How to get an 80% open rate on email campaigns. And why it doesn’t matter.

one of my client’s emailing account — 83% open rate

I have managed 100's of cold email and newsletter campaigns. I have managed them for my account or my clients’ accounts.

I have managed to deliver great results.

But I have always been amazed by how much we care about the open rate.

In fact, it’s probably the least interesting stat you can read.

It’s the least interesting stat because it just tells you how good your subject line was.

And, what you should really care about is what happens next. What happens after people opened your email.

I’d rather have a 20% open rate and a 15% conversion rate, than a 80% open rate and a 1% conversion rate.

Anyways, we still need to write subject lines. And having a higher open rate can help you do better.

So this article is really about the art and craft of subject lines.

Here is how it’s done

There are 2 components you should care about if you want to get an 80% open rate: Targeting & Originality.

It’s not more complicated than that.

Let me explain.

1. Targeting

You are probably addressing a population that suffers, like all of us, from email fatigue.

Email has become a source of stress. The flow is constant, unstoppable.

People are tired of it.

We are beyond email fatigue I think. It’s more like email exhaustion.

Keep that in mind. The people in your list, if they had to chose, they’d rather not receive anymore email.

It used to be true for only a few people, now it’s true for everyone.

So your job is to make sure you are 100% aligned with your target’s concerns.

I don’t know a better exercise than just picturing what the people in your list are thinking about.

Your job is to tell them what’s on their mind.

Just tell them about themselves.

Using the same voice and formatting.

It sounds like a simple advice.

Well, check your inbox.

How many subject lines talk about stuff you don’t care about?

How many subject lines are talking about a new feature coming out, a new article posted, a new special discount or even making a sales pitch directly in the subject line?

None of that talks about you!

None of that resonates with what happened to you that day or what you have planned for tomorrow or next week. None of that tells you what’s on your mind.

These companies sending dull emails are just talking about themselves, and they hope you will listen.

Here is a quick exercise that can help you.

Take the persona of your list.

By the way if you have a list that is not segmented. It’s time you did that. You should have a separate list for each persona.

Write down everything you think they do during a day. From the moment they wake up, to when they go to sleep. What have they been busy doing that day? Where did they do that, when did they do that? What was their biggest concern of the day? What did they wish was different?

This exercise will not only inform the subject line crafting, it will help you with all the rest as well (the content, the timing of the campaign, the CTA, etc).

2. Originality

Once you have a clear picture of the story your readers tell themselves and their concerns, take your pen.

It’s time to make some drafts.

Being aligned with the persona is a great start but how can you compete for attention in a cluttered mail box?

Remember, with 100’s of emails received everyday, you are competing.

And the competition is tough. You are competing with the boss’s emails, family emails, day-to-day emails… All these emails that are much more important than yours. You are, of course, also competing with other companies, even if they are not direct competitors!

Think about that. Where else do you have such a high level of competition?

You have to stand out.

another cluttered mailbox

Of course, your overall branding work helps. Fans of the brand will have a higher tendency to open the email. But that’s not even sure given the level of lousy subject lines I see everywhere.

Standing out requires that no other email reads like yours.

It requires that no other subject line reads like yours.

Think about all the boring subject lines they receive everyday. How can you make yours more funny or more informative or less formal or more graphic…?

It doesn’t matter what character you give it, it has to be remarkable.

It has to POP.

It’s actually a fantastic branding opportunity you should seize.

Using emojis, sure why not. Using short text (1 to 3 words), sure why not. Using personalisation, sure why not. Using just one letter, sure why not…

The tactics don’t matter as long as it POPs, relatively to all the other unread emails.

A cold email subject line I have had a lot of success with was a simple word: “Apologies”. It got people’s attention. You never receive an email like that. You have to click on it!

Now 2 warnings, whatever subject line you come up with, keep in mind these 2 things:

  • Never trick readers. Never send those nasty “RE:” or “About our meeting” subject lines to pretend it’s something it’s not. If you mislead the reader, it will backfire. Don’t burn bridges, don’t do it.
  • Never think your tone, styling, tactics won’t be copied. They will be copied. If you figured out clever subject lines and tactics once, you can do it again. Keep on being creative.

A few last pieces of advice:

  • Always chose shorter formats (3/4 words are enough).
  • Don’t forget to A/B test! Always iterate on what you think is working. You’d surprised on what works or not. Only the data can tell you.
  • A great subject line is useless, if you have nothing to say. Don’t send emails for the sake of it. Always have something important to say. It seems obvious, right? Well, sometimes you feel like newsletters are just scheduled for no other reason than spamming. Respect your readers’ time and they will respect you.

Hope this story was helpful. If you have issues with your open rate performance, drop a comment, I’ll help you out. Thanks for reading and leave some claps. :)