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9 Reasons Your Emails Suck: Hacking Your Terrible Open Rates

Posted by David O'Sullivan

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image credit: rahul rodriguez via flickr cc

Consumers form impressions about your email marketing communications in a fraction of a second.

In barely more time than it takes to blink, people decide whether your email offers look like helpful information or spam. That’s right, your sender field and subject line can play a huge role in determining whether your email gets opened or sent straight to the trash.

Why Your Email Open Rates Suck

Some 64% of consumers open emails based on the subject line alone. Despite plenty of vocal detractors, it’s true that email has the highest ROI of any form of marketing. Your businesses’ ability to nurture leads, convert customers, and entice your existing clients to  buy again may depend on your ability to communicate effectively through email. In this blog, you’ll learn how to create the right impression in mere milliseconds. More importantly, you’ll gain the knowledge to ensure your open rates go from terrible to exemplary.

1. Your Subject Line is Spammy

Did you know 69% of consumers report communications as spam solely based on the email subject line? Even communications from legitimate brands may get the dreaded “spam” label if they fit some patterns that consumers automatically associate with “discount diet pills” or other common email spam offers.

Email spam filter algorithms are also increasingly complex and adept at semantic processing. If your subject lines fit any of the most common triggers, your messages could be disposed of by email platforms before your contacts even have a chance to see them.

MailChimp reports that some of the most common subject line spam associations in terms of content include:

  • The promise of something “urgent”
  • Money talk, or a “money back guarantee”
  • References to mortgages, prescriptions, or weight loss pills
  • Discussion of a “breakthrough”

Additional triggers for consumers and spam filters can include:

  • Too many exclamation points!!!!!!!
  • Anything overly enthusiastic, like “Click here right now!”
  • Commonly abused words, including “free,” “income,” “cash,” “balding,” “cures,” “no obligation,” “once in a lifetime,” and more.


Our friends over at Automational wrote a really great breakdown of hot "trigger" words to avoid in your emails. Read it here: 438 Spam Trigger Words to Avoid And Why Context Matters More

2. Your Subject Line is Unremarkable

Email subject lines should typically be around 50 characters or less, though some research indicates that shorter is even better. If you thought writing engaging Tweets was hard, this can be even more difficult. Your brand literally just has a few words to make a major impression.

Subject lines are definitely not the time to be too boring. They’re also not the right space to use really complex language. A/B testing your email subject lines can ensure you’re able to determine the patterns and content types that resonate best with your buyers. Effective email subject lines may:

  • Are clear about the value of your offer or content
  • Impart urgency without being too pushy
  • Avoid false promises
  • Quantify the benefit or timeline
  • Ask questions
  • Specifically reference your persona’s pain points or priorities

3. It’s Not Personalized

Personalization is a powerful tool for marketers. It’s particularly effective for moments when you really need to grab someone’s attention in an instant, like email marketing. Adestra reports that personalized email subject lines can result in 22% higher open rates.

Adding your contact’s first name to an email can significantly improve your metrics. Perhaps best of all, this brilliant hack is incredibly simple in HubSpot, MailChimp, and other major email marketing platforms.

4. It’s Not From a Person or Brand

Have you ever received a marketing email listed from “Admin” or “Marketing” or another functional title that really wasn’t a name at all? It likely felt sloppy, unprofessional, and perhaps even annoying.

For organizations using emails for lead nurturing, attaching your marketing communications to a real human’s name is essential. It just feels more personal and effective. However, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, and companies in the eCommerce space may fare better when communicating from an email labeled as their company’s name.

5. You Have Poor or Outdated Segmentation

Email lists need to actively be managed. Even well-designed segments aren’t continually effective. Customers who had a need for baby products five years ago probably have no need for diapers today. Consumer needs are rapidly-changing, and failing to manage your lists and segments can result in irrelevant targeted messaging, and a poor response.

If your segmentation efforts are minimal or outdated, you’re far from alone. 52% of marketers admit their segmentation could use some serious improvement. If you’re just getting started tailoring your prospects’ communications, consider the following factors to divide your email list into segments:

  • Buyer Persona
  • Engagement Level (Frequency of Interaction with Your Site)
  • Lead Qualification
  • Stage in the Buyer’s Journey

6. Your Consumers Aren’t Opting In Properly

If you begin emailing your contacts with a fervor immediately after they subscribe to your blog or download a whitepaper, the issue might not be the quality of your messaging. They might not have the faintest idea who you are, or what you’re trying to sell them.

Marketers should ensure positive deliverability and a strong response to email marketing by designing an effective opt-in process. After a new contact gives you their email address, ensure you’ve got their permission to communicate by asking them to click a link to confirm their interest.

Actively managing contact expectations by stating they can expect to hear from you twice or three times a week is also an important way to ensure your messages are always welcome.

7. Few Behavioral Triggers

Are your emails sent in response to your customer or prospect’s behavior? If your emails are being blasted out on a schedule that fits your marketing team’s needs, your clients could be ignoring your communications since the timing just isn’t opportune. Smart Insights reports that behaviorally-triggered emails have 71% higher open rates on average than non-automated communications.

Behavioral events that can and should trigger personalized marketing communications can include:

  • Cart abandonment for eCommerce brands
  • Downloading a lead generation offer
  • Subscribers becoming inactive (transfer into a lost leads reactivation campaign)
  • Highly engaged subscribers (transfer into an accelerated nurturing campaign)
  • Automated reminders to re-order or repurchase products

8. Your List is “Dirty”

Email addresses expire at an astounding rate. Consumers abandon email addresses regularly. B2B contacts expire as individuals leave companies or change jobs. Your email list needs to be cleaned at least every six months to ensure you’re not emailing dead ends, which can result in “hard bounces.” Failing to remove invalid contacts can trigger spam algorithms, and companies with at least 10% hard bounces lose over half their deliverability potential.

9. You’re Already Blacklisted

A history of spammy, low-quality or irrelevant email marketing hosted can result in your domain being blacklisted by major email platforms. If your email open rates are abysmal, despite recent efforts to hit all of these best practices, your emails might not even be getting seen by your prospects.

Email deliverability is an immensely complex subject. However, the right place to start if you suspect that you may be blacklisted is by checking your sender score at ReturnPath. Sender score is a bit like a credit score among major spam algorithms, and is an objective measure of your potential reputation for email marketing.

This blog is the first part of an ongoing series Seamonster Marketing will be creating on improving your email marketing metrics! Stay tuned over the coming weeks for additional insights on how to improve your email mobile experience, deliverability, email copy, and much more.

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