David Bater

How to Improve Your Email Open Rate By Avoiding These Common Mistakes

How to Improve Your Email Open Rate By Avoiding These Common Mistakes


This article offers advice on increasing your overall read or open rates in your email marketing strategy commonly known as an email open rate.

What’s the relationship between email open rates and deliverability? Often senders will see a low open rate and assume poor deliverability is to blame.

That’s sometimes true, but more often it’s the other way around. Lots of times your deliverability is suffering because your open rate is low.

I’ll explain.

If Gmail sees that your open rate is low, they can safely assume that:

  • Content is “unwanted” not many people want the messages you are sending.
  • The list is unclean or not recently engaged with.

Both of these are red flags, and even if the list has completely opted in, Gmail – and most other ESPs – will begin to put your message in the spam folder.

If you suspect your deliverability is sub-par, it’s likely because your open rates are low.

You are in the right place!

The following tips will help you improve. By taking a few of these steps and boosting your overall open rate, you will see immediate and noticeable improvements to your deliverability and hopefully revenue too.

As a general rule of thumb, you can consider 15% as an “average” open rate. If your open rate is below this, it’s probably hurting your deliverability and I’d highly recommend taking measures to improve. This is not a scientific or analytic benchmark – it’s just the rate where I generally see deliverability issues start to occur

For more information specifically about deliverability, you can read here.

Send only to people who want to receive your messages

Simply put, any subscriber not interested in the content you are sending will not open your messages. Also, a subscriber who opted in a long time ago, or only signed up for a temporary offer should not still be receiving messages. They will not open them. Try hard to think like your recipients, and try to imagine what they expected when signing up.

Only Opted-in

Make sure your list has properly opted in. If your list hasn’t opted in properly, you will never see a good open rate. Ensuring that no one is on your email list accidentally or against their will is extremely important. Some common blunders include affiliate or pay-per-signup campaigns. Where a subscriber signs up for one product or offer and then get mailed about another brand or product. This is not considered opt-in and is one of the main culprits for poor open rates. Make sure your subscribers are fully aware of the content they are opting in to receive. Make your forms clear about this, and send them an immediate welcome message to make sure they know what you will be emailing them about.

Segmentation and email open rate

Segment your list. Find ways to identify your contact’s interests. Ask them when they opt-in or observe which pages of your website they most often browse using [Site Tracking.] When you send a campaign, send it to a segment of your list so that only the people who would be interested in that content receive the message and, just as importantly, the people who wouldn’t be interested won’t receive the campaign.

Going one step further and requiring that all of your subscribers are double-opt-in (meaning they were sent a confirmation message after subscribing) will add one more layer of security to your opt-in process. Further ensuring that all of your subscribers want to receive your content. You can take a softer approach by sending several welcome messages and simply tagging the contacts who open versus the ones who don’t.

Beware of the Bot

Are you sure your recent sign-ups were made by real people? Is there a chance a bot is filling out a form? After signing up, bots never open messages so they can really make your open rate go down. Check some recent signups and if they look suspicious to you, implement CAPTCHA to protect your forms.

It’s essential to regularly clean your list to maintain good open rates. You will lose anywhere from 25-50% of your list each year due to natural list churn. Someone who opted in several years ago is not considered an “active” contact anymore. That’s unless you know they are opening and engaging. That’s why it’s very important to regularly remove the subscribers who haven’t recently opened. If you aren’t comfortable deleting them, just tag them as “inactive” and send to them much less often or try to reach them in another channel (site messaging, retargeting ads, SMS, etc).

Your Frequency Markers

Think about your sending frequency. Marketers often err by sending too much or too little. There’s no golden rule, and the proper frequency is different for each brand. We also recommend testing out different sending days/times to see what works best for your readers. You can use our testing tools to accomplish this.

Ask “why” when someone unsubscribes. Our solution has a feature that allows you to ask your subscribers why they unsubscribed. If they’d like to, they can fill out a form after unsubscribing, giving you their reason for unsubscribing. By knowing why your subscribers unsubscribed from your campaign, you might be able to make changes to your messages or sending practices to reduce the unsubscribe rate for your future campaigns.

Email open rate is all about good content

The brands with the highest engagement and best deliverability have a unique voice. With extremely interesting content that’s genuinely wanted by their recipients. Try to imitate those brands that you love getting emails from. If you can send content that people want, they will open it.

Targeted and personal email

Send targeted, timely messages using automation instead of batch and blast campaigns. A common mistake some marketers make is that they send too many campaigns to as many email addresses as possible — the idea being that the more people you send to, the higher your response rate will be. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case. By sending personalised, targeted automation, you are reaching only the people who are genuinely interested in your content. Also, at the right time, and you are refraining from irritating those subscribers who aren’t interested. This strategy will usually reduce the number of unsubscribes, and increase the number of opens.

Hyper-personalise your campaigns leveraging our built-in tools like conditional content, segmentation, message variables, personalisation tags, and all the amazing triggers we provide in automation. Target these campaigns based on geography, purchase history, site behaviour, demographic data, and any other relevant data point. Studies show that 4 out of 10 marketers saw improved open rates after implementing simple personalization and segmentation techniques.

Test and measure

Test as much as possible. Run split tests for subject lines, content variations, and don’t be afraid to use split tests in your automation too. These are very effective ways to identify the content and sending style that resonates with your recipients. We’d definitely recommend testing out different sending times to see what works best for your readers.

Rethink the fundamentals of your content and style. Try revamping your style to be more personal, include more humour, add more images, and try including giveaways or freebies. Try to determine the real value of your content to your readers, and focus on that.

Write a great subject line to improve open rates

The subject line of your email has a huge impact on your open rate and sets you up for great click and conversion rates. You’ll want it to be catchy and interesting — but you’ll also want to make sure you avoid any “spammy” sounding phrases as well, which your subscribers may find off-putting. It can be difficult achieving the perfect balance, but we have some suggestions for improving your subject lines here:

Use proper spelling and grammar. For example: writing a subject line in all capital letters or all lower case letters, misspelling words, or using multiple exclamation points at the end of your subject line are all things that detract from the legitimacy of your message, and should be avoided.

Promote a sense of urgency. If your subscribers feel as though they might be missing out on something if they don’t open the message, they’ll be more likely to check it out. Examples of these types of subject lines might be, “[Event] registration ending soon!” or “Last day to pre-order [product],” etc.

Personalise the subject line. Any custom fields you’ve created in your CRM software can also be typed into the subject line. Using this method, you can reference your subscribers’ specific interests, geographical areas, past purchases, etc, in the subject line, to make it relevant to each individual subscriber.

Avoid “spammy” sounding phrases and keywords. Words such as “free,” “sale,” “50% off,” “you are a winner,” “guaranteed,” etc., are all common phrases that can be found in spam message subject lines.

Read this post to avoid 188 spam words in your email subject line: 188 Spam words to avoid, and stay out the spam box


Though there are endless suggestions for improving open rates, these are some great starting points. Message content and your sending practices will, of course, be customised. And different to suit your business’ needs. So, there is no guaranteed way to improve open rates for all email marketing campaigns. But following these suggestions might be all you need to kick-start your Email Marketing efforts improve your email open rate. Therefore, make your email marketing campaigns more effective.




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