How I Write Emails that Get 58% Open Rates and 0.5% Unsubscribes
There’s no better marketing tool than the platform you own and control
I used to be terrible at email. I’d write something to my customer list, get a ten-percent open rate, and think I was a total freaking genius. Every email I sent was self-serving (me-self, not customer-self).
I sold a host of things — courses, a dozen books, a monthly consulting program — you name it, I pushed it. I followed the advice of the email gurus at the time (only later to find they weren’t the gurus that made money with email). These pseudo-mentors told me never to give anything away for free, because it trains your list to be a bunch of bottom-feeding, freebie-seekers.
They said you should never give real value in your email. Only teach a partial truth, so your subscriber would have to buy your stuff to get the secret sauce — a valuable teaser, but nothing more.
While, in theory this seems like an excellent business practice, on the customer end it’s as fun as sleeping on a bag of hammers and as valuable as an empty wallet.
…but that was fifteen years ago. This is now.
I learned. I made a ton of mistakes. I failed more times than I like to admit publicly (yet, I keep writing about it). And I figured a couple things out I’d like to share.
There are folks out there who do even better. I don’t claim to be the best email-er on earth, but I’ve learned a few things after doing this for 20 years.
The nice thing about email is that it’s your own little laboratory. You can constantly tinker with things to make them better for the next person. We tweak, we watch, we analyze. We repeat the process until we’re happy with the results. There’s no one, perfect email.
How to get readers to open your email
1. Be a real person
This isn’t the time for a Hollywood show. We get vulnerable (but not too vulnerable). We stay positive, but not Pollyanna. We use the same voice we’d use if talking to a friend at the kitchen table.
We all love being entertained. And most of us join lists to learn new things. If you give only entertainment, there’s a fluff-factor that gets old after awhile. Cat memes are cute sometimes, but for long-term subscribers we need more substance.
You can’t just teach, either. No one wants to open their in-box for a daily lecture. Hence, we entertain and teach, simultaneously. Like a candy-coated salad. This is called infotainment. We give our readers a great lesson disguised as candy.
I don’t do this perfectly. I tell dad-level jokes. Some people don’t like dad jokes. I do. And since I’m me that’s what subscribers get. Apparently it works thus far.
3. Use the subject line formula: Benefit + Curiosity
We don’t give away the email in the subject line. The subject line has a SINGLE purpose — to get the email opened. We don’t sell with the subject line. We don’t teach in the subject line. We get the email opened. If you can’t get the email opened, those five hours you spent writing the email were wasted.
We give an implied benefit for the reader and we leave a cliffhanger/question in the reader’s mind. Our brains hate cliffhangers. We are hard-wired to seek answers to open questions. Therefore, we open the email.
I don’t do this with every email. There are many ways to write compelling subject lines, but this formula is a great start.
Your subject line is almost more important than your content.
Write your subject line first. Erase it. Then write 20 better ones to replace it.
4. Don’t be a jerk
It’s one thing to write a compelling subject line, and another to click-bait the hell out of your list. Your subject line better have something to do with content inside or you’ll lose the reader.
5. Train your reader to open your emails
I use a seven-day, actionable, valuable course. Not only do my readers get something free they can use today, but they also get in the habit of opening my email every day.
I don’t send a daily email once the initial series is sent, but when I do, 58% of them open it. If you write nonfiction content, email courses are a great way to train your readers to open your emails.
How to keep your unsubscribes and spam complaints low
Give your readers something valuable they can use today. A person can literally read your email, take your advice, and do something to improve their lives with the information.
Yes, you need to sell. That’s the purpose for having an email list. But there’s a way to sell without losing the same people you’re trying to maintain as lifetime customers.
Focus on the reader first.
I write books and (coming soon) teach through courses. I give a free course. I use affiliate links and offer the same services I use on a daily basis.
What I don’t do is give my readers a hard-sell. Your reader might need upwards of fifty exposures to your offer before she makes a buying decision. Seriously, fifty.
This is why email is such a great sales platform. We can send an offer for the same product or service, packaged in a valuable, different way with each email. The reader will make her buying decision on her schedule.
Not during a launch week.
Not during a one-time offer.
There’s definitely a time and place for one-time offers and big launches, but if we want repeatable, predictable, evergreen sales, we’ve also got to focus on the customers who need fifty exposures for a buying decision.
I was on one company’s list two years before I finally pulled the trigger.
They didn’t care when I bought. They kept sending me email.
I wanted to do my due-diligence. Your customers may want to as well.
Have fun with your content. Don’t be a downer. Info-tainment.
Also, I make sure each email stands alone. Whether or not a reader buys something, they can take my little piece of advice and use it. Some folks will see so much value in the free stuff, they’ll want more, and move to the paid stuff.
Some folks only want the free stuff.
Both folks are OK. Eventually, some of the free stuff people will have the means to become paid stuff people. I’ll be here when they’re ready. It’s arrogant of a creator to assume their reader is ready to buy when we want them to. The process doesn’t work that way. We’ve got to serve everyone, at all points of the buying spectrum.
My readers keep coming back, because they want to know what I’ll say next.
Email isn’t rocket science.
All you have to do is treat people the way you want to be treated in your in-box. I don’t like jerks in my house. Your readers don’t either. Time to write emails your readers will actually want to open.
We’re waiting for you.
August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. A self-proclaimed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indie authors how to write books that sell and how to sell more of those books once they’re written. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.