How to Get More People to Open Your Marketing Emails

Posted by Josh Paul on Jan 3, 2017 2:59:38 AM
Josh Paul

Despite the continual flow of new marketing channels and tools becoming available, email remains the number one way to build relationships with prospects and make sales to current customers and partners.

While an email list is one of your most valuable assets in growing your business, you’re not in the email sending business. Your interest lies specifically in people buying from you as a result of those emails.

This means that you need to find a way to get people to open your marketing emails, first and foremost, even before convincing them to click on the call to action within the email and converting on the offer you’re making to them.

However, since the dawn of email as a marketing and customer relationship building tool, it has steadily become harder to get people to open marketing emails. We’re now at the point that people only open 30.6% of the emails they receive each day.

This is due to several reasons, including:

  • The number of other social channels they’re checking online.
  • The number of marketing and sales emails they receive each day. 
  • The number of emails competing for their attention from work and personal networks.

So, how can you win in a world where your target market is saturated with emails – without hiring a dedicated email marketing guru?

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3 Ways to Get People to Open Your Marketing Emails

I’m going to give you the three components of marketing emails that I focus on within my own businesses. You need to get these parts right if you want your prospects and customers to open your emails.

I’ll begin with the lowest priority and finish with the most important way to get people to open your marketing emails.

Way #1) The Preview Pane

Whether or not someone is using a desktop, tablet, or mobile device, most email clients display the first line or two of the email on the inbox page. They do this to help people quickly scan their emails. It’s also a trap that many marketers fall into.

The following examples of display lines are dead giveaways that they’re marketing and sales emails, which people are likely to ignore:

  • Preview fields with an HTML tag, like <img src="http//www...>
    If the preview screen shows an html tag with an image in it, this instantly reveals this is a marketing email.
  • "If you can’t read this email, click here!"
    This email is clearly not from an individual, rather it’s a mass-distributed email.

Many email marketing platforms will default to displaying an ineffective preview like the ones above. However, while these pitfalls are unacceptable, they are completely avoidable.

I simply make sure to include the first line of the actual email letter in the preview pane. Why? Because that’s the way it would appear in someone’s inbox if the email came from another person, such as a friend or colleague. This makes the email feel personal, as if there’s someone waiting for a response - making people more likely to open the email.

Way #2) The Subject Line

There are hundreds of articles about crafting the “perfect” email subject line. The truth is there’s no silver bullet and the subject line is only one factor in increasing your email opening rate.

Having sent thousands of email campaigns, I’ve tested almost every format imaginable and have gained valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t.

Below are the guidelines I recommend based on how well they’ve worked for me.

Don’t give everything away in the subject line. Rather than spell out all the details, spike the recipients’ interest with a simple hook that leaves plenty of room for curiosity. Be mindful to avoid subject lines that are too obtuse.

Good example: Our next weight loss webinar

Bad example: Webinar: How to Lose Weight This Year By Eating Only Carrots

Equally bad example: Carrots

Shorter email subject lines can get more opens. I’ve tried everything from long descriptive subject lines loaded with value, to single word subject lines.  I’ve noticed that short email subject lines perform roughly 8x better than long ones. There’s a good reason for this statistic. Long subject lines require extra cognitive effort when people scan and digest all of the content in their email. When you limit your subject lines to only 1-5 words, you’re making it easier for your target audience to comprehend your value quickly.

You also benefit by not giving away the full details and by inspiring an individual’s curiosity enough that they’ll click through the email.

Good example: New 21-page ebook

Bad example: How to Diversify Your Retirement Saving Using Bonds

I actually use a combination of short and long subject lines. For every long, value-oriented subject line, I send two emails with short subject lines.

Deliver what people expect. A subject line is a promise. You’re promising the type of subject matter they’ll find if they click to open the email. Don’t pull a bait and switch.

It’s not hard to come up with a subject line that will pique someone’s curiosity. The hard part is making sure you deliver on that compelling subject line. Not delivering on what people expect once they open your marketing email is the fastest way to make that the last email from you that they open.

Good example
: My trick to getting a promotion

Bad example
: Your promotion

Since subject lines are so easy to test, I recommend using the guidelines above as a starting point to run tests in order to find a formula that gets consistent results for your business.

BONUS TIP: Don’t include the recipient’s first name in the subject line. That isn’t what real people do when sending e-mails to friends, co-workers, or family. It comes off as unnatural. Just because you’ve compiled the data on someone’s name and you have the technology to merge this information into the subject line, doesn’t mean you should do it.

Way #3) The Sender

You’re familiar with the phrase, “paying attention,” right? When in the space of an email inbox, attention becomes the valued currency and a click is the exchange of this money. A great marketing email is one that gains attention and scores a click through.

People buy from people they know, like, and trust. The same rule applies to our inboxes. People open emails from people they know, like, and trust. When you’re scanning your inbox full of emails, the most important element of an incoming message is the sender.

Which email would you open?

Subject: Double your customers in 30 days



Subject: Potatoes

Sender: Your spouse

It’s most likely that you would open the email from the person you know (your spouse), rather than the one from a random address that’s touting big benefits in the subject line. This is why the idea that the subject line is the most important factor is a fallacy. The emphasis is on the sender’s address.

In a fraction of a second, your audience is thinking:

  • Do I recognize the name?
  • Do I recognize the company?
  • Do I have a relationship with the sender?
  • What are the last few things they sent me?
  • What have I recently seen about them online?
  • Was the last email, article, video, or podcast from them relevant and valuable to me?

This is what makes establishing an effective sender address more difficult than writing the preview or subject lines. The latter elements are completely within your control and simple to change, but the sender address needs to be consistent and familiar.

Your reputation and relationship with each recipient takes time, quality content, and consistency to develop. Building a relationship with your audience that is based on the consistent delivery of relevant value goes beyond email. It involves your blog, video strategy, podcasts, personality, social media accounts, and in-person interactions.

Keep in mind that these relationship-building assets aren’t going to convince people to open every one of your marketing emails. Personally, I receive emails that are clearly marketing emails, but I still save them in a special folder to return to and read later. I do this when I know the sender or company has previously sent me useful and valuable content.

The key to email marketing is investing in the long game of building and maintaining relationships.

Slow down next time you open your inbox and take note on how you evaluate emails. Where do your eyes travel on the screen? What elements do you notice? What are the characteristics of the emails you open?

Getting the above elements right takes deliberate thought and consistent action, but if you can nail them, it can have a measurable positive impact on your business without you needing to spend a dime.


Topics: Email Marketing