How To Get People To Open Your Emails

How to get people to open your emails

Which would you rather have – a 1000-subscriber email list with a 10% open rate, or a 500-person list with a 50% open rate?

It’s not all about the size of your list! If subscribers don’t actually read your emails, you might as well not bother sending them.

So how do you encourage people to open your emails?

If you’ve been following this 5-part series on email lists, you’ll know that building trust is a critical first step in creating a list that helps grow your business. What you do before sending that very first email sets the stage for everything that comes after, including whether or not subscribers open your emails. Make the sign-up process quick and easy, be clear about what you will and will not do with a subscriber’s email address, let them know they can unsubscribe at any time, and avoid using questionable sign-up processes (like pre-checked boxes on the opt-in form).

After a person has signed up, here are some ways you can encourage them to open your emails.

1. Set Expectations

  • Before people even sign up, let them know how often (or when) they’ll get emails from you and what will be in the email (e.g., special offers, tutorials or how-to’s, white papers).
  • Send a welcome email immediately after a subscriber signs up to tell them again what they’ll be getting and when.

2. Be Consistent

  • Do exactly what you’ve said you’ll do. If subscribers expect to hear from you every Tuesday, send them an email every Tuesday. If they expect coupons, send them coupons. The more you deviate from what subscribers expect, the less likely they’ll be to open your emails.
  • The first few weeks are most important for a new subscriber – it’s when they decide whether or not your emails are worth opening. Write a series of emails that new subscribers will get over the first few weeks – something that will keep them engaged and “train” them to open your emails in the future.
  • Use an autoresponder to ensure that your emails go out on a regularly-scheduled basis that you can maintain over the long term.

3. Offer Great Content

  • Make sure you’re sending material that subscribers can really use, or that they value.
  • Avoid sending frequent promotions or affiliate offers, unless it truly adds value. People don’t like to feel that they’re constantly being sold to.
  • Put some effort into making it clear, short, grammatically correct, and nicely laid out (if you’re using HTML).

4. Minimize the Chances of Getting Caught in Spam Filters

  • Avoid ‘spammy’ subject lines and content. Words like “FREE!” often get caught in spam filters (but not always – it depends on how the word is used). If you’re not sure, check the spam rating for your email (all reputable email marketing providers, such as AWeber, can rate each email on how “spam-like” it is) and edit the subject and content to minimize that rating.

5. Ensure Email Gets Delivered

  • This sounds obvious, but unless you’re using a reputable email marketing service, your bulk emails may not be delivered. Some email providers don’t even let you send out bulk emails. So check with your provider to make sure emails are going where you’re sending them.

6. Use a Recognizable ‘From’ Name

  • Use your company, newsletter, website, or personal name (whichever is most relevant) in the ‘from’ field so subscribers will instantly recognize who the email is from. Generally, a person’s name will generate more email opens than will a company or other “inanimate object” name.

7. Use a Catchy Subject Line

  • The first thing subscribers see is your subject line. If it isn’t interesting, they won’t open or read your email – it’s as simple as that.
  • Keep the subject line short. While the optimum subject line length is open to debate, it’s clear that many subscribers will only see about the first five words (for example, if they’re checking email on a smart phone). So put the most important part of your message at the beginning of the subject line.
  • Make the benefit of your email clear. It should be something useful to readers and specific.
  • Make it stand out by using square brackets at the beginning of your subject line. For example, an email in my Tech Tips weekly series would look like this: “[TechTips] Creating a Gravatar.” Each week the subject line is different, but it always starts with [TechTips].

8. Tell Subscribers What’s Coming Next

  • If you can, give subscribers a little “teaser” at the end of each email – give them enough information to know that the next email from you will have something in it that they’ll want to read. Don’t be spammy and don’t oversell, but do give them something to look forward to.
  • If you’re not sure what will be in your next email, at least let subscribers know that you’ll be sending them another email in the near future.

9. Remind Subscribers Why They’re Getting Your Emails

  • People don’t always remember who you are or why they’re getting your emails, especially if they haven’t read your emails (or you haven’t sent any) in a while. So remind them. Include a few words at the end of each email telling them what they’ve signed up for and when they did it (most email marketing services make it easy for you to do this).

10. Make it Personal

  • Write your emails as if you’re talking to one of your best friends. Keep it conversational and intimate, as if it’s just you and your friend. This helps readers feel like you’re speaking to them, not to an anonymous crowd.
  • I’m of two minds about this idea but am putting it on the list because, in some situations, it works well. Use the “personalize” features in your email – for example, use a subscriber’s first name in the salutation. This only works if you’ve collected that information during sign-up AND are sure that it’s correct – which isn’t always the case.

11. Test the Best Delivery Times

  • People are busy. They don’t always check their email inbox. So look at your analytics to see when people are opening your emails (day and time). Run a few tests by sending emails on different days and different times of the day to see which result in the best open rates for your list. Every list is different so don’t rely on published accounts of “the best time to send emails” – test it with your list.
  • This also applies to delivery frequency. The sweet spot is probably going to be somewhere between three times a week and once a month. Send emails too often, and people will tune you out. Too infrequently, and they’ll lose interest. So test it and see what works best for you. And be reasonable; remember point #2 above – only set a mailing schedule that you can maintain in the long term.

Have you tried any of these methods of encouraging people to open your emails? What’s worked for you – and what hasn’t? Let us know!


  1. Morris May on March 28, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Hello Monica
    Somewhere near the top of that list or in the inroduction should be the magic words “Once you have set your goals”. Are emails part of your marketing strategy and should they be?

    If one of the objectives is to drive people to your site (or even generally), then keep the content short and sweet: Headline; then paragraph of article summary or image for an offer. If it looks good, I will click through but I personally do not want to see long emails that I have to search for what interests me

    With more an more email being viewed on mobile devices, click throughs should go to a mobile optimised page… they may not bother to look at it again once they get to a PC

    The one thing that bugs more than anything else is an auto-filled box “have carefully selected third parties contact you”… ie can we sell information we hold about you! So a privacy clause that states that your information will never be passed on to any third parties is a big plus, if you are not planning to do it

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