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One of the most common questions we hear from marketers is “how can I improve my email open rates?” While many marketers resort to tricking people to open emails (never a good idea!), we recommend a thoughtful approach that focuses on providing value to your subscribers, communicating with them when they want to hear from you, and always paying off the promise of your messages.

With that, we compiled nine proven ways to improve your email open rates in nine days or less. Implement only one tip, or all nine, and we promise you’ll see an improvement in your open rates immediately.

Chapter 1

Always provide value

There is a reason you clicked on this article. What was it?

We gave you something that’s of value to you. The message in our headline was valuable, tangible, and resonated with you at this exact moment.

To get your subscribers to open your messages, you need to provide something that’s valuable, tangible, and resonates with them at the exact moment they see the message in their inbox, too.

Every time you create an email, ask yourself, “What is in it for the subscriber?” Why should they open this email, and why should they then take action?”

Subscribers will open emails if there is value in it for them. Make sure to clearly communicate that message in the subject line and body of the email. Remember, features, products, and copy about your company aren’t of value to your subscribers.

Here's a quick "value test" you can run each time you create an email: Does your email provide value? Step 1: Count the number of times your company name is mentioned in the email. Step 2: Count the number of times you use the word "we" or "I" in the email. Step 3: Count the number of times you mention your product or features. Add these up. Is it more than 3? Take a look at your emails again and see how you can focus your email less on your, more on your subscribers.

Once you get your subscribers to open your emails, the content of your emails must always pay off the promise of your subject lines, if you ever want your subscribers to open your emails again. The Academy of American Poets demonstrates this with their “Poem a Day” subscriber list. It delivers exactly that: a poem a day in text and audio format.

Here are ways you can provide value to your email subscribers:

  • Share an easy-to-read how-to article that directly resonates with a common pain point of your target audience.
  • Notify subscribers when their favorite item is back in stock or now on sale.
  • Delight and surprise subscribers with birthday offers, anniversary offers—let them know you’re thinking about them.
Chapter 2

Test new subject lines

Back in 2008, marketing optimization expert Bryan Einsenberg wrote a book called “Always Be Testing.” And take it from the title: You should always be testing.

If you’re not A/B testing your subject lines, you’re leaving money on the table.

But how do you construct the perfect subject line A/B test?

First, develop your hypothesis and decide what you want to learn. Choose the one variable you believe will have the highest impact on open rates and conversion, and start there.

  • Subject line length: Do you think a short subject line will work better than a long subject line? Test it.
  • Personalization: Do you think personalized subject line will result in more opens? Test that, too. 
  • Offers: Do you think your subscribers respond better to coupons than free shipping? There’s another A/B test for you.
  • Emojis: How about emojis in subject lines? Yup, test it.

Q: How large should a sample size be in order to run a successful AB test? It depends. The sample size necessary fora clear and successful AB test result varies based on the difference between the two results. The closer the results are, the larger the sample size should be.


There are two ways to go about setting up your subject line test.

1. Launch a subject line test to a sample size, roll out the winner to the rest of your list.

Come up with two subject lines, and send the A/B test to a sample size within your email list. You can select 30% of your email list, and send subject line A to 15% of your list and subject line B to the other 15%.

Once your test reaches statistical significance, roll out the champion subject line to the rest of your list. Try to reduce the number of variables in play by sending your subject line tests and the champion on the same day or at the same time of day.

2. Launch a subject line test to a specific segment or your entire list, apply insights to future sends.

Instead of testing a subject line on a sample size, you can test 2 subject lines to your entire list, or a segment of your list, and then apply what you learn from this A/B test to future sends.

From short and sweet to personalized and specific, the subject line possibilities are endless—you just have to find out what your subscribers like best.


Q: How do I know when a subject line split test has reached statistical significance? This depends on the sample size, the difference between the two open rates, and the confidence interval. For subject line AB testing, an 80% confidence interval should suffice and get you a clear results as quickly as possible. The lower your confidence interval, the higher the likelihood of getting a false positive, but when it comes to email testing, time is key. You can wait longer to get to 95% confidence, or even 99%, but most email marketers don't have time to wait around for an AB test result. They need to move onto their next campaign.

Chapter 3

Create a welcome series

Your newest email subscribers are the email subscribers most likely to open your emails and take action, so take advantage of this opportunity with a welcome series of emails.

We’ve found that subscribers who receive welcome emails show more long-term engagement with a brand: a 33% increase in long-term brand engagement (Emma). And the more engaged your subscribers are, the more likely they will be to open your emails.

If creating a welcome series email campaign seems daunting, don’t fret. Keep it simple, and optimize the welcome series over time as you learn what works, and what doesn’t.

Type of email Goal
Subscriber preferences—ask this in a way that’s clearly beneficial to the subscriber. Gain valuable segmentation data to help you tailor your future communications.
Additional resources / content Increase engagement with subscribers and get them to come back to your website.
Personal welcome email from team member or senior executive with photo Build trust and deepen relationship with subscriber
Action-oriented email: make a purchase or sign up Get a conversion
Coupon / discount code Get a conversion
Testimonial / case study / review Help subscriber overcome objection
Introduce customer service / sales team in a friendly, human way Help subscriber overcome objections / answer questions

Set your goals

Decide on the goals for your welcome series, and who you want to target.

Some common goals are:

  • Nurture new leads: Develop a closer relationship with your new leads by letting them get to know you.
  • Phone call: Trigger leads to set up a sales call.
  • Preference center: Get subscribers to provide more information about themselves in a preference center.
  • Make a purchase: Get new subscribers, who may have abandoned cart, to make a purchase.

Graphic: "Ways to personalize emails" First name in subject line and/or email content; birthday offer; weather-related offer; sign-up anniversary; past purchases; cart abandonment offer


Decide on content and timing

Once you’ve nailed down your goals, figure out what it will take to achieve them, and how many messages it will take to reach your goals. Nail down your content, and decide what you want your messages to say, and who you want the emails to resonate with. Then, decide on a cadence and the timing of your emails.

An easy place to start is a three-part welcome series for new opt-ins. Depending on how your subscribers get added to your email list, the first email should go out soon after signing up—within one to 48 hours. Flower delivery service Bloom That welcomes subscribers with a lighthearted email that humanizes their brand:

Chapter 4

Personalize your emails

According to research by Experian, personalized emails deliver six-times higher transaction rates, and personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened.

Email personalization can be as simple as adding the first name to the subject line and body copy, or as sophisticated as dynamically updating image content based on prior purchases or subscriber preferences.

Here are some ways to personalize your emails:

Add first names to your subject line. This option is very popular, and very powerful, for good reason. Emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened. It never hurts to have a loyalty program or special offer, either:

Geotarget your emails based on the weather. For example, Seamless, the online food delivery service, sends geotargeted promotional emails during blizzards and thunderstorms in NYC. Seamless knows New Yorkers would rather stay inside during bad weather, so they send special offers to subscribers in their New York geo.

Subscriber anniversary offer—this one is easy! Even if the only data you have is email address, you still know the exact date and time your subscriber was added to your email list. Create an automated email that celebrates the anniversary of your relationship with your email subscriber.

Word of caution: Keep it non-creepy and human. This is a great touch and it’s likely the subscriber will remember when and why they signed up to hear from you and will be more likely to stay on your list, as well.

So you have big goals for email personalization, but where can you get the data you need to personalize effectively? At a minimum, you already have email addresses and geolocation information stored in your email list. And probably first name, too.

But as you build a relationship with your subscribers, you can start to collect more data over time based on what your subscribers click and engage with, and/or with a short user-directed survey that learns about subscriber preferences.

Chapter 5

Segment your list

Relevancy rules all when it comes to email. Segmented emails always outperform generic emails. In fact, a study by the DMA found that segmented and targeted emails generate 58% of all revenue.

Like A/B testing subject lines, if you’re sending emails, you should be segmenting them.

The more relevant and targeted your email communications are, the more likely people will be to engage with them. There are many ways to segment your email campaigns. In fact, a few simple updates to a generic email may be all it takes to improve the relevancy of your emails and increase open rates.

Ways to segment Email content
Amount spent / average order value Peronsal message and thank you for VIP customers / big spenders; discount for customers who only buy on sale
Time on email list Special offer for subscribers you’ve known for a while, and subscribers you’re just getting to know
Time since last purchase “We miss you” message for people who haven’t purchased in six months, special offer for frequent customers
Stage in sales cycle (B2B) How-to content for cold leads, sales-focused content and case studies for warmer leads

You can segment by:

  • Role or job title
  • Stage in the sales cycle
  • Company size
  • Average order value
  • Time on email list

Pomelo Travel uses segmentation to send flight deals from subscribers’ home cities:

Chapter 6

Cleanse your email list

Investing time in improving your open rates won’t make a difference if you’re mailing to outdated email addresses.

In fact, year over year, you’re probably losing about 20% of your email subscribers. People change jobs, unsubscribe, and stop checking old email addresses. Scrubbing your email list helps you focus your marketing efforts on the people who can actually turn into customers. It improves your open and click-through rates.

And cleansing your email list reduces bounces and spam complaints, which will improve your sender reputation and make sure your emails are seen by your active subscribers—the subscribers most likely to purchase.

If you haven’t cleaned up your email database recently (or have never done it), now is the time. You should scrub your email list at least a few times a year.

Ways to clean your list and keep it healthy

Verify your older lists.

Use a third-party service such as Kickbox or Briteverify to clean out inactive or erroneous addresses before sending. The nominal cost of cleaning your list is preferable to damaging your sending reputation and will help ensure that your list is healthy and results in opens and clicks.

Monitor hard and soft bounces.

A hard bounce is an email that has failed to deliver for permanent reasons, such as an invalid email address or domain. Your ESP should automatically remove hard bounces from your subscriber list so you don’t send to them again and damage your sender reputation.

Soft bounces are temporary delivery failures that can occur if the recipient’s mailbox is full, if the receiving server sees the email as too large, and a variety of other reasons. It’s important to monitor soft bounces and make sure your bounce rate doesn’t get higher than the 2% industry standard. If it does, you’ll damage your sender reputation with ISPs and hurt your open rates.

Don’t ignore your new subscribers.

Start communicating with your new subscribers right away and send regular content to your growing list. Lists that are dormant see diminishing returns when it comes to engagement, and you may lose some of your opens to apathy.

Chapter 7

Create a re-engagement campaign

Before you scrub your email list, see who you can win back by contacting subscribers that haven’t opened recently.

Research by ReturnPath found that when sent a win back campaign, 92% of inactive subscribers received the message in their inbox, and 12% opened it.

Send inactive subscribers a win-back offer to get them to re-engage.

Create a list of subscribers that haven’t opened an email within a specific timeframe. You can choose three months, six months, or a year. Put pressure on them to re-engage by asking them what’s up, flat out breaking up with them, or sending them a special offer. Make sure to include a confirmation link to confirm they want to stay on your list.

If they don’t open one or two win-back messages, you can mark them as inactive and remove them from your email list. It’s safe to assume they’re no longer interested in your brand—and that’s okay.

Grammarly uses personalization for the win-back, reminding users of the program’s features and letting them know they’re missed:

Chapter 8

Set expectations with subscribers

When your audience opts-in to your email list, be straight with them. Let subscribers know how often you will communicate with them, what you will communicate to them, and how they will benefit. Then, meet those expectations.

If you simply add people to your list after they download a white paper, but don’t tell them how often you will email them and what’s in it for them, how will they ever know to look for and open your emails? Madewell shows us how it’s done:

Let new subscribers know:

  • The types of messages you’ll send them: product offers, news, tips, etc. You can even show a preview of the types of emails you’ll send.
  • How often you’ll contact them, and what time of day.
  • The value of being on your list. What will subscribers get out of it? What’s in it for them?
  • How you’ll use the the provided information. If they provide their email and birthday, are you going to send them a birthday offer?
Chapter 9

Follow opt-in best practices

Why would people open your emails if they didn’t opt in to hear from you in the first place? Plus, until subscribers opt-in, assume they just aren’t into you—yet.

Seth Godin coined the term “permission marketing” back in 1999, and it means that you market and advertise = goods and services only when your audience gives consent. This results in higher engagement and open rates.

And it’s the law in Europe now, too. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law went into effect May 25, 2018, and it prohibits marketers from emailing non-transactional or technical emails without verifiable consent (this consent must be recorded and verifiable).

While GDPR is complicated, the premise is not: only email people who want to hear from you and agreed to receive your emails. Here is our full explanation of GDPR compliance. (And if you are a Campaign Monitor customer, you can always reach out to us, and we’ll walk you through GDPR compliance, too.) The Gloss not only tells subscribers the content they’ll be receiving but also when it will arrive:

Chapter 10

Wrap up

More than 269 billion emails were sent and received each day in 2017. Ensure your millions of emails are opened and clicked with these tips, along with your best friend in email, Campaign Monitor.

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