Internet marketers, business consultants, and entrepreneurs obsess over optimising email open rates. With the evolution of email direct marketing, it's clear that email isn't dead. It has simply evolved. And it can mean the difference between a thriving business or a limping failure. But what are the best practices? Here are some tips for improving email open rates:

1. Straightforward Headline

That's right. Instead of trying to give everything away and excite the reader, it turns out that simply stating what's in the content of the email can be the most effective (link 1) way of writing your headline. The difference in open rates can be immense: as much as a 60% spread between simple, straightforward headlines and "clever" ones.

You don't want your headline to sound like an advertisement in a paper. This tone sounds like shouting and, even worse, it sounds like spam. Which leads us to the next point:

2. Don't Trigger the Spam Filter

Even worse than your target customer viewing your email subject and choosing not to open it is when their email client's spam filter decides to weed it out first. Studies show that only about 80% (link 2) of emails ever reach the intended recipient's inbox in the first place. When 20% of your efforts are carved away immediately, you're facing an uphill battle.

Spam filters, such as SpamAssassin, have become very sophisticated. There are a number of triggers that will cue these filters to through your mail into the junk pile. This is true even for permission email marketing. For example, if your content talks about finances and money incessantly, mentions common offer verbiage like "Satisfaction Guaranteed," or contains words that imply a sense of urgency, your email might not make the cut. To improve your chances, avoid the following:

  • Using terms like "Click Now!" or "Act Now Before This Offer Ends!"
  • Overuse of exclamation points!!!
  • Using difficult to read font colours such as bright orange or yellow
  • Using Images Only (filters can't read .jpg or other visual formats, so they will think you are trying to implement a tricky work-around)
  • Sending the email to multiple individuals within the same business (the spam filters may assume you are implementing an attack)
  • Emailing a disengaged list (when your list subscribers stop interacting with your emails, this will actually be recorded and filters will assume you are spamming them)
  • Sending to an old list (if it's been longer than 5 or 6 months, you may have to re-confirm that individuals want to be on your list)

3. Work on Crafting Quality Content

If you have incorrectly formatted html, such as that caused by importing directly from Microsoft Word and similar text editors, you could not only trip spam filters but leave a bad impression of your brand. Crafting quality content is the heart of a solid email marketing campaign.

In addition to the importance of open rates as they pertain to filters, your readers will be more likely to open and read your emails if they know that you always deliver high quality material. Boring, mediocre writing won't make it into their reading selection a second time. Be sure to focus on what they want and need, and avoid taking a promotional tone.

3. Build the Relationship

Shotgun marketing, also known as "shout" marketing, no longer works. Just 10 or 15 years ago, companies attempted to get customers' attention simply by intruding on their daily life. The modern consumer has a deficit of time and attention. That means it's not enough to use the tips above to write just one killer email. You've got to keep it going.

After you've established your unique value proposition with your first introductory email, it's time to implement a strategy of following up. If you don't, your list will grow stagnant and your lifetime value for each customer will plummet (meaning your relative cost-per-acquisition will continue to rise).

To avoid this fate, you need to test, test, and test some more. Modern email campaign software allows you to track open rates based on the time of day, subject line, length of content, and more. Use this to your advantage to plan the ideal time period to follow up with additional emails.

Marketing is all about trust. By appearing consistently in your readers' inboxes and building a reputation for providing value, you can form a lasting relationship with them. The result is that you'll train your readers to open all of your emails, letting you promote your products when their buying temperature is the highest.


Email marketing is still an incredibly powerful tool in any business' arsenal. The amount of time that people spend in their inbox is staggering. However, in order to get a piece of that action, you must earn it. By understanding how email direct marketing works, you can set yourself for success from the beginning. Avoid the common mistakes that trip spam filters, write relevant content, and implement a system of timely emails and follow ups based on the tips above to see excellent results with your email marketing campaign.