One of the leading metrics of email marketing is the “open rate,” and email marketers inevitably obsess over it. While it’s essential to know the open rates for your campaigns, it’s also important to understand that open rates can vary tremendously by industry, markets, lists and sometimes even seasons. So when you evaluate your open rates, understand that there isn’t an “applies to all” rate against which you can evaluate your performance.
So how do you evaluate your work?
I recommend you compare the open rates for your campaigns against past performance. In my experience, this provides much greater insights into how you’re doing than by comparing them to industry benchmarks.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should ignore industry averages entirely. It always feels good to beat the standard, but don’t get complacent: I’ve seen more than one campaign that “beat the industry average” still improve its open rates by significant double digits.
If you suspect there’s room to improve your campaign, here are five key areas I look at when trying to increase open rates:
1. Subject lines
The subject line may be the most important piece of your email – a short description of what is inside and why you should open it. Simple and honest without looking salesy or spammy, a subject needs to tell the reader what’s inside vs. selling them what’s inside. Adding “$$” or “FREE” to your subject may feel like you’ll grab the reader’s attention, but use caution. It’s just as likely to trap your email in a SPAM filter.
Keep your subject line short and direct – under 50 characters long. Remember, most readers view their emails on a mobile device and you have a very limited character length. iPhones only show approximately 32 characters.
Subject lines are perfect for A/B testing. By comparing subject lines using the same email creative, you’ll get an idea of what works (and what doesn’t) for your audience. It’s usually easy to split your list into two and compare subject lines. A more responsive method would be to test a smaller segment (say 25/25% of your list) with alternate subject lines, determine the top performer and mail the remaining 50% with the winning subject.
The pre-header is the copy that pulls you in. You’ve read the subject. It got your attention. Now the pre-header gets you to actually open that email. It appears in most email clients as a brief description after or below your subject line. Make sure you check your pre-header copy! Frequently this important area of email real estate is wasted with “view in browser” copy or “unsubscribe” copy. That lack of attention can cost you opens. Instead, use the pre-header to re-iterate the content and to support the subject line.
Not sure how to edit pre-headers? A lot depends on your email marketing software. I’ve seen some that use the first few lines of body copy, and others that provide a unique editor for pre-headers. Regardless, pre-header copy should play off the subject line and introduce the story or message of the email.
When writing your pre-header copy, remember this: when email is viewed on a mobile device, you may see 1-3 lines of pre-header copy in Apple Mail / iPhone 6.
Everyone likes to feel special. By adding the subscriber’s first name into the subject line, you can increase open rates by as much as 26%4.
Another key personalization point is the “from” sender’s address. Use your organization’s name so the reader can recognize who the email is from. If you mail from an individual, make sure the audience knows who that individual is so they are more likely to open it.
4. Clean and segmented lists
In order to get a reader to open your email, it should be of interest to them and be something they asked to receive. To help with this, list management and segmentation are crucial. Segmenting your audience to those who are likely to take action will increase your open rates. Have you considered making a segment consisting of those who have opened your emails in the past six months? The results might surprise you!
Sometimes we talk about the size of our mailing lists. “The bigger, the better” you may think. But in reality – the best numbers aren’t about the quantity of your list’s recipients. They are about the quality of your list. Try removing addresses that haven’t engaged with you in years and watch your open rates soar.
5. Timing and frequency
The time you send your emails can make a big difference to your open rate. Sending in the middle of the night might work for those who get up early to go through their inbox before work begins, but for many the email will get buried under all the rest that come through overnight. Be mindful of how the hour affects open rates, and don’t be afraid to run some experiments to help you learn what works best. Perhaps your target audience opens emails on the weekends or evenings. You can determine this with testing. There are other ways to learn too: same day testing at two different times can show an increase in opens. Or, try different days of the week.
Sending too many emails may be considered bad, but is sending too little? If you don’t stay in touch on a regular basis, your readers may forget they subscribed and hit the “spam” or “unsubscribe” button. Or worse, their spam filter may block you.
A regular newsletter can also assist in higher open rates. The reader becomes accustomed to seeing your name in their inbox and they know what to expect. Finding the happy medium over too much and too little should be your goal.
Improve email open rates and connect with customers
Whether you are aiming to beat the healthcare industry average open rate or improve on a previous campaign, it’s important to monitor your work. Keep an eye on your campaigns, test your subject lines, pre-header text and mailing times, and keep your list of active customers. These tactics will not only drive your open rates, but will help you reach your customers and keep them engaged.
Want more tips on how to improve your email marketing efforts? Register for our upcoming webinar “Email Marketing: The Opportunity You Can’t Afford to Miss!” We’ll show you how to use email marketing for everything from educating patients on health topics to driving service line volume. We’ll also be workshopping examples and offering tips for improvement. Want to be included? Send me your examples!