Get Better Email Engagement with Higher Email Open Rates

Hands holding a Samsung mobile phone while reading with an open email

There is nothing worse than pouring time and energy into a clever, targeted email campaign, only to have your email deleted without ever being read. Savvy marketers know that monitoring email open rates is a critical engagement signal that affects your entire email marketing strategy.

The wrong subject line will send your artfully crafted message to the trash bin and kill your email open rate. Luckily, a catchy subject line can help pull readers in.

What is Email Open Rate?

Email open rate is the percentage of emails opened by your email recipients. Email open rates are influenced by subject line, email body content, offers, CTAs, time of day, etc.

Words that Affect Email Open Rate

Here are a few common words and phrases to avoid when sending emails:

1. “Final” or “Last Chance”

While it may seem like using “hurry up” words like “final” or “last chance” would incite a sense of urgency, in fact, they have the opposite effect. While they certainly are dramatic, they elicit almost a “used car lot commercial” feeling. They feel pushy and desperate.

Let’s be honest—most email recipients realize that it’s only the “last chance” until the next email comes along. Avoid over-the-top words like these (and don’t pair the word “final” with anything—“final offer,” “final opportunity,” etc.); instead, try something a bit softer and conversational like “For a limited time…” or “We don’t want you to miss this…”

Don't let SPAM sensors hurt your email open rates.

TIP: You want your messages to see the eyes of your customers, not their spam folders.

2. “Reminder” or “Don’t Forget”

We all have a million things on our calendars. The last thing we want to do is to be reminded of one more. Especially if it’s an unsolicited email, attempting to masquerade its way onto our radar.

Readers can see right through this tactic. Instead of using chiding “reminder” words, try something like “Please join us for…” or “Will you save the date?” By offering a choice, you put the subconscious element of control back in the reader’s hands, and they are more likely to listen to what you have to say. A better unique open rate will follow a credible, transparent call-to-action in your subject line.

3. “Sale” or “Save”

Perhaps it’s because they are two of the most overused words in prospecting emails, but “sale” and “save” simply don’t draw in readers. Even when coupled with a specific amount (“save 50%,” for example), they don’t have the desired effect.

One interesting difference is when “save” is used in the context of “save-the-date.” Readers are more receptive when there is an invitation attached, rather than a dollar amount. No one wants to miss a good party! If you need to communicate a special sale, try catering to the “save-the-date” concept and say something like “A special savings event for you” or “Join us for special savings.”

4. “Offer” or “Discount”

TIP: Don’t come off as desperate and rushed in your messages. Craft your words to be more inviting and suggestive.

Similarly to the words we just talked about, “offer” and “discount” are also reader repellents. They are overused and tend to under deliver, so they get ignored.

Instead of waving a discount around in your subject line, try a more subtle approach like “For our valued customers” or “Let us earn your business.” Again, putting your customer on a pedestal and offering them the choice of doing business with you or not will go a long way toward ensuring that they do.

Don't let poor word choices hurt your email open rates.

5. “Free”

Last, but not least, is everyone’s favorite standby word “free.” It may seem counterintuitive that this word is such a dud when it comes to click rates; after all, everyone loves “free stuff,” right? Unfortunately, nothing is free, and the human psyche knows it.

Readers tend to flip on their “cynic switch” when they see the word “free,” and your message is ignored. Try using words like “complimentary” or “a gift for you.” They’ll elicit a better response naturally and create intrigue, leading to a better email click rate.

Email Open Rate Tactics

Nothing is worse than crafting an email that will never be read. If you don’t set yourself up for success by improving your email open rate, then you’re probably wasting your time. So, how do you predict open rate success and what does it look like?

Across all industries, average open rates for email marketing hover around 17.92% but can certainly vary above and below that line. Do you know your current open rate? Do you know what might be hurting your open rate? Have you applied an open rate formula to your campaigns?

Before you do anything else, stop and take stock of how your emails are performing right now. Don’t get down if the numbers aren’t as high as you would like. Luckily, there are some easy ways to keep your message out of the dreaded “junk” folder. Here are some tips to ensure that your reader is intrigued enough to open your emails and listen to what you have to say.

1. Offer a Sneak Peek

Readers hate to scroll through long emails. If your subject line promises a discount code or a free download, put the code or download instructions in the first couple of lines of your email. It will show up in the email preview and incentivize your reader to click on the body of the email to make a purchase or complete the download.

Each subsequent line in your email should play on the overall benefit to the reader to engage them through the entire message. Don’t hide the “prize” deep inside your message. Be transparent and make it simple for your reader to benefit from clicking on your email. They’ll be much more likely to do it again the next time you reach out to them.

2. Be Direct

Especially when you’re building a new audience, it’s crucial to keep your subject lines, short and direct. While a clever subject line might induce an initial click, if your reader finds that the subject line was misleading in relation to the email content, they won’t click through your links. Even worse, they won’t bother to click on the next message you send.

Be direct and build credibility with your subject lines. List the specifics of your discount or message. Avoid slang and language that could be confusing. Get to the point, and you’ll get readers to click.

3. Make it Visual

You may have noticed that more organizations are incorporating symbols and images into their subject lines. While this tactic should be used sparingly, it can create enough interest to make your reader click to read your email.

Make sure the images are closely tied to the subject of your email, and again—don’t use this tactic with every message. If it’s enough of a departure from your usual subject line, it will draw attention; if you drown every subject line in symbols, you will only hurt your cause and dilute your message.

  • TIP #1: Visual components like symbols or emojis can be incorporated in a subject line to make it stand out.
  • TIP #2: Whatever you tease in your subject line should be one of the first things seen in the body of the actual email.

Over to you

There is a fine line between crafting an assertive subject line and an off-putting subject line. Put yourself in the shoes of your reader when you write. What grabs your attention? What makes you hit “delete?” Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, but do it in a way that makes your reader trust you, and your open rates will skyrocket.

How to Craft the Perfect Follow Up Email

As with every digital marketing tactic, finding the right “flavor” for your subject lines takes some practice and refinement.

Don’t forget to measure after every campaign and make adjustments where necessary. By continually striving to make your messaging relevant, transparent and noticeable, you’ll increase open rates and digital readership. It’s a cost-effective way to gain prospects and strengthen relationships with your current customers.

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Avatar for Eric Steiner

Eric Steiner

Eric Steiner graduated with an MFA in professional and creative writing from Western Connecticut State University in 2014. He's worked on a number of professional writing projects with clients such as Pearson Education, WatchMojo.com, and Michael Mailer Films. Giving brands a voice is his passion.


Avatar for Eric Steiner

Eric Steiner

Eric Steiner graduated with an MFA in professional and creative writing from Western Connecticut State University in 2014. He's worked on a number of professional writing projects with clients such as Pearson Education, WatchMojo.com, and Michael Mailer Films. Giving brands a voice is his passion.