I’ve heard from some of you asking what “good email open rates” are for your newsletters and requesting best practices and tips. In this post, I’ll share some best practices and tips to improve your email open rates.

What’s the big deal about subject lines?

Your email subject line is what gets your emails opened. If you’ve got a dud subject line, who’s going to open it? But if, instead, you’ve got a subject line that piques your subscribers’ curiosity and gets them intrigued, they’re going to open and read your email. And, if the content you create is compelling and has a strong call to action, they’re going to click and…ready for it?…buy.

But that first battle is to get your subscribers to open your emails.

Tips to help you improve your email open rates:

Use an Email Management Tool

The best thing you can do to both protect yourself and actually know what your open rates are is to use an email management tool. We’re talking Constant Contact, aWeber, Infusionsoft (these are my top three recommendations, and the choice of which one to use should be based on a number of factors, which is another blog post altogether). Using an email management tool is the only way you can follow CAN-SPAM, the FTC guidelines that govern the legalities of emails and spam, and also get useful metrics at the same time.

Avoid Being Spammy

Many email systems are set up to filter your email and toss emails with certain characteristics into the Spam or Junk folders. To avoid this happening to you, follow some simple rules:

  • Don’t use all capital letters in the subject line, ala “EXCITING NEWS!”
  • Generally speaking, when you can, avoid copious use of the word “free” and especially “FREE!”
  • Avoid using multiple exclamation points, e.g. “!!!”
  • You can use subject line personalization, like “Susan, you have new offers,” but can look spammy and may land you in the Spam folder. More importantly, if using a first name in the subject line doesn’t suit your brand, then don’t do it.
  • Using “RE:” can actually land you in hot water with CAN-SPAM and also annoy your readers.

Keep It Simple and Short…Sort of.

The general consensus is that if you want to increase your open rate, keep your subject line under 50 characters. But studies have shown that longer subject lines have increased click rates, which is what you really want. My recommendation is that you stick to the shortest subject line that still conveys your message. My two highest open rates and click through rates were on messages that had subject lines numbering 62 and 34 characters. Go figure.

Have fun. Inspire curiosity. Be engaging. Make people wonder what the heck you’re thinking! What’s inside that email?! Write subject lines that make them NEED to know.

Inspire Curiosity

It’s important that your subject line inspire enough curiosity that it compels them to action. Recently I sent out an email with a subject line, “Could this story be about you?” That email had one of the highest open rates in the history of my email newsletter—well over 49% (which is absurdly high, if you’ve looked at any of the stats I linked to in this related post).

Inspire curiosity with your subject lines. Get them wondering, “What the heck could this be about?” and wanting to know more.

Be Fun and Engaging

Have some fun with your subject lines. Give your audience a giggle now and then. Engage with them and don’t be afraid to be playful. When I sent out an email to my subscribers about my Guinness World Records® challenge, I sent an email with the subject line, “Want a chance to see either an epic success…or an epic fail?” That email had an insane open rate of over 64%.
Just like with your blog post subject lines, you can also engage your audience with what they most want to know. Numbered lists like “5 Ways to…” and “3 Tips to Help You…” consistently deliver positive results.

Be Honest

When you write your subject lines, don’t be misleading. This will destroy your click through rate. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gotten emails from marketers who write things like “Your refund,” or “I’m done!” and the emails have to do with a brand new product. That makes me so mad and I’m guessing you get mad about it, too. You might get opens, but as soon as people realize they’ve been deceived, they’ll unsubscribe and be annoyed by your brand.

I sent out an email once with a subject line, “I’m leaving for good.” In the email, I explained that I was leaving a particular email management tool for good, and if people wanted to continue receiving my email newsletter, they needed to confirm their email address with the new tool. See how that was compelling but still honest?

If you want to keep your subscribers, increase email open rates, and increase click through rates, be honest!

Improve Targeting

One of the best ways to increase both email open rates and click through rates is to improve your targeting, or said another way, improve where you’re getting your subscribers from. If you’re getting subscribers from any source that’s not capturing your true target market and people who subscriber are really only half-interested, then all of your important metrics will go down. You can track this information down by separating your lists by campaign and promotion and tracking specific list results.

Test, Test, Test.

Always test and run experiments. You can split test or you can just roll with something and see what happens. Don’t worry about unsubscribe rates too much, unless they’re leaving you in droves. If you lose one or two subscribers after one email, that’s not the worst thing that can happen.

At the end of the day, what’s most important is that you create compelling, interesting, high-quality content that your subscribers want to read. Inspire their need to know what your email is about, deliver great content that excites and helps them, and you’ll see all of your metrics improve.

RELATED: What’s a Good Email Open Rate?