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Are your email open rates so dismal you’re tempted to remove this plank from your promotional platform for good?

In recent years, we’ve seen more articles predicting email’s demise amid the birth of instant chat apps like Slack. However, reports of its demise are premature. Dollar-per-dollar, email outreach still offers a better ROI than any other digital marketing platform.

If your email marketing approach isn’t generating the level of engagement you’d like, maybe it’s time to reconsider how you craft campaigns.

Here are a few ideas that work.

Elements of Powerful Email Outreach

You could be the Hemingway of email crafting, but this means nothing if no one opens your messages. The average person receives dozens of emails every day. Despite the true spam that clogs up inboxes, most people don’t mind getting offers in their inbox as long as they’re relevant and provide value.

There are three components of an effective email, which we’ll break out into more detail in this post:

  1. Intriguing subject lines
  2. Compelling content
  3. Actionable conclusions

It sounds like a simple process. Let the recipient know who you are, what you have to offer, and what they need to do to get it. Then, follow through and deliver the goods. Unfortunately, there is a lot of room for error in this simplicity.

Let’s take each step one at a time.

1. Subject Lines: It’s All in the Approach

The first step toward gaining higher open rates is the teaser. Brainstorm an intriguing subject line that begs further reading. Test various subject lines and keep those with the best response.

There are several possible approaches that will create curiosity or generate interest from your contacts.

  • Harness the power of questions

    Whatever your business, your ultimate goal is to solve problems. Consider how you can address a specific issue and pose questions that you would want answered if you were receiving that message. Try this one on for size:

Are you a zombie without your morning coffee?

This simple question can tweak a reader’s interest enough that they can’t help reading on to find out how the query fits into their own life.

Just make sure that the body of your email provides the answer or they’ll feel cheated.

  • Be unique

    Being unique doesn’t mean using gimmicks, and it definitely doesn’t mean being deceptive in any way. Give your subject line a little personality without attempting to be overly clever or cute by using creative wording that’s brief, compelling, and appropriate to the situation. A newer trend is to judiciously place emojis in the subject line, and it’s getting a lot of favorable response.

For examples and best ways to do this, check out our post on how to use emojis in subject lines.

Just keep in mind that a little of this strategy goes a long ways. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that if one emoji is good then nine would be, well, nine times better. It doesn’t work that way.

  • Get personal

    People like to feel that companies care about them as a person. Using names, both yours and the recipient’s — without being repetitive or creepy — helps establish a rapport between you and the reader. Many automated mailing systems even offer built-in personalization capabilities that add a more intimate touch no matter how big your subscriber list. Also, avoid using terms like “subscribers” or “lists” when interacting with customers.

Good: Don’t miss this discount!

Better: Hey, Bob, we want to give you a discount!

Which would you be more tempted to open (assuming you’re Bob)?

Short and Sweet: We’d love your feedback.

Long, boring, tedious, example: We’d love to know more from you about how we’re doing! Share your feedback with us by taking this survey.

For a comprehensive guide to crafting subject lines, check this post right here.

2. Content is Still King


Once you get them to open your email, make sure it contains something relevant and useful. If you asked a question in your subject line, answer it in the body of the email. Let recipients know why you’re messaging them and what they will gain by the interaction. 

Don’t be afraid to infuse a sense of urgency. No one wants to miss out on a deal or an exciting event. Just make sure that if you set a deadline to act, it isn’t an arbitrary or false one. You should also make sure to close with a clear call to action.

Many response rates suffer because there’s no clear or actionable directive. If you want someone to buy now, reserve a seat at your webinar, or otherwise act, make sure to tell them so in your message.

As with subject lines, making an email personal helps build relationships. Great response is obtained by crafting nurturing emails that demonstrate empathy or concern for the recipient’s plight or a shared problem. You can even get creative and tell a story. Ever since Gog stood around the campfire and regaled the tribe with a scintillating re-telling of the latest woolly mammoth hunt, people have loved a good narrative. It’s how our brains work.

Check out this deeper discussion of why and how you should create story-based emails. Also, don’t forget to compare the examples to your own – even if it hurts.  

3. Useful Hacks That Will Keep You Out of Spam Filters

Spam has a bad rep for a reason. Black hat practices, junk mail, and scammers have left a sour taste in the mouths of many consumers. Customer demand has forced email service providers to develop machine learning algorithms and other ways of detecting spam mails and removing them from inboxes before their customers ever have to see them.



These screening methods are so effective, 21 percent of customer-authorized email from reputable companies is redirected to spam folders. The following tips will help you avoid junk mail purgatory.

Always keep in mind that your email campaigns are an extension of your brand and act with the same integrity you would with all customer interactions. You can increase the odds of your emails making it to the desired recipients by taking a few precautions.

Many reputable email marketing services like have sprung up like daisies in the field in recent years. It’s a good idea to find one you’re comfortable with and use it. For serious marketers, the days of laboriously sending out email blasts through your ISP are gone, and good riddance.Today’s top services are well-versed in keeping your email highly deliverable and out of the spam folder.  

What Not to Do

  • Never buy or sell email addresses, and beware of using methods like scraping or email harvesting to build your list. As with Google, inorganic, deceptive methods of building engagement are punished.
  • Make sure that your email recipients have opted-in to your subscriber list. Using double opt-in method provides an extra layer of assurance.
  • Always gain permission from subscribers before sending emails for each new email campaign, even if they’re returning customers.
  • Include an unsubscribe option and link with each message.
  • Use an email verification method each time someone subscribes to your newsletter or mailing list.
  • Contact subscribers to welcome them within 24 hours of signup.
  • Be consistent and transparent. If you promise a monthly newsletter, don’t start messaging daily with unrelated offers.
  • Mind your metadata. Spam filters are always on the lookout for unsolicited emails and scams. Use the merge function to personalize your recipient list and request that subscribers add you to their address book.

The Bottom Line

Email isn’t dead, but tired, generic outreach is. This type of marketing works much the same as any other relationship building effort. Start with a smooth approach, deliver a compelling message, and live up to promise.

What tips do you have for getting your emails opened and read? Tell us in the comments!

Sam Bocetta is a retired computer engineer who spent much of his career tinkering with Naval ballistics and EWTR systems. Bocetta now writes for The Strategy Bridge as an independent correspondent, and teaches part time at Algonquin Community College in Ottawa, Canada. Find him on LinkedIn.

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