your recipient who may be receiving hundreds of emails a day and are more important than anything else you write in an email, because the rest is pointless if people don’t open.

  • Your subject line should be no longer than 8 words, but ideally closer to 5 is better. Any more than this won’t appear in the mobile inbox and will be cut off. Remember, half of all emails are opened on mobile.
  • Does your audience respond to Direct, Blind, or Hybrid subject lines? Direct Subject lines plainly state what your customer will find in the email, whereas blind Subject lines “tease” instead (hybrids blend the two). Try to include a mix, but some audiences may prefer one type or another. Test and find out.
  • Personalisation: If you have high quality data and you are 100% sure the customer names in your database are correct, it can be beneficial to personalise the subject line and add your recipient’s first name using greeting tags. However, err on the side of caution and avoid greeting tags altogether if your data isn’t perfectly clean.
  • Do not use clickbait-style headings: E.g. ‘You’ll never believe…’, or, as previously mentioned, avoid anything that is too salesy and might be detected by a spam filter (e.g. ‘FREE tickets!!!’).
  • Brands that use emojis in subject lines see a 56% increase in their unique open rates. Just make sure you limit to one or two and that they are brand appropriate. Go to to copy and paste emojis.
  • Split test: Most good email software platforms will allow you to split test two subject lines. Better platforms will test the subject lines on a small segment of your customers first, before using the results to send the subject line with the better open rate for the remaining customers. This will give you valuable insight into what works for your specific audience.
  • Include a number: research that analysed 115 million emails found that email open and reply rates are higher when there is a number in the subject line!
email subject lost

Pre-header text

Email pre-header text is the snippet of text that appears directly beneath the Subject line in the inbox. If your Subject line has hooked the reader sufficiently, they will usually read the pre-header next, so don’t just use the same text or rephrase the Subject line.

It should be between 30 and 55 characters long to ensure it is visible on mobile. It’s best used as a call-to-action, e.g. If your Subject line is ‘Christmas Tickets Now On Sale’, your pre-header might be ‘Book before 31st October and save 20%’.

Segment your data

Segmenting your data based on customer attributes (e.g. Parents of toddlers, Summer Customers, Annual Members) will allow you to be more tailored with the content of your emails and subject lines. You might change your tone to be more familiar with regular customers or you might send an offer to encourage repeat business.

Most good email software platforms should also allow you to retarget people who have engaged with a previous email (e.g. clicked a link) to send them a reminder.

Get the Timing Right

There is no one-time-fits-all solution for all businesses. As with Subject lines, it is trial and error. Use data segments of your full lists to send the same email on different days of the week first, then when you find your optimal days, segment your data and send your next email at different times of the day to find your optimal time.

This is very much reliant on who your audience is and some clever deduction can go a long way. Is your audience mainly parents? Then probably avoid sending your email at school run time!

Resend to Non-Opens

Such an easy win! Several days after your email has been sent, export the non-openers list from the results report and resend the email to them. You might like to change the subject line slightly and edit the content to check everything is still relevant – there’s no point resending an email about a promotion that has already ended.

Lots of platforms allow you to do this automatically, so it’s a no-brainer.

Test Now – Open Rate Data is Disappearing

Take action and find out what works for you now, as Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature update (coming approx. 2021/22) will make email open data unreliable. Once the update is rolled out, marketers won’t be able to find out if Apple Mail users opened their email or not, and Apple Mail users account for approximately 52 percent of email opens.

For help and advice contact our team

This blog was written by Claire Carson, Senior Project Manager at Agility Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specialising in Digital Marketing for Visitor Attractions.