How to get your emails opened

Every day our inboxes fill up with emails; occasionally you may get a message from mum telling you she’s just “bort a smrt phon”, but mostly they’ll be promotional emails from copywriters working for companies you signed up to six months ago to email subject linestry and win a free holiday.

Imagine the little copywriters there, finely tuning their email copy in an attempt to make you feel unique, and to construct the semblance of a genuine bond with you so as you will buy, consume, recommend, or at least interact with their company in some way.

The problem is, if the subject line of the email doesn’t inspire you to open it, all their hard work was for nothing. In fact, with an industry average open rate of between 20  and 30 percent, about three quarters of their emails are never even read. Poor copywriters! All that time wasted. Let’s see if we can do something to help them out, shall we?

OK word monkeys, listen up! Cease your futile pawing of the keyboard and pay attention while I give you some tips on how to get your precious emails opened a little more often.

Your subject lines basically have to walk the fine line where enticing meets honest. You could easily boost your open rate with a subject line like “Free iPad for opening this email”, or “Naked pictures of Chunk’s mum inside”. However, unless you’ve recently bought shares in Apple or done an illicit deal with Corey Feldman, you’ll soon have an unsubscribe rate to match your open rate.

First and foremost, you need to be honest with us and let us know what’s inside your email. Keep it interesting and enticing but also remember you need to tell the truth. It’s a marathon not a sprint, you want to get this email opened now, but this is also an opportunity to build a relationship and get us to trust you.

So, before you get back to writing another blog post trying to humorously describe what copywriters actually do, here are a few ideas to get your emails actually opened rather than just deleted.

The enigmatic subject line: As any nineteenth-century doctor writing crime novels in his free time will tell you: mystery builds curiosity. Just a vague hint at what’s inside your email is probably enough to pique our interest and get our index fingers to do your binary bidding.

I remember when I was signed up to receive lastminute.com emails, for a while their subject lines were just singular words. So instead of “Cheap holidays to Spain” or “Take a last minute flight to Berlin this weekend”, they just wrote “Spain” or “Berlin”.  A bold move, and they must have had an exceptionally good copywriter working there at the time, as I heard from somewhere that they saw a big lift in open rates doing that.

The minimalist subject line: The one-word subject line is a ballsy move and not for everyone, but you could also try to get our interest with short and punchy subject lines. Strip your email content down to its very bones and let us know exactly what we can expect to gain from opening. Simply dangle the condensed benefits of your email under our collective noses like a cybernetic carrot and we’ll open up and follow like digital donkeys.

The humourous subject line: Not wanting to offend your creative sensibilities by suggesting you strip everything down to its bare bones, but you can also try to snare our attention with humour. Subject lines don’t have to just be functional. If you can make us guffaw, laugh, chuckle, or even just smile, we’ll probably open up as well. On top of this, a well-placed joke can help establish your brand tone of voice.

The controversy subject line: As any bigoted BBC car magazine presenter will tell you: nothing creates interest in something like controversy. Make a contentious statement in your subject line and we’ll open it before even our pay slips to see what you’re talking about. You are, however, dancing definitely on the enticing side of the line when you do this, and while you will see higher open rates, you’ll also see a fair few disillusioned readers and unsubscribers. Unless of course, you’ve got something equally controversial in the body of your email.

The numerical subject line: Numerals stand out in inboxes like thumbs in the trophy cabinet of a homicidal finger collector. They also help to cut down your ever important character count as well. Percentages and digits are hard indisputable facts and they often have pecuniary implications, and that, after all, is what we really want to hear, isn’t it? Deadlines and dates snap us out of our email-reading daze and make us take note. If we think we’re about to miss out on something, we’ll suddenly sit up and pay attention.

The cramming-it-all-into-one-subject-line subject line: Throw as much as you can and hopefully something will stick. Get as much info as you can into your subject line and hopefully it will appeal to more people. You don’t have much room to play with, so separating offers with a pipe “|” can be a good way to get it all in there.  

The interrogative subject line: By asking us questions in your subject line you are engaging us right from the start. A question can get us interested quickly and we interact by opening your email.

Try not to do this in your subject lines: There are also a few things to definitely not do in your email subject lines. We’ve seen them enough, and while they may have been enticing once, they are now about as appealing as the idea of another “unintentional” Paris Hilton sex tape. So avoid the words: “free”, “help”, “reminder”, “xx off”, “naked”, and “start filming now” like the plague.

But for me, it’s not just about the subject line, it’s also the from field that matters. By building the image of a reliable and trustworthy brand that consistently sends emails containing info and offers we are interested in and want to read, you can get us to open up more often no matter what the subject line is.

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