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How to optimise email open rates

Understanding who is interacting with your emails - and why - is an important part of email campaign planning. Learn how to target the right customers with this guide

Are you sending emails to subscribers who never seem to interact with them? Or are your emails not reaching the inboxes of your target audience?

If you’re experiencing these issues or similar, you can turn your email marketing success around by learning how to optimise open rates for your business’ email campaigns.

In this article, we’ll offer advice on the different ways you can optimise open rates.

In this article, we’ll cover:

What are typical email open rates?

Open rate is the term used to refer to the percentage of emails that are opened compared to the number of sent emails.

An email is considered open if a person clicks on a link or enables images in it.

According to the Sign-up.To Email Benchmarking Report in 2018, the average open rate is 25.44%. This is for completely opted-in email campaigns sent by marketing professionals in the UK.

It’s important to note that, when discussing average email open rates, it’s best to look at the statistics available in your industry specifically.

This is because open rates can vary across industries and so what is considered high, average or low in one industry may be completely different in another. You should note that being close to the average rate is also positive.

Now that you’ve learned about the average email open rate, we’ll take a closer look at the figures and facts behind it.

How is open rate calculated?

Often, your email service provider (ESP) will calculate the open rate for you. However, you might not use an ESP or you might want to know more about the process.

Work out your email open rate by using this formula:

The number of unique opens divided by the number of emails sent minus the number of bounces

You should note that an answer from this formula in decimals can be multiplied by 100 to give you the percentage.

Kate Robinson, senior CRM executive at MVF, says: “In terms of the statistical calculation of the open rate, it’s important to note that emails that aren’t delivered can’t be opened. So this number isn’t included in the calculation of the email open rate.”

Also, the total number of emails delivered is different from the total number of emails sent. Check out the box below for delivery explanations.

Open rates are one of the key measures for email campaign success. We’ll outline some of the other common measurements so that you understand how they connect together:

  • Bounce rate – this measurement compares the number of sent emails to the number of delivered emails
  • Click-through rate – this measures the number of people who clicked a link in the email against the total number of opened emails
  • Unsubscribe rate – the number of people who selected to stop receiving emails measured against the number of people who received the email campaign

Deliverability rate is measured as either:

  • Returned – emails sent minus bounces received
  • Inbox – the number of emails delivered to the inbox compared with the number delivered to the spam folder or not delivered at all

It’s also possible to measure the number of complaints and forwards that arise from a campaign too.

The email has to be in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language, which is used to create structures in websites and applications) in order to track and calculate open rates.

In plain text (no code or formatting) emails, clicks and enables can’t be monitored.

What are the different ways to improve email performance?

Now that we’ve explained what the average open rates on email campaigns are, it’s time to focus on the nitty gritty details: how to get your email read.

Clean your list

Your contacts list is one of the most important pieces of data your business has – so make sure it’s up-to-date and reflects your current customer base. Emails sent to inactive accounts or uninterested people will harm your open rates.

You could send emails to attempt to re-engage people, and if that doesn’t, work consider moving them to a different list. Your list needs to be filled only with people who interact with the emails you send to increase your chances of hitting the inbox without being sent to spam, and ultimately improving open rates.

On 25 May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in the EU.

It changed how organisations can store and use people’s personal information. You can find out more about what GDPR is and what it means for businesses +.

Send to a segmented list

Hands up who’s been sending every email to all the contacts in your database? If that’s your business, then now’s the time to learn about segmentation. Essentially, this is filtering your contact list based upon various factors, such as location or purchase history.

For example, if you’re offering a flash sale in your Manchester shop, then there’s no point sending those emails to your customers in Liverpool too.

Likewise, if you’re offering a buy-one-get-one-free on a specific product, it pays to target those customers who have bought that product before and so are more likely to buy it again, especially if it’s on offer.

Robinson says: “Segment your lists – you need to be sending to the right people, at the right time. Using demographic and behavioural data, you can create engaging and relevant emails for your subscribers. This will improve their engagement with your brand and get them opening your emails.”

Choose a recognisable sender name

Using a sender name and email that best reflects your company is vital. A customer may check their inbox, find a message from an unrecognised address and not open it at all based on that.

Better yet, encourage your customers to add your email address to their contacts list to increase the likelihood of emails reaching their inbox and, in turn, hopefully being opened.

Pick particular days and times

When your emails land in your customer’s inbox can be just as important as what they say. Generally, aim for early morning, mid-afternoon and late evening to increase their chances of being opened.

Similarly, think about your target audience and which days of the week are likely to be quieter and less busy for them, and send emails accordingly.

Outside of these times, people are more likely to be focused on other tasks and so the possibility of your email being left unread (or even deleted) is greater.

Robinson adds: “Optimise your delivery time – your subscribers are busy so don’t assume you know the best time to send them your emails. Your emails need to be landing in their inbox when they are online, so test different delivery times for your next few email sends, then select time slots that consistently lead to higher open rates.”

Be concise

Some of the most successful emails tend to be the shortest. It’s important to write focused copy with only the essential information.

Robinson continues: “Cut out words that trigger spam filters – as many unsolicited emails carry viruses or promote illicit activities, email programmes automatically filter messages that appear to deceive and scam readers. You’ll need to avoid words like free, cash, and typing in all caps to avoid falling into these traps.”

Use the subject line wisely

This is crucial – many people will decide to open (or not open) an email based on what’s in the subject line.

Our top tips for writing an effective subject line:

  • Keep it brief, especially if it’s more likely to be read on a mobile device (which has even less screen space)
  • Avoid using all capital letters or lots of exclamation marks. While you may think this is a great way of getting attention, it’s more likely to be considered spam and diverted away from an inbox

Although limited in space, subject lines offer the opportunity for two approaches: either go straight to the point or spark interest.

Alternate between the two and see which approach works best for your business. For example:

Straight to the point – Up to 50% off everything for today only!

Spark interest – You’ll never guess what’s inside here…

Robinson says: “Understanding how to get your emails in your subscribers’ inbox is crucial if you want to utilise email marketing.

“Once you’re in, you need to stand out in the ever-crowded inbox, with businesses across the world using email marketing to further their growth. Luckily, utilising subject lines can help you get in the primary inbox of your subscriber.”

Make it personal

Have you ever received an email with your name in the subject line? If you have, you’ll know just how powerful this can be as it seems like the sender is writing specifically to you. Consider using this strategy to help increase your open rate.

How to use CRM to improve open rates

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is used to manage all interactions a customer has with your company. This includes contact information, as well as purchase history and marketing preferences. You can learn more about the best CRM for small businesses with our guide.

CRM software can be used in the following ways:

  • Planning – Create your email campaign goals, as this will enable you to know who you’re attempting to target and why. You can then use it to segment your list and ensure the emails are being sent to only the most relevant customers, as mentioned above.
  • Testing – Known as A/B testing, this is where customers are split into different groups and receive a different version of an email accordingly. You can use this to find out which campaigns are more successful with which customer bases and why.
  • Budgeting – In turn, you can then focus your email marketing campaign budgets to spend money only on the emails that customers actually engage with.
  • Selling – You can target campaigns at those customers who are looking to repurchase, make a new purchase or buy a similar product to one they’ve already bought, and so are more likely to open emails.

Robinson adds: “CRM allows you to learn about your customers – you’ll easily have access to how they interact with your emails, what they’ve previously purchased and who they are. This allows you to target their specific needs and personalise their experience.

“Beyond benefiting your customers, you’ll also see more of an improvement in the operation of your own business, as CRM systems improve productivity, slimline your sales cycle and offer additional product services for even happier clients!”

Remember that CRM software can be used across your business to understand your customers better as well as manage your interactions with them.

Now that you’ve learned more about CRM software and how it can improve email open rates, you can compare quotes here.

What are the next steps?

From this article, you’ve learned more about email open rates, including what a typical rate looks like, as well as how to calculate yours.

We’ve also provided you with some key tips to improve your business’ email performance, and explained how to use CRM specifically to improve open rates too.

So what are the next steps? Now that you have this information, it’s time to actually apply it all in your email campaigns! Good luck!

Read more: Business emails and the law

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Scarlett Cook
Scarlett Cook

Scarlett writes about a wide range of topics on the site, from business security to digital marketing and EPOS systems. She can also be found writing about diversity and sustainability in business, as well as managing the Just Started profiles.

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