Employee using mobile phone

25+1 Ways to Improve Your Open Rate

There are 200 billion emails sent each day. Yep, that’s billion with a ‘b’. It’s so easy to get lost in the noise.  As a communicator, you need to find ways to make your emails worth opening.

Your first hurdle is getting into the inbox in the first place.

Once your email has arrived, how do you get it read? It might be more difficult than you think. Fast Company reports that 55% of email users admit to not opening or reading email regularly.

So, we need to work harder than ever to make sure that the content we are producing is both getting in the box and being read.

Email Marketing Stats

Before we get started with the tips and best practices, we thought it would be good to get a better understanding of the email marketing landscape and look at some stats and definitions.

The open rate is one of the easiest to understand. It is simply the percentage of emails that are open from the overall amount that are delivered.

Keep in mind that the amount delivered does not equal the amount sent because bounces do not count toward the amount delivered.

How Open Email is Measured

Most email providers show your email open rate but we wanted to share the math behind this important stat.

Here’s the open rate calculation using some real-life numbers. Let’s say you sent 11,000 emails and 1,000 of them bounce. You would take that total (10,000) and divide the 1900 opens to receive an open rate of 19%.

To calculate your open rate, you divide the number of emails opened by the difference between the number of emails sent and the number of bounces.

How Does Your Organization Compare?

You might wonder how your existing open rate compares to others. Like many things in our industry, the answer is ‘it depends.’

Smart Insights put together this helpful matrix to compare open rates across industries. The national average open rate is 22% according to Email Marketing Daily.

Only Benchmark That Matters is Yours

Starting out, you might try to compare your org to others like, it but be thinking about measuring and maximizing your personal best.

We highly recommend figuring out your industry average and your internal averages in order to gauge success. A great place to start is to figure out the average open rates for your last 20 sent emails. You can use this as your baseline for testing.

Give Your List Some Love

#1 – Quality Leads = Quality Open Rate

We think it is extremely important that you don’t just fill up a list with as many names as possible – make sure that you are capturing contact information from people who are actually interested in your organization, message, or product.

It’s difficult sometimes to reframe how you think about success, but great list management is about quality, not quantity.  Don’t get too caught up in the race to build a big list.

An interested list of 10,000 is much more valuable than a list of 30,000 people who do not care about your organization.

#2 – Capture Good Leads

It is very important to be mindful of how you are capturing your leads.  You want to seek people out for your list who are actually interested in what you have to say.

Some things that we suggest avoiding:

  • Don’t buy leads
  • Don’t run a general promo just to increase list size
  • Don’t hound people on a show floor just to get a ton of leads

By avoiding these tactics, your open rates will improve and your unsubscribes will drop sharply.

#3 – Watch That Handwriting!

This tip is near and dear to my heart. I have attended countless conferences to obtain new leads and some people (myself included) just have terrible handwriting.

Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification in the moment and add your own notes. A mildly awkward conversation is a lot better than trying to figure out the difference between an a and an e when you get back to the office..

#4 – Prune Your List

Let’s face it, not everyone in our lists is going to stay engaged forever. Your list needs to be like our friend the bonsai tree; prune carefully so it can continue to grow. We suggest you remove people from your list after 4 soft bounces and immediately after a hard bounce.

It may feel harsh. You might feel a sense of loss, but it’s the right thing to do. When your audience isn’t interested it hurts your overall deliverability as well as those oh so precious marketing stats.


Good subject lines are short, personalized and say something about what to expect inside the email. In this section, we will share some great tips to boost the clickability of your headlines.

#5 – Use Casual Subject Line

Business is more casual than it’s ever been and your audience expects a more human experience.

When creating email subject lines, remember to make them friendly and avoid ALL CAPS. This makes the reader think the sender is familiar.

#6 – Include Emojis and Symbols

I think adding emojis to your subject lines is a natural extension of using a casual subject line.

Emojis help maintain a casual tone and also help your email stick out from the crowd. Experian reports that brands using emojis in their subject lines saw a 45% increase in their unique open rates.

#7 – Capture Attention With Numbers

Another great way to stick out from the crowd is to use eye-catching numbers in your subject line. Numbers help set expectations and get folks excited to read the details inside.

If your nonprofit just raised $2 million dollars or your company has a breakthrough that can save people thousands of dollars, tell them in the subject line.

#8 – Use Personalized Subject Lines

One thing that we have found very successful at Cerkl is using personalized subject lines.

When people know that they are going to be receiving a personalized email (and you back that up with strong content), they are far more likely to continue to open and engage with your content.

#9 – Treat Your Subject Line Like a CTA

You send marketing communications to engage and ignite your audience. Your subject line offers your reader the first action they can take.

When building your email subject line, make sure you bake in a benefit for your users. After all, you are asking for their most precious resources, time and attention.

#10 – Don’t Use !!! or Spam Words

We all dread having our hard work get routed to spam folders. Don’t worry, there is a lot you can do to prevent this from happening.

One of the key ways is to avoid using spam words. Some examples of spam words include:

But you aren’t a creep, there’s no way you’d be using spam words? Wrong. There are some surprising ones to avoid. If you need a refresher, check out Comm100’s list of Spam words.

#11 – Speak Their Language

Use language and messaging that your target buyer persona is familiar with and excited about.

If you have a diverse audience, you may want to specify different subject lines for different personas.

#12 – Paint the Picture

Don’t settle for mediocre language. Make your email folks feel the benefit of your message.

Your headlines should include verbs & action-oriented language to create a sense of urgency and excitement.

#13 – Provide an Exclusive

Take a page from the retailer playbook and try to include an exclusive value proposition so people know what they’re getting.

No matter what your industry is, look for ways to connect your message with exclusive opportunities for your audience.

#14 – Check Your Characters

Before the mobile content revolution, 65 character headlines were the norm. Times and devices have changed, now you need to keep your headline text to 40 characters or less to ensure your headline appears complete on all devices.

Don’t bury the lede! Put the most interesting, engaging, or important stuff as close to start of the headline as you can.

Letters and spaces both count towards your limit. If you need some help counting characters, there’s a Chrome plugin that can help. If you use Microsoft Word, select the text you want to count, and then on the Review tab, click Word Count.

The Power of the Preview

We’ve been talking about email headlines for 25 years but there’s another line of text savvy email marketers need to consider…the preview text.

#15 – Pre-set the Preview Text

When an inbox is viewed on a smartphone, most popular email clients surface the first few lines of an email or some designated alternate text. Make sure you don’t waste this opportunity!

If your email marketing system has the ability, be sure to define your preview text. It’s worth a few extra minutes of your time to mind the way your email will be displayed on different systems and device.

#16 – Make Preview Text Unique

This is going to take a little thought, you don’t want to repeat the subject line or opener of the email.

The preview text is an opportunity to present an additional reason for the reader to open the email.

#17 – Use a CTA in Preview Text

Much like tip #9, you need to provide a reason to your audience for them to give you the next minute or so of their life. Building an affirming and unique call to action in your preview text is a solid use of your precious time.

The preview text is a great way to seal the deal and have them open your email.

Don’t Forget Who Your Emails are Coming From

It is easy to forget that one of the first things a person sees in their inbox is the sender’s name. This is a great opportunity to build trust and positively affect your email open rates.

#18 – Personalize ‘From’ Field

You are not limited to just your company name or your name in the sender field. Think through what would make people most excited about getting the email.

I may not open an email from ‘Kroger’ but an email from ‘Kroger Friday Deals’ will remind me that I am planning on going grocery shopping this weekend and I should see if there is anything in that email that will save me money.

#19 – You are a Person, Not a Company

If you can, consider sending your messages from the address of a staff member. If you are lucky enough to have an engaged staff or a CEO of note, use those connections to entice your audience to open.

This is a great opportunity to establish a relationship with your readers. This will help you create a sense of familiarity and reinforce that a person is sending the email.

# 20 – Use a Shorter From Name to Optimize for Mobile

Text is precious in email marketing messages. You need to be cautious with the length of your from or send name. When looking at your organization’s send name consider how it will appear on computers, tablets, and phones.

Your organization’s send name should be less than 20 characters. If your organization has a lengthy name, think about using a shorter version. Your Twitter handle and website URL can give you some clues of how to structure it. You may have to sacrifice a bit of branding for clarity.

Strong Content

Having strong content is the single best way to make sure that you have repeated opens from your readers.

After doing all of the hard work to have your audience open the door, you have to make it worth their time and make them want to open emails from you again.

#21 – Engage with a Welcome Email

Your welcome email is your first opportunity to establish tone and expectations for your audience. Don’t waste this opportunity.

If you promised an incentive to join your list, deliver it here and prove that you can be trusted. Be sure to thank them for signing up.

#22 – Have Users Whitelist Your Address

Ask your subscribers to add your email address to their contact list. This will help make sure that your email will land in their inbox – not spam or ‘promotions.’

If you are planning on sending multiple emails to your list (and why wouldn’t you?) we suggest including a call to action in your welcome email to ask your subscribers to add your email address to their contact list.

#23 – Before You Hit Send, Abide by CAN-SPAM Rules

CAN-SPAM was put into place to protect email users from shady practices.

If you are sending emails for business, it is essential to have an understanding of the law. CAN-SPAM covers all commercial messages, explicitly, “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.”

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines.
  3. Identify the message as an ad.
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you.
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly.
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf.

The penalties are hefty. According to the FTC, “Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $40,654.”

Strategize for Send Success

Now we’re going to cover some tips on how to send your email to be most successful.

#24- A/B Test Send Time & Date

A/B testing (also known as split testing) is comparing two versions of an email and whichever one performs better wins! You’ll carry the lessons forward to your next campaign and keep testing.

Testing the open rate can help you know the best time to send an email, hone keywords and subject lines, and segment your audience based on what emails they opened.

If you are struggling to get started with A/B testing, start by testing headlines.

#25 – If at First You Don’t Succeed…

If a well-crafted email doesn’t get the open rate you think it should try reworking the headline and sending it back out at a different day and time to the people on your list who didn’t open it.

SendPulse found that this strategy led to an increased open rate of 47.15%


As you can tell, we think about email a lot here at Cerkl. This really shows in our product. We have baked in solutions that have proven to save teams up to 40 hours a month – giving a full work week back to staff to devote to other mission-critical tasks.

Using the power of artificial intelligence, Cerkl learns exactly what your readers are interested in and automatically delivers content that they are interested in to their inbox at a time and a format of their choosing. Want to learn more? Schedule your Cerkl demo today.

Digital Content Coordinator