Everyone wants to get higher email open rates.
Email marketing is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal, but it only works if your recipients open the emails you send them.
Every additional open means more potential sales and revenue, and even a tiny increase in your open rates can make a huge difference for your business.
According to data by Smart Insights, most industries average a 20-30% open rate.
That statistic might be comforting to you if you’re in that 20-30% range, but I guarantee you can improve your open rate with a few simple techniques.
You see, the truth behind email open rates is in the subject line. And like any kind of written content, there are hacks to improve the impact of your copy.
These 25 tactics can make your subject lines compelling and triple your email open rates in just one week.
Let’s dive in!
1. Include the recipient’s first name
This is an old technique, but it still works wonders.
Email marketing company AWeber conducted multiple tests with email subject lines with and without first names.
Here’s an example of one of their emails without any personalization.
They added a name at the beginning and changed the subject line to read “[First name], Email Marketing Advice From 2 Guys (Who Know What They’re Doing).”
The results were clear: The emails received a 4.97% higher open rate on average when they used the first name.
The simple fact is that we all like to see other people use our name, and it still catches our attention.
If you’re requiring new subscribers to include their first name when they sign up for your email list, put it to good use!
2. Write subject lines short enough for mobile readers
If you aren’t writing your emails with mobile readers in mind, you’re making a huge mistake. According to data published by EmailMonday, 54% of emails are read on a mobile device as of March 2017.
That’s a huge shift in just the past few years!
But so what?
Those mobile readers are just people skimming their emails before they read it “for real” on their desktop applications, right?
Not so fast. Mobile may actually be the best way to reach people, with email engagement rates being higher on mobile.
What that means is that your most critical messages will actually be read longer on smartphones and tablets.
That means you need to ensure that the emails you send get opened on mobile.
The problem is that mobile devices will trim long subject lines. Keep your subjects short at around 50 characters and you should be fine.
3. Avoid spam words
If you want to increase your email open rates, your email needs to find its way into your recipients’ inboxes, and you need to earn their trust.
While there are a number of factors at play in today’s spam filters, the words you use play a large part in whether the intended recipient even sees the email or not.
On average, 13% of emails wind up in spam folders, it’s critical to avoid these words that might make your emails part of that 13%.
And once you get to the inbox, it’s important to avoid sounding too salesy in the subject line. It can turn off potential readers and reduce your email open rates.
Prospect.io has a great list of common spam words.
Remove (or at least reduce) the number of these words you use in your next email campaign.
4. Improve the preview text of your emails
While the subject line is critical for increasing your open rates, there’s another copy hack that can help determine whether or not people choose to open your email.
That copy is the first few words in your email, which is previewed in a number of email programs, including Gmail and Apple’s iPhone Mail app.
If you write something compelling, people will be excited about what you have to offer and read it. Whatever you do, don’t leave this opportunity up to chance.
This is a strategy used by major brands like HP, according to Litmus.
Notice how HP includes critical additional information in its preview text?
This is something you need to be mindful of. Far too often, I see emails with preview text that says, “If you can’t read this email, click here to read it in your browser.”
This does nothing to encourage me to click on the email. Make sure you use these compelling introductions to drive more email opens.
5. Add a bit of negativity
There’s a simple reason that most of the news stories we see focus on negativity: fear sells.
But it isn’t just the headlines on your Facebook feed. Hubspot has found that negative email subject lines tend to get our attention, as well.
Marketer Derek Halpern found that a negative subject line increased his open rate by 35%.
While you shouldn’t make every email negative, you can use the technique in moderation to increase your open rates on your more important emails.
Here’s an example from personal development bloggers Marc and Angel Chernoff.
Most of Marc’s and Angel’s emails focus on positivity, but a negative subject line can go a long way toward increasing their email open rates.
6. Include numbered lists
Numbered lists, like the structure used for this article, break complicated issues up into bite-size chunks.
This can be a very powerful way to drive readers to open your emails because they present simple and quantifiable solutions to complex problems.
Ryan Robinson used a numbered list in a recent email to encourage entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas for customers and investors.
This works easily if you’re linking to an article with a list like Ryan Robinson did. But what if you aren’t linking to list-based content?
Experiment with phrasing your subject line with a number. All content has a certain number of ideas, so you can write a list-based subject line for just about anything you publish.
7. Send a breakup email
If you’re struggling to get more email opens, it could be because members of your list have forgotten about you.
Instead of leaving these so-called “cold” subscribers alone, send them a breakup email sequence.
This is a simple set of emails that are meant to grab the attention of unresponsive subscribers. Bryan Harris uses the following sequence to re-engage cold subscribers on VideoFruit.
In each email, provide an option for the subscriber to interact. This is typically done with a link click, but you can do something different if you like.
For those subscribers who don’t interact, remove them from your list.
They weren’t going to help you anyway, and they can always resubscribe at a later time if they want to.
8. Send a subject a friend would use
These days, our inboxes are cluttered with emails from faceless corporations and organizations that are constantly trying to sell us something.
The average email recipient is highly attuned to what looks like a sales email or other promotional type of communication.
To break through the clutter, you need to write something that looks like it was sent by a friend.
Jon Morrow of Smart Blogger does these exceptionally well. His emails are friendly, short, and look like they might have been sent from someone you personally know.
9. Add an emoji or two
Emojis have expanded from text messages with friends to a variety of other platforms.
One of the most promising ways to use emojis for marketers is to include them in email subject lines.
You need to be careful, as different systems will render them differently. For example, an emoji that looks great on your iPhone might not display with the same colors on Gmail.
But with a little research and testing, you can find emojis that add color and stand out from the countless other emails in the inbox of your recipient.
Email course software Highbrow uses emojis frequently in its email updates. They included a rocket at the end of this announcement about new courses.
And following the subject line, “Ready to learn something new?” Highbrow includes a thought bubble.
These simple gestures are an easy way to add color or visual interest to a drab subject line.
10. Try emails without a subject line
Of all the hacks on this list, going without a subject is probably the craziest.
But according to research published by HubSpot, emails without a subject line get opened 8% more frequently than those with a subject line.
This is, of course, not a technique you can use on an everyday basis. I would argue that it can only be used once with each subscriber to be truly effective.
But if you want to increase the open rate on a critical sales pitch email in your welcome sequence, this might be the perfect way to lead.
11. Include a bit of humor
If it’s not your style, then don’t try to force it.
But if you have a sense of humor, or manage a brand that uses a lighthearted feel in its communication, consider cracking a simple joke in the subject line.
Since you have limited space, one of the simplest ways to land a joke is with a short bit of wordplay.
Threadless did this with a recent email, which encouraged a higher open rate.
Another way to include humor in the email is to include the beginning part of a joke or riddle in the subject line and include the answer in the body of the email itself.
12. Use title capitalization
Even subtle changes in the way you present the subject line can influence who opens the email.
One of those small changes is how you capitalize the title. You should never use all capitals, as it makes it look like you’re screaming.
But Grow Traffic recommends using title capitalization for email subject lines to improve readability and draw attention to the content of the message.
Amazon uses this technique in their emails to Amazon Associate affiliate marketers.
By making each important word start with a capital letter, they draw more attention to their subject line than those of the other emails in my inbox.
13. Indicate that you’ve published a new article
If you do a lot of content marketing, there can be a tremendous amount of value with each new piece of content you publish.
If you produce high-quality content on a regular basis and have built a lot of trust around your articles, videos, or podcasts, it can pay off to reference this in the headline.
Many of the emails from Mirasu marketing include this preface in the email subject line.
A simple preface like “New post,” “Recent video,” or “Episode #59” can encourage people to check out your content.
Of course, only use this if you’re actually promoting your content, and only use it if your content is consistently top-notch.
14. Ask a favor
It’s a proven psychological principle that you can build trust with someone else by asking a favor.
By asking your subscriber to do a favor for you, you build curiosity and trust. People don’t often get requests from strangers in their inboxes, and they’ll want to see what you need.
If they complete the favor, it will work to build more trust and draw your recipient even closer to you and your brand message.
While you certainly shouldn’t go overboard with this technique, it can be immensely helpful when used sparingly.
Joel Brown from Addicted2Success uses this strategy in his email promoting his Mind Strong Alliance program.
By leaving the subject line ambiguous, he encourages readers to open the email and see what this favor is.
He delivers on that curiosity by providing a small, direct ask in the body of the email itself.
15. Indicate that your email is part of a series
People build anticipation for what they don’t have yet, and you can use this psychological principle to your advantage to encourage more email opens.
To put this to use, start a series of messages by letting the reader know how many emails will follow.
For each message thereafter, put a simple indicator at the beginning. I like using a few characters like (Day 1 of 3) or [2/4] to show that the email is part of a group.
This creates a simple trigger of expectation and can be especially helpful for a welcome or launch sequence with a set number of emails.
When the next part in the email series arrives in the inbox of your recipient, he or she will be eager to open the email and complete the loop of anticipation.
Lifestyle blogger Sean Ogle uses this technique with his six-day Location Rebel sequence, introducing each email with [LR 1/6], [LR 2/6], and so forth.
16. Start with a verb
Most of the people who read your emails are reading them without much energy.
They’re mindlessly browsing the inbox on their phones or refreshing Gmail because they’re bored.
To motivate them to take action and open your email, provide them with an encouraging action word. Look for creative, powerful verbs that inspire your reader to action.
CoSchedule has found these verbs to be highly effective in increasing email open rates.
It’s best if you use these verbs at the beginning of the email message instead of in the middle or end.
By encouraging action instead of mindless browsing, you can play a sly trick on your reader and encourage him or her to open your email.
17. Include a statistic in your subject line
Headlines that use numbers attract lots of attention, and you can copy the same strategies with the tactics you use to craft compelling subject lines.
But you don’t have to use a list format for a subject line to encourage your viewers to open and read the emails you send.
Instead, you can use a powerful statistic or statement with a number. PLUS Fund uses a large statistic of 94% to draw attention to their subject line.
Look for percentages, dollars, or other startling tidbits of information to tantalize your readers.
Make the subject line a headline of sorts about the compelling content inside your email.
Whatever you do, make sure you follow up the number with solid backing and research in the body content.
18. Add a sense of secrecy
Want to know a little secret? We all love secrets.
Emails by their very nature allow you to write a one-sentence teaser about the hidden content.
This creates a great way to build up the suspense for your reader with an intriguing subject line.
Brian Dean over at Backlinko uses secrecy very effectively in his email subject lines.
There are a few ways to indicate secrecy in your subject line without giving too much away. Here are three ways to do that.
- Reveal the result. This is the technique Brian Dean uses above. The secret in the email is how to get 119K visitors per month.
- Reveal why the secret is out. Offer to tell secrets that came about due to a particular event, like a leak or exclusive interview.
- Reveal how your found the secret. Present the secret as lessons learned while improving something.
19. Include urgency in the subject
I wrote a while back about how urgent subject lines can increase open rates, and it’s just as true today.
Headlines with urgency have a 22% higher open rate, according to HubSpot.
There are lots of ways to show urgency in the subject line. If you have a course that closes in a few weeks, this is something you may want to mention in the subject line.
While it’s a good idea to show urgency for events a few days away, I’ve seen incredible success with subject lines that indicate urgency that goes away that day.
JetBlue includes an urgency trigger by announcing that their 30% sale ends tonight.
Because of this extreme urgency, these types of emails tend to get skyrocketing open rates.
Instead of waiting to open them later, recipients read them immediately to make sure they’re not missing out on the offer.
20. Drop the name of a famous influencer
Everyone is curious about the lifestyles and techniques of the rich and famous, and you can use this tendency to increase your email open rates.
All it takes is a casual mention of a popular celebrity in your email subject line. Asian Efficiency draws attention by mentioning Tim Ferriss.
You might be wondering how you do this without content directly related to this celebrity. The truth is that you don’t need to conduct an exclusive interview or even publish new content.
In the example above, Asian Efficiency didn’t have an interview or exclusive Tim Ferriss strategies.
AE simply compiled an article with the best pieces of his advice from his blog, podcast, and books.
You can do the same thing, even if your email doesn’t link to other content. Simply reference a strategy used or popularized by someone your audience knows and respects.
21. Mention a giveaway or a chance to win
It’s not a long-term strategy, but you can boost your open rate quickly by announcing a giveaway or other free (but valuable) content.
Even something small like a book can generate huge interest and provide you with your highest open rates ever.
Carrie Dils lets us know about a book giveaway offer in the email subject line, which encourages opens.
The details are contained in the email body, of course, but we can’t get there without opening the email to read.
Combining this with a form of urgency (“Giveaway ends tonight”) can be a particularly powerful way to boost your email open rates.
22. Lead with a case study
Testimonials are a great way to get your audience excited about what you have to offer.
They’re the perfect way to remove the obstacles that prevent potential buyers from making a purchase or signing up for your product.
To make these compelling, include a surprising fact from one of your most powerful case studies. This often comes in the form of a statistic, revenue figure, or other number.
DigitalMarketer includes a five-figure ad campaign test as a form of proof in their email.
Follow up this open rate-boosting subject line with compelling details.
These should have the specifics of the case study, as well as templates, checklists, and other usable information derived from the example.
If your purpose is to sell with the case study, you can include a testimonial quote or two. This can be one of the most powerful ways to write email newsletters that convert.
23. Include two or more pieces of juicy content
Sometimes, a subject line that focuses on one benefit isn’t enough. To really drive the point home, include two or more topics.
The biggest benefit of this strategy is that you can appeal to two different audiences with one email.
A list of healthy recipes and tips to save time in the kitchen might appeal to two different segments. But if you combine them, you’ll reach both audiences with one message.
Automational recommends leading with more than one topic to draw in multiple points of interest.
In their example, they referenced heat maps, lead scoring, and a marketing automation course.
This series of compelling topics will interest a larger audience than one topic would alone. It’s also worth noting that Automational also used title case (hack #12) in this subject line.
24. Use a short, one-word subject
Sometimes, the shortest subject lines do the best to increase open rates.
“Hey” was famously one of the most effective subject lines used by the Obama campaign years ago.
While you can’t start every email with subject lines like “hi” or “question,” you can include them in your marketing strategy to draw attention to critical emails.
As Megan Marrs writes on the WordStream blog, Amazon’s short one-word subject line stands out the most in her typical email clutter.
25. Write a how-to subject line
The last tip isn’t new, but its time-honored effectiveness still holds value.
To draw in readers, use a subject line that promises to teach how to do something. This opportunity to learn can be one of the most effective types of subject lines you’ll ever use.
Instapage recommends using a how-to subject line, and provides an example by Salesforce to demonstrate a how-to subject done effectively.
Even if you aren’t linking to how-to content, you can frame your subject line to capitalize on this popular form to increase your email open rate.
If you want to increase the number of people who open your emails, all it takes is a little strategy with your copywriting.
Crafting compelling subject lines isn’t hard, and it’s a skill you can develop easily.
By using a few techniques and testing what works best, you can triple your email open rates this week.
What copy hacks will you use to increase your email open rates?