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The Ultimate Guide to Improving Email Open Rates for Your Business

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how to increase email open rates

The Ultimate Guide to Improving Email Open Rates for Your Business

Home / Email Marketing / The Ultimate Guide to Improving Email Open Rates for Your Business
how to increase email open rates
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“You do that again and we will fire you!” 

Before hearing that from my CEO directly, I was proud of myself for the email I had sent to everyone in my company 2 weeks prior.

No, it was not some obnoxious joke or inappropriate meme. 

Instead, it was a simple work-related email.

You see, I was working in a position where I was the only one who could do the duties for this company of 60 people.

Still check work emails on the vacation

When I would take a vacation, I would put it on the company calendar and set my out of office replies. 

No matter what, people would still try to call me while I was busy enjoying a Pina Colada in Mexico.

So, I used some marketing techniques to be sure they all got my email, notifying them of my time off.

My subject line struck curiosity that would rival any office gossip. The line?

“Why I am leaving the company…”

Now, obviously, the e mail body continued to mention that I was “leaving” for vacation for 2 weeks. 

My open rate was 76%! Higher than most marketers' average open rate, I might add.

When email doesn't simple, it gets a better open rate

But my embarrassment was also 76% when I got a stern talking-to…

Then and there, it just confirmed that no matter the message, nobody will care unless they open it. Even if it could get you fired. 

The emails to your customers and leads are no different. 

What Are Email Open Rates and Why Do They Matter?

Just like my own dilemma, getting people to actually open an email is vital to any email campaign.

Open rates are a simple equation: Opens divided by delivered emails.

So, if 50 people opened your email, and 500 were successfully delivered, you have a 10% open rate (50/500).

On the surface it looks to be just another “number” for bragging rights between marketers, right?

Well, it's more than that.

Email marketing statistics show that billions of emails are being sent daily. 

The gatekeepers of the mailbox (Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc) are LOOKING for any reason to move you to spam.

Open rates are one key metric they observe.

Getting open rates to be as high as you can help you get into the inbox of your audience. 

After all, nobody will know you are on vacation – or see your offer – if nobody opens the damn thing!

What’s the Average Email Open Rate?

The average email open rate definition depends on several things. Think of your regular mail or post. 

What’s the Average Email Open Rate?

Depending on what the envelope looks like, who it is from, and if you were expecting it or not, will all determine if they are destined to be trashcan fodder or not.

Same for email campaigns. You will see average open rates change based on these main factors:

Type of Email

Is the type of email transactional? 

Like when you order something online, and you get a confirmation number or maybe a shipping notice. 

You’ll open the shipping email more than the order number confirmation, right?

Perhaps it's that time of the week to see the pizza deals you always get every Tuesday. For me at least, this is about 90% open.

Free pizza email is more attractive than work email

And how can we forget the forever scorned companies update about their new privacy policies? These email campaigns get a high unsubscribe rate for sure.

How I feel when I see an email about the updated privacy policy

Let’s not forget the fun spam email. 

While spam emails also get opened, you don’t want to be in this category.

By Industry

Back to the pizza example, restaurants are one industry with a great email open rate. 

Why? It’s usually because they are about to give you a deal or something special, and we all eat.

However, digital marketing or internet marketing (like making money with email marketing) tends to have a lower open rate. 

Here are email open rates by industry, as studied by GetResponse:

  • Agencies: 24.02%
  • Automotive: 23.71%
  • Legal Services: 25.49%
  • Internet Marketing: 14.97%
  • Restaurants & Food: 30.09%
  • Travel Blogs: 22.48%

With all industries in the study coming in at 22.02% open rate, you can see the differences in each section just by the few examples above.

Funny comparison about email open rates by industry

So back to food, I think we all love a deal on food. So that content tends to have a much better than average email open rate than other industry’s metrics.

In the same list, you can see the average email open rate for Internet Marketing is well below other industries.

Before worrying about improving your email open rates, you’ll need to compare yourself to others in your industry and see if that’s even the issue.

If you’re already above average, perhaps you’ll be better off growing your list or improving your copy for increased conversion rates?

Are Your Email Campaigns B2B or B2C?

The type of business you are running will make your email marketing campaigns differ in open rates as well. 

Business-to-business email lists tend to be more expected.

This means there can be familiarity with the email recipients, and open rates are more authentic. 

Not to mention, in B2B, the recipient probably has just 1 email address from their company, therefore, your emails are not sitting in a random inbox.

Are Your Email Campaigns B2B or B2C?

That being said, when you consider that Google has reported that the average Gmail user has 1.7 email accounts to access, you may be in the “catch all” account and opens go out the window.

So getting open rates to go up in B2C environments will always be a little bit harder, and click through rate stats will be lower.

Improve Email Open Rates or Fix Something Else?

If your current email strategy is getting you average open rates, but the results are lacking, there may be something else you need to fix.

  • What are your call-to-action and how compelling is it?
  • Do you convey the message clearly so they know what you are offering or asking?
  • How often do you engage with your email list?
  • Are you utilizing drip campaigns in your strategy?
  • What number of emails are an offer vs. informational?

These are a few questions you may need to address if you are not seeing the results you were hoping for with your email marketing. 

Remember, your list is your bloodline, treat it like family.

Always follow through and keep your promises, and your list will reward you back with a low unsubscribe rate and good engagement. 

Email marketing success is not just sign and drive, it's a slow-and-steady campaign.

Open Rates Start With Deliverability

Email Open Rates Start With Deliverability

Remember when I mentioned that Google, Hotmail, and Yahoo are looking for any reason to throw your emails in the dreaded spam folder? Are you seeing a low conversion rate?

Well, these email providers can see how many emails you are sending, and when there are many that have a high bounce rate (not delivered) that is a major issue for email providers.

The email providers also know when people are opening your email or not. If too many emails sit unread or deleted, why would they let you land in the users’ inbox?

How well you tend to your email list can improve your deliverability, and improve your open rates, lower your bounce rates, and raise your conversion rates.

Maintain Your Email List

When was the last time you scrubbed your subscribers? By looking at your email clients stats, you can easily remove subscribers who simply do not engage, have a low click through rate or do anything at all.

This alone will improve your average open rate instantly.

Do you check that your email addresses are real? Yes, people will put fake email addresses, or someone else’s email address to get through the opt-in.

There are programs available that will scan in real-time to determine if an email is real or not. This is something to consider especially when you are starting to build an email list.

Double-Down on Email

Another way to be sure you are getting clean email addresses is to require a double-opt-in. This is a way to get the subscriber to verify their email address before officially going on your list.

Some marketers do not like doing this because if the person never checks their first email or never verifies, they are not on the list.

You may see a subscriber drop of about 20% when using this tactic, but your email open rate will be much higher, as your list will be cleaner – and engaged.

One industry that tries to avoid double-opt-in email is the Internet Marketing industry. Remember their email open rate?

I rest my case…

Check to See If You Are in the Spam Folders

Another thing to check in regarding the email open rate is to see if you are just going in those dreaded spam filters.

You can use a tool from MxToolbox to check to see if there are any type of  deliverability issues with your email and can see why you’re going into spam folders.

Spam filters 2021 vs Spam filter 2001

Their process is pretty straightforward, and they will send you a report with any issues that may be hindering your deliverability

Once you’ve cleaned up the list and solved any deliverability problems, your email list open rate should improve as well.

Here's a full guide on avoiding the spam folder.

Increasing Open Rates

Getting it delivered is the first hurdle, but how do you get your open rate to improve?

There are a few more strategies you can implement that have been studied to help improve your overall email open rate.

Sender Name

The first concept is a simple one: trust

Does your email list know you? Are you a familiar name? Did you sign your email with your company name or a person?

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I signed up for an email list for Person “A”, only to be sent a barrage of emails from Person “B”.

This is in no way a good email marketing strategy in my eyes. Why would any of your subscribers trust you after that clear email blunder?

You can imagine how horrible their open rate must be by doing that.

When you make people recognize the sender, your metrics will improve drastically – both open rates and your conversion rate.

I like to include both my own name as well as the company name.

Add a Welcome Email

A good method to get this started would be to send a “Welcome” email immediately after they subscribe.

According to the GetResponse metric report, a “Welcome” email has an email open rate of 86.03%!

Sending Welcome email immediately after they subscribe gets very high open rate

Imagine the start of your email marketing campaign by just adding this one “Welcome” email. 

Not only is it statistically going to improve your opens, but you will get the chance to introduce yourself, or your company/brand/blog, so subscribers begin to know you and ultimately trust you.

using double-opt-in email to increase your email marketing metrics

Use a 2-for-1 tactic by making your “Welcome” email your double-opt-in email as well to increase your email marketing metrics!

Subject Lines

Add a catchy subject line will get better open rates

Oh, the bread and butter of any email… subject lines!

One study showed that 47% of people decide to open your email based on the subject line, but 69% of them decide to report spam based on the same metric.

The subject of an email is the most creative component of the email. But can also be the end of your email marketing campaign if not done properly.

What About The Reader?

Is it thoughtful? Does it “get to the point”? Does it make me want to open the email?

I said earlier that I enjoy visiting my spam to read creative subject lines. Some of them are provocative, and some are just lazy.

They know at some point, I may open an email they sent, and maybe I will move forward… yeah right!

Cheers to all the spam that got lucky and landed in my inbox

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they do work the subject line to a science if you ask me. 

Using them as a reference point, let’s look at how you can use this tactic to improve your email open rate!

Subject Line Length

When it comes to subject line lengths, there are a few schools of thought.

For starters, never leave it empty(duh). You will end up in the spam box, and that isn’t good for your email open rate.

When we look at the metrics, graciously provided by yet again GetResponse,  you can see the correlation between the length of the subject line and the open rate.

The irony? The more characters in the subject line, the more chances the email open rate would be higher.

The typical theory is that a short subject line will create a better open rate. 

However, the information they discovered is quite the opposite.

About 50% of the email they studied had subject lines of less than 50 characters! 

That is a few words, and as long as this sentence.

But, as the character count went up, the email open rate went up as much as 12% when it got over 200 characters.

The more characters in the subject line, the more chances the email open rate would be higher

But don’t fret, the percentage of emails that had larger subject lines were few and far between. Not really enough to conclude that was the culprit for a high email open rate.

Instead, the research found that a clear and concise message in the subject line contributed to a higher email open rate.

Subject Line Examples

When crafting your subject lines, you have quite a few ways to start. You can choose the “tone” of your subject line and go from there. 

Depending on your audience, you can improve your email open rate instantly.  

Types of Subject Lines:

  • FOMO (fear of missing out)
  • Funny
  • Curious
  • To the Point
  • Personal
  • Pain Points

From there, you craft accordingly, such as:

  • FOMO: “Act now before this offer goes away at midnight”
  • Funny: “Congratulations, you are pregnant… diet plans for dad-bods”
  • Curious: “I should never have sent this out to my subscribers…”
  • To the Point: “We need your vote today!”
  • Personal: “Bill, we noticed you haven’t golfed in a while”
  • Pain Points: “Golf without getting in trouble with the wife”

So, you can see how creative these can get. It is important you know and understand your audience – I cannot stress that enough.

If you have a list of higher profile clients, they may not like a FOMO subject line. Being pushy to a group of people like that can be a turnoff.

There are some “power words” you can use for almost any audience that will always improve your email open rate.

Power Words in Your Subject Line

When used properly, power words can persuade someone to take an action, or bring on an emotion or a feeling when they read the word.

We will go over a few you can try in your email marketing campaign.

Email subject lines vs Personalized email subject lines

The first power word to consider, if you can, is the email client's name. 

It is one of the things we have heard since we were born, and subconsciously we like to hear and read it.

When we see it, we are more likely to click, thus raising your average email open rate. GetResponse showed about a 1% increase to the email open rate when personalizing the subject line.

Only about 16% of all emails that are sent have a personal subject line with it.

Some other power words include, but are not limited to:

Free – this may be one of those over-used words, but for good reason. When conveying a message, this ensures something will be “given” to us without cost. But any good marketer knows the power of reciprocity will win eventually.

This word also has helped with an email open rate of about 18% on average.

New – We all want to be on the “cutting-edge” of whatever industry we are in. We also want to be the first to try things out or learn of something that nobody else knows.

1234567890 – Using numbers instead of spelling them out. When we are inundated with so much information, our brains want to take an easy way out and skim. Numbers are a great way to break the cycle, and let the mind focus.

Adding numbers to a subject line will help to increase your emails open because it simply appears different.

Newsletter – yes, you read that right. The word “newsletter” actually has a very high email open rate: 24.77% when in the subject line.

Why is that? Well, it's a newsletter, and the recipient knows this. 

I know this isn’t a fair word to put here, but it's worth noting. When the person knows what the emails are about, they are more likely to open said emails.


Much like my example, in the beginning, curiosity will always intrigue the human mind.

By adding some mystery to your subject lines, you may get a higher open rate than normal. I provided an example above, but another example could be:

“2 New Things You Can Be Doing Right Now to Improve Your Marriage”

Or perhaps…

“Why your emails suck…”

Or this one…

 “Email Marketing is dead.”

Use caution when being blunt. Know your audience.

Words to Avoid in Email Marketing

Much like the power words, we have words we should avoid as well. 

Not only do we want to avoid them for professional purposes, but also to avoid spam filters.

Here are some words, phrases, and tips to avoid landing your email marketing campaign in the spam folder:

  • Too many punctuation marks!!???!!!!
  • Apply Online
  • Dear Friend
  • Free Gifts
  • Earn Money
  • Get Paid
  • Money Back

You get the idea. 

Don’t be sleazy or scammy to people, and you will be fine. 

Compelling Offer

Ah, finally the tricky part. Great subject lines aside, is your offer worthy to be opened?

Be sure you know your audience (broken record, right?) and bring the right offers to them so they continue to open your emails. 

If all your email marketing is selling something every time, you can expect subscribers to go dormant.

Give value, bring good offers, and you will see your average open rate go up.

Email Preview Text

This is like your second subject line. 

It will appear under or after a subject line for the viewer to see. Usually, it is NOT in the body of the emails.

You get an opportunity to give the subscriber another opportunity to open your emails. 

But like the subject line, use the preview pane properly. Do not be deceitful and try to get to the point. 

You can increase your email marketing open rate by as much as 3% when done right.

Best Sending Time

This used to be one of the main things marketers were concerned with. 

Yes, there is a good time and day to send your emails to people, but, in our global economy, this may be trickier to manage.

The best answer out there is to first set the send days for Monday – Thursday. 

Most email marketing campaigns find their open rate is higher during the workweek and starts to decline from Friday.

As far as times go, earlier in the morning tends to be better. The rate of open during the early part of the day coincides with coffee time. 

So set those email campaign times early!

Relevance and Segmentation

This is similar to maintaining your email list, as we mentioned above. 

Segmenting your emails is a way to move subscribers to different “lists” based on actions or factors such as:

  • Paying Customers
  • Free Customers
  • Clicked on a link
  • Subscribed to another email campaign
  • Other filters or metrics

This will allow you to tailor your emails to what the recipient may be ready for.

Be sure your emails and content are relevant to your customer base

For example: Sending “Thank you for being our loyal customer” emails will work fine for someone segmented as a customer.

So be sure your emails and content are relevant to your customer base. You can do this with segmentation.

Some email marketing tools can use their autoresponder to automate this, check to see if your provider can help.

Our favorites for this include GrooveMail, ConvertKit, and other similar tools.

Optimized for Mobile

This has been a “recent” change in emails over the last decade or so. Since everything is going more to mobile, this is the new marketing strategy.

Industry reports show emails will have to be optimized for opening (and reading) on smaller devices. Content will also matter on mobile.

Focusing on this can help increase your click through rate and the average open rate. 

Emails will have to be optimized for opening and reading on smaller devices

The increase in the use of mobile emails has gone up and accounts for about 25% of all emails opened, however, it also sits at about 50% of all the emails CLICKS!

The number of mobile users being half of the click through rate shows the industry average is going to increase. More competition.

This should be a sign that you need to segment your campaign and measure how well your mobile content is doing.

Run A/B Split Tests

But, which subject lines will you try? Well, I can’t tell you which ones will work in your next email newsletter, but…

Run A/B Split Tests help you maximize click rates and improve other key metrics

I can tell you that you can run what is called a split-test for recipients, or A/B test on different subject lines as well as the content – this’ll help you maximize click rates and improve other key metrics.

You can test different headlines with your subscribers – half see one, half see a variation. The campaign monitor will track and measure the metrics automatically.

From there, you can see which title performs better, or start another test to further improve the metric. 

The idea is to keep testing until you find the right way for YOUR list.

Once you find the right formula, your email open rates (and hopefully click through rate) will improve drastically.

Resend to Unopened Emails

One strategy you could try to help improve the email open rates metric is to set your autoresponder to re-send the recipients who haven’t opened X number of emails sent.

By adding a 1×1 pixel to your emails, you can measure and set filters in the behavior in your campaign monitor dashboards.

Resend to Unopened Emails to improve the email open rates metric

Companies can set a specific number of days to wait to send, then try one more time.

It works as a litmus test for your list. This is also a good way to start to clean your list as well, and check how well your email content is performing.

Remember the welcome emails I mentioned? Maybe the double-opt-in isn’t so bad after all, right?

At the end of the day, keep cleaning your emails.


As you can tell, if you have read this far, email marketing metrics can be a beast if you let them. 

From fighting against spam filters to making sure your subscribers trust you, a stiff drink may be your new normal at the end of the day.

But, you can also see that by using some basic digital marketing tactics, you can help keep your email list clean, avoid bad and inactive subscribers, and improve your average email open rate.

Keep your messages clear and concise and you can get creative with your subject like Picasso. 

Now, go get that list and show them you mean business!

Just don’t get “almost fired” as I did!


What is a Good Open Rate for Email 2021?

A good open rate is around 22%. This is based on averages across many countries, business types (B2B, B2C), industries, and types of emails. You will see industry average low-end open rates of around 14% and higher end open rates of 30% for the Restaurant & Food industries.

With a higher open rate, you should, by definition, see a higher click through rate as well.

What Affects Email Open Rates?

Email open rates depend on a lot of factors. Deliverability is important as it is a part of the equation. If your email is going to spam, you are less likely to get an open for those emails.

The next factor is trust. This includes sender familiarity as well as proper subject line wording. These items can change your email open rates drastically.

How Do You Calculate Email Open Rates?

Take the number of emails opened and divide it by the total number of emails that were delivered.

Most email marketing benchmarks include this statistic.

Example: You send 1,000 emails. Of that 1,000 emails, 900 were successfully delivered. You check your stats and see that 200 were opened. So you calculate your open rate as 200 (opened)/900 (delivered) = 22.22% open rate.

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