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September 29, 2017
Email Marketing  |  6 min read

3 Advanced Tactics to Boost Email Open Rates

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Paul Sokol

I want you to imagine getting your mail for second. There were most likely some envelopes holding some kind of advertisement, right? Now, what happens if you never open the envelope? Nothing. No chance for any kind of sale because you never even saw the message. 

Similarly, what happens if you send someone an email and they never open it? 

If you are doing email marketing and people aren't opening your mail, that's something you need to fix ASAP because, if nobody sees your message nothing is going to happen. 

The purpose of this post is to arm you with three beyond-the-basics tactics that can help boost your open rates. Obviously, there are a lot of factors going into why someone might open an email and these tactics should not be thought of as a silver bullet. Rather, they are ways to optimize what you are already doing. 

Advanced open tactic No. 1: Super direct subject lines

I've been doing this email marketing thing since 2008 which means I've seen a lot of subject lines—good and bad. While you can get cute with a subject line, time and time again a more direct approach outperforms on email click-through rates.

"Hold on a second, I thought this was an article on open rates." 

It is. Of course, once people open the email there is something they are supposed to do (or at least there should be). This is what really matters when it comes to email marketing, getting people to take action.

Cute subject lines can inflate the actual open rate but lead to a low click-through rate. This is because people will open the email out of curiosity, not because they have intent to take the action found in the subject line. In other words, they aren't your target at that moment.

A more direct subject line may not get as high of an open rate but quite often they deliver a better click-through rate and, ultimately, more results.

For example, let's say you are offering a $25 discount on some product. A subject line that says "$25 off Widget A Until Friday!" should deliver better click-through rates than something cute like "Save some cabbage on Widget A!" This isn't hard truth as different audiences respond differently, but generally, this is the case.

Of course, being this direct means you have to be abundantly clear why you are emailing someone in the first place. Hopefully, that isn't too hard of a question to answer.

Advanced open tactic No. 2: Use a preheader as the sub-headline

This is a super overlooked tactic that can easily boost open rates, especially when used with tactic No. 1.

The idea here is to leverage knowledge about email software and classic copywriting. Most email software will show a "preview" of an email's content before the user opens it. This means we have some extra messaging to play around with in addition to the subject line before they open the email.

In copywriting, the headline of an ad (aka the big thing your eye is initially drawn towards) has one purpose. That purpose is to get the next sentence read. You know what the purpose of the second sentence is? To get the third sentence read. And so on.

Opening and reading an email is the same as reading a print ad. Open email, read it. Read the headline, read rest of message. 

Hence, if we treat the subject line as a headline, the first bit of the email can be thought of as the sub-headline. Use it to further build a desire to open the email.

For example, if the subject line is "$25 off Widget A Until Friday," you can put at the very top of the email's body something like "Use promo code COOLGUY at checkout" 

Now if someone is curious about the $25 off, they also have a promo code—all the more reason to open the email and click through to make the purchase. Notice how we bolster the promise of the subject line using the preheader before they even open the email. When done right, this should help out open rates.

Advanced open tactic No. 3: Break patterns with symbols

This last tactic works well when used sparingly. If you use it all the time, your email recipients will go blind to it and it loses effectiveness. 

Often, a subject line is only text. However, there are ways to inject symbols into a subject line—hearts, arrows, smiley faces, etc. This is a pattern interrupt from what people are used to seeing (from you anyway) and can provide enough intrigue to drive the email open.

Be careful though. To effectively lift open rates, the symbols do have to be relevant to the main call to action in the email. It can't be used just to be cute (see tactic No. 1). 

For example, you could use a subject line that states "✁ $25 Off Widget A Until Friday"

That example is forcing it a little bit, but you get the idea. 

Keeping track of your open and click-through rates are important, but did you know there are at least four other measurements you could take about an email's performance? 

Email Performance Tool Set


Paul Sokol.jpg

Paul Sokol is an electrical engineer by trade and for five years was the Campaign Builder Mad Scientist at Infusionsoft―a moniker earned due to his breadth of knowledge. His first experience with Infusionsoft was when he cofounded jiveSYSTEMS―a business-class video e-mail platform―in 2008 while obtaining his master's degree in signal processing from the University of Central Florida. He joined Infusionsoft formally as an employee in June 2011, provided over 1,000 hours of small business consulting and helped launch more than 200 clients with Infusionsoft. He has authored numerous blog posts, been a guest on many webinars, and taught from stage at live events, such as Infusionsoft's annual ICON. Currently, he works as an outcome-based consultant for small businesses.

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