What Influences Email Open Rates the Most

Just how much control do you have over email open rates? A lot more than you may realise, actually. Every single day, consumers are bombarded with messages from brands – through social media, text messaging and email.

Thanks to constant growth within mobile technology, brands have more ways to reach their target audiences than ever before. Email can be an extremely effective way to engage, connect and encourage clicks that lead to sales. Making sure that your message is seen is vital however. Unopened emails are a sure-fire death to any e-marketing plan. Learning how to adapt your strategies to the ever-changing needs of consumers is key to increasing your email open rates.

How do you go about doing that? Let’s take a look.

The Biggest Factors That Influence Email Open Rates

A number of factors play a part in determining whether an email is opened or not. Some of the most important factors to consider include the following:

1. Mobile


Image: Epsilon

According to the Epsilon Q3 2014 email trends and benchmarks report, a study conducted in the United States, email click rates continue to decrease year upon year. Interestingly enough however, email open rates saw a slight increase of 6.5% from 2013 to 2014 – largely due to the increase in mobile engagement. While mobile devices make it easier for consumers to access email on the go, they may not be as likely to click through to purchase from a phone or tablet. Lesson here: how your audience reads email is very significant. Are your emails responsive? Is it easy for readers to click through to news, deals, offers and other on-site information? Consider evaluating your newsletters and email campaigns, doing comprehensive testing on various mobile devices to ensure that emails can be easily read and accessed from any device.

2. Message

Message Type

Image: Epsilon

The Epsilon report also has some interesting data on messages, which can also greatly influence open rates. In the Epsilon study, 59% of emails were categorised as marketing messages. Marketing messages had a 24.1% open rate in 2014. Service emails comprised just 5% of total message categories, but had an open rate percentage of 57.1%. Lesson to be learned here: with so many marketing messages being broadcast everywhere, all the time, yours will have to shine if you want it to be opened. Also, having a specific purpose to your email might get it opened. Take a good, hard look at your marketing emails, and determine whether they have what it takes to stand out. Are you sending out too many promotional emails each week? Are your subject lines on the boring side? Are they a bit too aggressive? Is your message clearly communicating your offer? It can be very useful to closely examine your marketing emails to see where they can be improved in order for your message to be heard right from the moment the email arrives in your customer’s inbox.

3. Delivery

Return Path 2016 Deliverability Benchmark

Image: Return Path

As obvious as it sounds, your email open rates may be low simply because the emails are not getting into your audience’s inbox. To quote another global study by Return Path (source: Return Path 2016 Deliverability Benchmark), one in five emails failed to reach the inbox. Spam has been a constant thorn in the side of email marketers ever since email became a thing over four decades ago. Emails need to get past gateways and spam filters before reaching the inbox. Along the way, they can all too easily be re-routed into junkmail… sometimes purely from a badly worded subject line. Spam filters look at a few different things when sorting the good from the bad. Sender reputation, subscriber engagement and content are the biggest criteria that are considered. If you are an established brand with a large email subscriber base and a stellar newsletter strategy, you will likely have better chance of going straight to inbox. If you are a new brand, or just starting out with an email marketing campaign, it may be a bit of a longer journey. The lesson here: make absolutely, 100% sure that your emails are free of any possible elements that could send them to spam folders. Always send your emails from the same IP address, avoid sending out emails too often, check that subject lines, images, text, headers, footers and HTML are spam-free and always, and we mean always, follow an opt-in email strategy.

4. Timing

Image: MailChimp

Are you sending out emails at the right time, or are they arriving when your key audience is fast asleep in their beds? Timing is everything in email marketing. While you could follow a general guideline on the best time to send emails, the danger of this approach is that it only tells you what is best for most people, rather than what is best for your specific mailing list. A/B testing is often the simplest way to get hard data on timing. When you know your audience, their habits and the best time to reach them, you can start to craft perfectly timed emails that are far more likely to be opened. This is why marketing automation can be such a hugely effective tool – it allows you to carefully plan your email strategy so that emails are sent at the right time, to the right audience, with the right message. The lesson here: take the time to do comprehensive split testing. If you have a global following, consider segmented emails that are organised and sent according to time zones as well as specific audiences and messages.

5. Subject Lines

Image: eConsultancy

A study done by Convince and Convert shows that a whopping 35% of consumers open an email on the subject line alone. Think about that for a second… that means that a large proportion of potential readers may lose out on your message, solely because of how you have worded your subject line. A very interesting study conducted by eConsultancy showed that emoticons can also effect your email open rates. While this may not always be suitable for some industries, a well-placed happy face can result in up to 65.75% more opens than average. The lesson here: do some homework on powerful words to include in your subject lines. While you’re at it, think about how you can jazz up your subject lines with emoticons. But take note – using any old smiley face won’t cut it. The way to make emoticons work is to use them sparingly and correctly. For example, you could use a heart for a Valentine’s Day promotion, a food or drink icon for a restaurant promo, a star for a winner, a plane for a travel related email and a gift icon for a freebie.

At the end of the day, no single factor influences email open rates. It can be something as simple as a subject line not hitting the mark, or an email getting lost in spam. It could be down to your automation strategy (or lack thereof). It could be your entire campaign. By carefully reviewing your emails, as well as your overall strategy, and continuing to do testing on a regular basis, you will be able to increase your email open rates.


Need assistance with getting started? Grapevine provides world-class solutions for brands and companies wanting to leverage the power of email marketing. Contact us today to learn more about our marketing automation solutions.

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