Why Your Email Open Rate Tanked and How to Fix It

July 6, 2016

how to improve email open rates.2

The email open rate story I’m about to tell is true.

I’d like to say that the names have been changed to protect the innocent, but since this is a situation where it’s hard to tell the innocent from the guilty, I can’t make that claim. Ultimately, you must decide which is the guilty party.

Two streams of my life crossed this week: my desire to improve my knowledge and the work I do for my clients. In this case, the topic of email open rates was the point at which these two streams crossed. I listened to a half-hour webinar hosted by one of the major email service providers. Later in the week, I was writing an article that touched on the topic of sending email newsletters and was doing some separate research on open rates. I came across the results of a large survey at a different email service provider on subject lines versus open rates

I discovered that these two very reputable sources were giving absolutely contradictory advice.

Open rate subject line secrets?

In the webinar, the presenter told the group to play on four emotions to improve open and click-through rates. In the survey, the best-performing subject line was “[COMPANYNAME] Sales & Marketing Newsletter.”

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but unless your company name is something like “You’re An Absolute Scumbag,” that top performing subject line isn’t likely to evoke any emotion in the recipient of the email.

In fact, in the webinar, the first emotion we were told to leverage was fear of missing out. Coincidentally, in the summary of the massive survey, a fear of missing out subject line was listed as one of the worst performing subject lines: “Last Minute Gift – We Have The Answer.”

This forces us to answer the somewhat boring question: How is it possible that a subject line like [COMPANYNAME] Sales & Marketing Newsletter can get a 67-80 percent open rate? It’s about as mundane as any subject line could possibly be.

The answer is simple: The people receiving that newsletter want to receive it and read it. All they need to know is that this week’s issue of COMPANYNAME’s newsletter arrived. Yay! They don’t need any emotional buttons pushed. They don’t need any tricks played on their unwary psyche.

Why people open email newsletters

This leads us into a thought process where we need to discover why would such a high percentage of people on an email list actually want to receive emails from the company owning the list.

First, people signed up for the email list for a reason. Second, if it’s a good reason – and a reason that is consistently met in the company’s email newsletters – they should want to open and read the newsletter.

No tricky subject lines required.

For many businesses, this is easier said than done and I blame the conventional wisdom we all use to build our email lists. We are told to offer people something for free in exchange for signing up for our email lists. There is probably one specific area of interest attached to that free offer. In my case right now I’m offering an ebook that’s a guide to free and attribute-free artwork and graphics available on the Internet.

However, when people give me their email addresses in exchange for this ebook, will they have any interest in a newsletter I send out that focuses on The 12 Biggest Grammar Mistakes Bloggers Make?

Probably not. (Note to self: Change this freakin‘ offer ASAP.)

Keys for an effective email list offer

Unfortunately, many of us who toil away in cyberspace scratching out a living – I mean lifestyle – are working in areas that touch on a variety of subject areas. This makes it difficult to devise email signup offers that only draw in people who have equally diverse areas of interest. I suppose it’s possible, and if you’re about to create an ebook, checklist, whitepaper, or whatever, to lure people into giving you their email addresses, spend some time coming up with a topic that won’t skew your signer-uppers in the direction of one niche interest.

And my last piece of advice is this: If you have a big or growing list and feel like you aren’t getting the open rate you should be getting, survey your list and find out exactly what topics they are interested in. Then start publishing a newsletter where you swap out the main article so you can do different editions for different segments of your list.

Do this well and you won’t have to worry so much about hitting the four emotions that were touted in the webinar I attended earlier in the week.

(By the way, after fear of missing out, the other three emotions were novelty, curiosity, and desire…although I’m still not sure how novelty can be considered an emotion.)

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