How To Increase Your Open Rates

How To Increase Your Open Rates (They’re Wrong But…)

Want to know how to increase the open rate of your emails? We talked about open rates before. And you'll probably already know that we believe they're wrong. 

But regardless of what the data says (and whether it's right or wrong), you still want people to open your emails.

So how do you do that? 

Here you go.

You're welcome!


(0:11) Want to make your sales from your email marketing? Grab our Click Tricks.
(5:23) Why your open rates are wrong.
(10:12) Your reputation is what gets people to open your emails.
(15:00) Create compound curiosity and use open loops.
(18:54) Write shorter emails.
(20:15) Be regular and become a habit in someone's life. 
(25:48) Remove benefits from your subject lines.
(28:41) Build a list of people who want to read your emails.
(31:12) Vary the lenght of your subject lines and break patterns.
(35:36) Subject line of the week.

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Why your open rates are wrong 

We’ve been talking for years about the fact that open rates are wrong, and now we're telling you how to improve them? Don't worry – we haven’t changed our minds. Generally speaking, open rates are wrong – they might be higher or lower than whatever number you see in your email marketing platform. It's probably lower, but it's hard to tell.

And you certainly should never make any decisions at the back of an individual subscriber opening (or not opening) an email. Because the technology used to track open rates is flawed. Some platforms (like Apple) tend to mark all emails as open and others (like Android) mark them all as unopened. So you can't trust that number.

But what you can do is look at the overarching number of emails sent over a certain period of time and work out whether the open rate was up or down relative to the previous day. Open rates are consistently inaccurate, but they're incorrect relative to one another.

Having said that, if you notice your open rates have gone up over the last few months, it may not mean you're doing something brilliantly. It could be because everyone's open rates have gone up in the reporting over the past few months. This is simply a change in the number displayed by your email platform – it doesn't mean more people are opening your emails.

But while we don't want to pay too much attention to that number, we do need people to open our emails. So let's talk about the strategies to your subscribers to do just that, regardless of what your open rates say.  

Your reputation is what gets people to open your emails

The first thing we want you to realise is that what gets your emails opened is not your subject line – it’s your reputation. And the evidence of that is in the fact that if you get an email from a friend or family, you’ll open it – regardless of what’s in the subject line (or even if that’s empty). But if the email comes from a source that doesn’t sound trustworthy or beneficial to you, you'll leave it (and might even hit the spam button) – no matter what the subject line is.

This proves that what counts is your reputation – that's what gets your emails opened. Seeing your name in their inbox triggers a deep, subconscious, reflex response to make someone open your email and read it. And they'll do that because they know you're not a spammy person and because they'll get value or entertainment out of your email. So don't trick people with your subject lines by saying it's going to be about something and then make it about something else! That will ruin your reputation, and people won't trust you again. 

How to improve your reputation

To improve your reputation, make sure you send good emails that aren't predictable. What is the emotion people experience when they read your emails? Do they feel let down? Or are they left feeling like what they read was good, interesting, and valuable? Did they learn something or get something out of it?

If you trick someone into opening your emails today, you might get a better open rate tomorrow. But your overall open rate will be hugely damaged. So think about your subject lines as a tool that gives people a reason to read today's email as opposed to yesterday's or tomorrow's. Always try to come up with more interesting ones, but also be aware that your subject lines aren't going to be the best every single day – you may have days when you send very factual ones and not see a spike in open rates, compared to the days when you send really witty ones. And that's okay. Because your reputation is what gets your emails opened – not your subject lines. 

Create compound curiosity

When you do write your subject lines, you want to give people a reason to open your emails. And we see a lot of people trying to do this but getting it a bit wrong. 

For example, if you use the subject line “How I made $20,000 last month using a free Facebook group”, it sounds like you’re triggering curiosity. But this subject line already answers all the questions someone might have. We now know that you can make a bunch of money using a free Facebook group, so we now have no reason to open that email.  

Instead, you want to create compound curiosity, a technique where you include more than one curious element in your subject line. We covered this before, so go and check out the episode here.

Use open loops

Another thing we do is to use open loops either within our emails or at the end of them to boost open rates for our following emails. We have two ways of doing this – one more overt and one more subtle. 

The overt way of doing it is to raise a thought or a question that doesn’t get answered, acknowledged or completed until the next email. It’s a bit like when you’re walking down the street and see someone whose face you recognise but you can’t think where you know them from. It nags at you all day until you remember. Because we can’t deal with the idea of an open, unfinished thought or loop. So to tap into this, tell your subscribers that you were going to say something in an email, but you'll tell them tomorrow instead.

The more subtle way of doing this is to tell a story. And at the end of it, you casually say you'll carry on another time. You wave that bit of information into the middle of a story and continue the story the next day – that's an open loop.  

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Write shorter emails

In our membership The League, we get results for people because we teach you how to flip logic around and use psychology, which is not so logical. We think we're logical beings, but we're really not. So always think about non-logical ways to go about things.

And something you can do to go against the grain and be different is to make your emails shorter. This saves you time when writing but also allows you to share emails that are more to the point. So when someone sees your name in their inbox, they'll find time to read it. If they know your emails are very long, they might leave them for another day. And then before they know it, you've sent more, and they have a backlog they aren't likely to clear.

So don't do that. Keep your emails shorter, build a reputation for being someone who sends shorter emails, and you'll get more of your subscribers to consume your message. 

Be regular 

The next thing you can do is to be regular with your emails, so you become a habit in someone’s life. If your emails are sporadic, that's very difficult to do.  In fact, you’re more likely to be an interruption. Your emails don’t necessarily have to be daily (although we believe they should be), but the more regular you are, the better. When you send out emails regularly, people know when to expect them and when to go and read them. 

Ideally, what you want to do is to link existing behaviours and habits that people already have with reading your emails. If you send your emails every day first thing in the morning, for example, people are likely to read them when they're having their cup of tea and coffee. You're helping them link an existing habit with reading your emails, which means your subscribers are more likely to proactively go to their inbox to look for your email. 

So tell them what you're going to do. When will you send your emails out? What can they expect from you? What are you committing to do? Be open about that because it’s that repetition that ingrains the habit and then links habits together.

By the way, you may have noticed that none of the strategies we mentioned are ‘tricks' or ‘hacks' – they’re not quick, and they’re not loopholes. They involve building a list of people who want to receive your emails and hear from you every day – that’s the real secret. Because those are the people who will open your emails. This is how a psychology-based approach to email marketing works. It’s not about shortcuts – it's about the beliefs you build and the behaviours you display that make you a more influential person.

Remove benefits from your subject lines 

Another tip we have for you is to remove benefits from your subject lines. Because there are only so many ways you can send a subject line about “How to increase your open rates”, for example. And this works for any topic. Sooner or later, your audience will get bored of that approach. Benefit-driven subject lines remove a lot of the mystery from an email, and they actually reduce the reasons to open it.  

Instead, you want your emails to include something interesting or valuable so that if people aren’t ready to buy from you yet, they can still get something out of your emails. And knowing that is what will make them decide to open your emails and read them. So don't talk about what the email is going to do for them. Instead, make it curiosity-driven and interesting – tell a story.

Most of our emails are story-driven, so the majority of our subject lines are plucked directly from the story and are riddled with curiosity – people can't glean anything from them. If they want to find out what the email is about, they have to open it and read it.

If you use the subject line, “How to grow your list with a Facebook group”, for example, people will assume what it's all about, and a lot of them won't even open it. You're also alienating people who don't have or want a Facebook group. That's because often, with benefit-driven subject lines, people make their minds up about what they're about and don't open them.  

Build a list of people who want to read your emails 

Also, because you want to attract people to your list who want to receive your emails, you need to make sure there's a strong link between the reason they're joining your list and what you talk about in your emails on a day-to-day basis. So if we were to create a lead magnet to help people build an email list using a Facebook group, we might attract someone who is more interested in social media marketing than email marketing. And they wouldn't be right for our list.

So make your daily emails one of the reasons why people want to join your list. And once they do, be very brutal. Remove those who aren't engaging, and you'll see your open rate go up. It sounds like a false economy, but the people who aren’t opening your emails are damaging your ability to deliver. You tend to end up in a vicious circle with fewer people opening your emails because your emails aren’t even getting delivered!

So make sure you do some form of engagement monitoring. You also want to run re-engagement sequences regularly, just like our LOL Revival campaign. This is something we always encourage our members to make a priority. And that's because it positively impacts your ability to be effective in your email marketing. 

Vary the length of your subject lines

Another tip we have on how to increase your open rates is to vary the length of your subject lines to keep them varied. For example, you could have a subject line that’s just one word. Or a short subject line where every word starts with a capital letter. Or you could use an emoji or a full stop at the end of your subject line. 

In other words, vary the look and feel, style, and length of your subject lines, so they’re all different. Think about scanning down your own email inbox and looking at subject lines. The ones that stand out to you are probably those that are a bit different. Most subject lines are quite long, so they tend to be cut and not fully displayed. But if you see one that's really short, you’re drawn to that.  

Break patterns! 

And finally, based on everything we covered here, think about breaking patterns. Observe the behaviours and patterns that you and your competitors are building, and find ways to break them. 

We always advise you to subscribe to your competitors' emails, for example. And it's not because you want to copy them, but because you want to be different! If they email at a certain time of day, pick a different time. That means you aren't competing for people’s attention.

Break the patterns – even within your own routine if necessary. For example, if you send an email every morning and suddenly you email a second time in the afternoon or the evening, that will grab your audience's attention. Because that's not what you normally do. So notice your own patterns, and from time to time, break them. That's what we do.

Subject Lines That Make Sales

If you want to find out more and go deeper into this topic, we have a whole training inside The League (called Subject Lines That Make Sales), so if you’re not already a member go and check it out.

You can also have a look at the campaigns we have in there. With more than 30 email sequences and frameworks available, you'll be able to build a reputation and an arc across all your campaigns. And, in turn, that will help you increase your open rates. Every strategy we mentioned here is already baked inside our campaigns so you can use these techniques to get people to open your emails and take the next action to click and buy from you.  


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Subject line of the week

This week’s subject line is “Message from Orlando.” We’ve done variations of this quite a lot, like “Postcard from…” or “Letter from…” for example. Typically, we use these subject lines when one of us is away (or both of us are), and we’ve got something to say from that place.

It works because it’s full of compound curiosity. People will be wondering what the message is, who’s in Orlando, or, in this case, which Orlando is sending the message (is it Orlando Bloom??) So if you’re in an unusual place or somewhere different, this is a great one to try out.

Useful Episode Resources

Related episodes

The Surprising Thing That REALLY Impacts Your Email Deliverability.

What to do if you have a high unsubscribe rate.

Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Your Unsubscribe Rate.

FREE list of the top 10 books to improve your email marketing

If you want to write better emails, come up with better content, and move your readers to click and buy, here's how. We put together this list of our Top 10 most highly recommended books that will improve all areas of your email marketing (including some underground treasures that we happened upon, which have been game-changing for us). Grab your FREE list here

Join our FREE Facebook group

If you want to chat about how you can maximise the value of your email list and make more money from every subscriber, we can help! We know your business is different, so come and hang out in our FREE Facebook group, the Email Marketing Show Community for Course Creators and Coaches. We share a lot of training and resources, and you can talk about what you're up to.

Try ResponseSuite for $1

This week's episode is sponsored by ResponseSuite.com, the survey quiz and application form tool that we created specifically for small businesses like you to integrate with your marketing systems to segment your subscribers and make more sales. Try it out for 14 days for just $1.

Join The League Membership

Not sick of us yet? Every day we hang out in our amazing community of Email Marketing Heroes. We share all of our training and campaigns and a whole bunch of other stuff. If you're looking to learn how to use psychology-driven marketing to level up your email campaigns, come and check out The League Membership. It's the number one place to hang out and grow your email marketing. Best news yet? You can apply everything we talk about in this show.

Subscribe and review The Email Marketing Show podcast

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