13 Practical Ways to Improve Your Open Rate

Just imagine spending hours crafting a perfect email, only to realise that hardly any of your subscribers have opened it. All that time and effort was in vain. This is a problem that many face.

Does it mean you should avoid email campaigns? Definitely not. Email marketing is one of the most crucial parts of your marketing efforts. In fact, one of the best content marketing funnel tips anyone can give is that email marketing is absolutely indispensable and incredibly effective. This is because email campaigns allow brands to build relationships with their customers, which is something that is needed more than ever in today’s marketplace.

Of course, a few trial runs may be needed to perfect your emails but in the end, it’s all worth it.

And it all starts with your open rate. If you’re wondering what an open rate is, it is the percentage of how many people in your receiver’s list have opened your email.

You take your potential customers one step closer to making a purchase if they open your email. Thus, you need all the best practices at your fingertips to ensure as many as possible of your emails are being read.


How Do You Calculate Open Rate?

The formula for calculating the open rate is:


Open Rate Equation

Open Rate = Emails Opened ÷ Email Delivered
(then multiply by 100 to turn it into a percentage)


So, let us suppose 14 emails were sent from which 4 got bounced and 3 were opened. Now, if we put these numbers into the formula above:

Open Rate = (3 ÷ (14-4)) x 100

Your open rate would be 30%.

It should be noted that while it’s an important metric, your open rates shouldn’t be the foundation of email campaigns. Someone opening your email is just the first step. It is a vital first step, however. By measuring (and optimising) your open rates, you increase the potential audience for your emails actual message.

Therefore you should monitor and improve your open rate in order to improve your campaigns and strategies. But how does one get to know what’s a good open rate in the first place? Let’s find out.


What Is The Average Open Rate?

Overall, around 20% is considered as an average open rate. However, it honestly depends on a lot of factors.

Different industries, email lists, and even the ongoing trends in a market affect an average or a good open rate. For instance, the average open rate percentage of the Restaurant and Food industry is 30.09% while for the Internet Marketing industry it’s 14.97%.

You must also understand that often when the size of an email list increases, the open rate will typically decrease. Why? This is because most of the time, when email lists are smaller people tend to be better at engaging with their audiences. This leads to higher open rates as it makes your subscribers feel special and exclusive.

However, as you grow your list, maintaining personal touch can take a backseat. As a result, open rates see a decline.

You can easily find out the average open rate of your industry from the above link. If you find that your rates are really poor, it could be because of a few reasons.

Let’s figure out what those reasons could be.


Reasons for Low Open Rates (and How to Improve Them)

If you are wondering why your open rates are way below average, here are a few reasons why this could be happening:


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Poor Quality Email List

It feels great to see your subscriber count increasing. However, have you ever wondered how many of the email addresses in your list are legitimate? Many times you will come across subscribers who will create fake email addresses just to get your free products or to sign in.

These addresses often have a weird combination of numbers and names. Yet, they will seem genuine to your email providers.

Now, if your subscriber list is full of such email addresses, chances are that you will experience a lower open rate. This is because fake email addresses will obviously not open your emails.

Other than that, your subscribers might also change their jobs or create better, more mature email addresses. This will lead to your emails being sent to an abandoned address that is not being used anymore.

Keeping such email addresses on your list won’t do you any favours.


How to improve:

Keep an eye out for your bounce rates. You will notice two types of bounces – namely soft bounce and hard bounce.

Hard bounces are easy to identify. These are the email addresses that face permanent delivery issues. It could either be due to the non-existence of the email address or because the recipient server has blocked your delivery indefinitely.

Emails that experience a hard bounce are immediately and automatically removed from your email list by your Email Service Provider in a process called ‘cleaning’. This means they will not be included in your future campaigns.

Soft bounces, on the other hand, are quite hard to identify. These email addresses face temporary delivery issues. These issues might be caused by several reasons including the recipient’s server being down or offline, an inactive or full inbox, or because your message did not adhere to the server’s policies (eg it looked like spam or a scam).

This will lead to your email not being delivered. However, as these problems aren’t permanent you will still always get an option from the email provider to resend your message. If an email address is consistently marked as soft bounce, you might as well just let that be and remove it from your list yourself.

Both of these types of bounces indicate a poor open rate. It’s best to let go of them, even if that means you will have fewer subscribers. These addresses are not adding value anyway.



Your Emails Are Not Responsive

When you send an email, how can you know the recipient is situated? Unfortunately, you can’t. They might be travelling, relaxing, or maybe just away from their laptop. You simply cannot guarantee that your email will be read on a desktop or laptop computer.

On top of this, most individuals today have a habit of checking their emails using their mobile phones or tablets. They are easier to carry and you can use them on the go.

This can cause problems for email marketing. If your ‘from’ name or your preheader are not immediately impressive, that can lead to a lower open rate.

This is because on a smaller device people will see fewer characters, and so may not see your whole sender name or preheader text. This is why you need your emails to be responsive.


How to improve:

The first thing to consider is the length of your ‘from’ name. Keep it short and crisp. Optimize it for mobile phones as 46% of total email opens are from a mobile phone.

Other than that, rework your preheader text. A preheader text includes one or maybe two lines that can be read, just below the subject line. You can maybe add a CTA (Call-To-Action), but keep it related to your subject line. Or else just cut to the chase.

Basically, your preheader should give away what your email is about and yet, it should be persuasive. They can be excellent at making your readers a little more curious about the content of the email – if the reader can see enough of them that is.


Your Subscribers Have Not Whitelisted You

Almost every Email provider these days has a filter built in that might direct your emails to the receiver’s secondary inbox. These automatic filters have been specifically created to send emails from unknown senders (which could be your email address) to a promotions tab/an inbox that’s not primary.

This way, your subscriber never comes across your emails –  most people take a peek at their primary inbox and then get on with their day. Your subscribers might never realize they are missing out on your emails.

Moreover, you won’t even get to know if this is what has been happening since you won’t be getting notified about the same.


How to improve:

The best way to prevent this is to send in a little request to new subscribers, asking them to ‘whitelist’ your email address. Whitelisting is nothing but the process in which a receiver approves your email address from their email id. This is a confirmation from their end that they know you and trust you.

You can add this information to your ‘Thank You’ page that your subscribers will be directed to or you can even add a separate pop-up, informing them about the same.


You Haven’t Nurtured Your Subscribers

Think of new subscribers as your new classmates. You have to set their expectations and help them understand how things work with you.

An individual might subscribe to your page because they found your website or your campaign valuable. However, they still have no idea what to expect or what information you will share with your emails. Until they receive the first email, they may feel a little sceptical.

Above that, if you are not sending welcome emails to your new subscribers, they might just forget about you. Or, if you simply start sending them the standard emails that you already send to your current email list, it will either confuse them or not leave them with anything to look forward to.


How to improve:

The best way to build anticipation and make your new subscribers check even their spam is by sending a welcoming email. A good email should make them remember your brand and take away their hesitation.

Use a welcome email to set their expectations. Let them know how often you will be reaching out. You can even mention a timetable if possible. Maybe in the timetable, mention the days and times you will be sending your emails out. This will further improve your open rate as your subscribers will be expecting your emails.


You Are Not Creating Buzz

If you have ever come across Kylie Jenner’s product campaigns, you will know one thing and that, my friend, is the buzz she creates.

The buzz around her product on social media platforms before they are even launched leads them to sell out fast. This is because her audience is already so excited about the product that they don’t think twice before pre-booking.

Similarly, if you are not creating a buzz for your email campaigns, you are doing it wrong.


How to improve:

While Kylie Jenner mainly focuses on Instagram and such social media platforms, you should leverage email campaigns but with a similar strategy.

You can create a buzz around your campaign by giving your customers a sneak peek of what’s coming/launching.

You can also send an email from your campaign sequence and maybe add a postscript towards the end about ‘an exciting offer/bonus’ you will be sharing with them soon in any of the upcoming emails.

This will entice the readers and keep them eager for your emails.


You Falling Into Spam Traps

Too many dollar signs or the word ‘FREE’ are often used in spam emails, and so email providers will automatically block these emails. Or else, people will just immediately delete these emails as they feel like spam. You must understand that your audience is smarter than what you might perceive.

Whenever you send such spam-filled content, they will be able to figure it out from the preview text. As a result, they will choose not to engage with it and your open rate will see a drop.


How to improve:

The best and the easiest way to avoid such a situation is by adding simple and well-structured subject lines. Don’t try to lay a trap for your audience.

Your content must be genuinely valuable and not filled with words that might seem like a trick to get them to do something. You don’t want to come across as someone who’s trying too hard to build a community or sell a product. Such desperate people are often looked down upon, and you don’t want that to be you.


Phishing Definition


You Are Not Leveraging The Right Time

Remember how we talked about sending an email to new senders and setting their expectations right? Now is the time to take a step further. This step is leveraging the right time and days to send emails.

This is the step where many mess up.

If you send an email in the middle of the night or on the weekend, people will respond very differently to if you email them 9 am on a Monday. Depending on your audience, the best time an email can vary greatly and if you aren’t optimising this you are missing out.

How to improve:

Try sending emails out at different times of day, and different days of the week. Start by thinking about when would be the best time to send your specific email campaign, and then start experimenting. Would your email most likely be read at work, or on the train home? Keep a spreadsheet monitoring your open rates at different times of day and different days of the week, and see if you can find a sweet spot.

Calculator IconWork out the Open Rate of your email campaigns with our Open Rate Calculator >

You Haven’t Run Any Tests

If you have been sending out the same emails with the same subject lines and content to every added subscriber, you are more likely to experience the same open rate (which could be really poor without you realising). As mentioned above, this is also true if you are always sending emails at the same time or day of the week.

Many avoid testing and optimizing their emails because it is considered time-consuming. Yet, they overlook the fact that it can cause major problems like failure of email campaigns, especially if the open rate is continuously turning out to be below-average.


How to improve:

You should be adopting testing and optimizing strategies. One thing you should be careful about here is testing only one variable at a time. If you are changing your subject line, don’t also change your content at the same time. If you are trying out a different placement of your CTA button, avoid touching the font or text.

This is because when you try to test multiple variables at a time, you won’t understand what is leading to an improved open rate. When you send your next email campaign, you will not really be sure about what elements need to be edited and what elements should be kept the same.

Thus, you should be testing your emails more and optimizing them as per the results you witness.


You Are Not Using the Right Name

 Many people don’t think that the ‘from’ name matters but, the truth of the matter is that of course it does.

For example, if you are a company and most of your audience knows you by your brand, but you send emails from a personal name, your subscribers won’t really know who you are. Chances are that your emails won’t be opened or some might just send them to trash without even giving them a read.

Similarly, if your brand is known for being friendly but you always use the company name in your ‘from’ field then you may create a disconnect that will stop people from opening your emails.


How to improve:

The best way to tackle this situation is by identifying what kind of brand you are. This means if you are building a personal brand and that’s what people know you by, then definitely use your own name.

However, if your brand name is the only name your subscribers have heard, make sure you are using your company name.

You can also consider using *your own name x your brand’s name* if you promote a mix of both.

When your subscribers receive emails from someone they’ve heard of, they tend to be a bit more curious and eager to read the messages. This can help improve your open rate.


Your Subject Lines Are Not Well-Thought-Out

 Many believe subject lines are just five random words stitched together. That is the worst thing you can do to your email campaign.

The importance of a well-thought-out and well-structured subject line is simply underrated. Around 64% of people make a decision of opening an email solely on the basis of the subject line.

The words you are using, the character limit, and even the formation of phrases make a lot of difference.


How to improve:

A/B testing is the best way to understand if your subject lines are affecting your open rate.

You should also make sure that the length of your subject lines is more than 6 words and less than 10 words. 8 words is thought to be where perfection lies. Also, keep your characters limited to 33-35 and try to convey what you want to in those characters.

Steer clear of spam traps like we have discussed above. If you are not sure about whether your subject line could be considered a spam trap or not, use a tester. You can find plenty on the web.

Once you have good enough subject lines, do A/B testing and find the ones that are performing the best for you.


You Are Not Personalizing and Humanizing Your Emails

I simply cannot emphasize the importance of personalizing and humanizing your emails enough.

Many businesses use the terms professionally and formally interchangeably. That’s not actually the case. You can keep your emails less formal and yet still be professional at the same time.

It is crucial for people to form a connection with you and your brand. It is important they feel as if they are reading an email from a human and not a robot. This allows a reader to connect with you or your brand and makes it easy for you to build a relationship with them.


How to improve:

It all depends on how you phrase your content and what kind of language you use. Make your tone more conversational. From your subject line to your content, everything should have a touch of personalization.

Use emoticons, trending phrases, and maybe even hashtags. These elements are encouraged by email marketing industry leaders. They can make your content resonate more with your audience as it makes them believe you are also a human being.

You can also form a connection by simply using someone’s name. Many Email Platforms will let you dynamically insert someone’s name into an email subject line (and ‘To’ field). This small personal touch can really improve open rates.

One bonus tip: stay away from any kind of phoniness. Don’t pretend. Keep it real. Phoniness is easier to identify than you think and can hamper your progress.


Open Rate Definition


You Have Not Planned The Frequency Of Your Emails

One of the biggest reasons why your open rates are dropping could be poor frequency. Emailing either too much or too little could be a problem.

This may be because you have a fear of spamming your audience.

To be honest, if you have been sending out several irrelevant emails to your subscribers, then you probably are spamming. Just make sure you give your audience an option to opt out of your emails in the footer in every campaign you send. You should also be adding your company name when signing off.  Otherwise, there are penalties for a violation under the CAN-SPAM Act (if you are in the USA) that was enacted in 2003.

If you are wondering what does penalized mean, let me help you understand. You will be subjected to penalties of up to $43,792. So, it’ll be a costly affair if you do not comply.

That’s why you need to plan your frequency. This will help keep your subscribers updated about when they will be receiving an email. It makes sure you don’t seem like a spammer.


How to improve:

You should be sending out relevant content to your subscribers. However, you don’t have to keep sending them an email daily.

On average, you should be sending 2-3 emails a month if you are a B2B brand and 4-5 times a month if you are a B2C brand. This will be enough to keep the subscriber happy and will allow you to maintain a balance.


You Aren’t Using The Double Open Technique

 You know that most of your subscribers are not reading your emails. The biggest mistake you will make here is not doing anything about it.

You should always have a backup plan for when things might not work out. This backup plan could be for those that didn’t bother to open your emails the first time around. Don’t let them go because like I said earlier, you don’t know the reason for them not opening your email.

They might just genuinely be busy. So, what do you do in that case? Find out below.


How to improve:

Double opens can perhaps help you deal with this issue. The term was coined by Noah Kagan and has proven to be a useful strategy for many.

According to Noah, you should resend your emails to those who didn’t open your emails the first time. Just this time around, play around the subject line a little. This will trigger your reader’s curiosity and also, allow you to check the effectiveness of your subject lines.



To wrap this up, we can see there are plenty of mistakes that one can make when it comes to email campaigns. These mistakes can often hurt open rates. These can be avoided by taking the necessary steps I outlined above.

Inform your consumers about helping you get whitelisted, use the double-open technique, and test your variables. This helps you work towards much better open rates. The better they are, the closer your potential clients are to making a purchase.