7 Ways to Get Your Email Opened

It’s rare that I receive any kind of new or noteworthy email. Most of them all look and sound the same. I imagine your inbox looks the same as mine.

That’s why one of the biggest challenges in email marketing (just like direct mail) is figuring out

How to Get Your Email Opened!

You have two snippets of text to work with: your name and your subject line.

Personally, I believe the most valuable of the two is your name.

Here’s why…

If you deliver valuable content to your readers… and you develop a relationship with them… they will actually WANT to read everything you send them.

They will open your emails and read them because they know you, like you, and trust you. And they trust you will continue to deliver the kinds of content you’ve developed a REPUTATION for delivering.

Now, a name can be an asset or a liability. If you abuse your reader’s trust… and you abuse it repeatedly… she will unsubscribe. Or worse, she will bad-mouth you in public forums whenever the subject of email marketing comes up!

So, as much as possible, build trust. Become known for delivering value. Treat your name as an asset. Build relationship equity. If you are in this for the long-term (and you’re not just “churning and burning” your prospects), then this strategy will be very effective for you.

And this brings me to

Email Subject Lines

What subject lines work best? What should you avoid?

Well, I can’t speak for all markets, but I can tell you some things that have worked well for me.

1. Be provocative.

Whenever I put some emotion into my subject lines or write something unexpected, my emails get more attention.

Example: “3 Signs You Should NOT Be a Copywriter”

Since I am a copywriter… and I have an ebook about how to get clients as a copywriter… this is definitely an unexpected subject line. As a result, it got a high open rate.

2. Make it look personal.

A quick caveat: Deceptive subject lines are illegal. So do not try to trick your readers. That’s a no-no.

Still, I think making email look personal is a good strategy for getting emails opened — so long as the strategy is not over-used.

Example: “re: copywriting clients”

When I used this subject line, a reader told me re: means “reply,” and as such was deceptive because the email wasn’t a reply.

I’d never heard this before. I always thought re: meant “regarding.” It is used all the time in print letters. “Re: Your Recent Purchase” or whatever.

No matter whether you choose to use Re: or not, the principle still holds. Personal emails get opened more often. You could just use lower case letters and that might be enough. Or you might say something like “hey, need your advice” if you’re conducting a survey.

3. Use the word “Download.”

This may sound weird, but in test after test, anytime I start a subject line with the word “Download,” I get a ton of opens.

Example: “Download Ben Settle & Ryan Healy Interview”

If you have a PDF report, audio recording, or video to offer your list, use the word Download. If your experience is anything like mine, it will improve your open rates.

4. Mix things up.

In #2, I suggest making your emails look personal. The trick is to avoid over-using this strategy.

Most of the time, I like to use clear subject lines with Initial Caps.

Example: “How to Write with Authority”

Simple. Straightforward. And it works.

But over time using the same subject line format can cause your readers to become blinded by familiarity. Which is why I like to change things up every now and again.

That’s when I will use lower case letters or ask a question or throw in some symbols.

Example: “am I crazy for doing this?”

If I’ve been sending out emails such as the first example (How to…) and then I send out something like this, it will get much more attention.

5. Issue a command.

Instead of trying to gain your reader’s interest, it’s good to occasionally issue a command. Again, this works well only if you don’t over-use it.

Example: “urgent message (open immediately)”

Obviously, I can only say something like this a few times a year. Not everything is urgent. But when something is genuinely urgent, issuing a command is often better than using a promise-based subject line.

And if you don’t have something urgent, you can still issue a command. For instance, one of my most-read blog posts simply said, “You Have to Read This Now.”

I gave no indication as to WHY my reader needed to read this… or even WHAT he was going to read about. And yet it still commands (demands?) the reader to take the action you request.

6. Tell a story about yourself.

Anytime I use a story about myself, I get higher open rates. Of course, it has to be interesting and relevant to my readers.

Example 1: “33 Things I Learned in 2006”

Example 2: “How I Achieved a 7.14% Conversion Rate”

Everybody loves a good story.

By inserting yourself into the subject line with the word “I” you naturally tap into your reader’s curiosity — and his desire to read a good story.

Notice that there are two things at work here. I’m promising a story and a learning opporunity at the same time.

7. Make a compelling offer.

Back in May 2008, I ran a special offer centered around my birthday. I sold a copy of a physical book for $7. And that price included shipping.

This offer sold 85 books and generated a couple upsells on the back end. The two subject lines I used were:

Example 1: “My Birthday Is This Week — Here’s a Gift for You”

Example 2: “Save a Back: Buy a Book”

The trick is to make your offer compelling. That’s the first goal. Then, if possible, make it fun. Give a reason WHY you’re making the offer (i.e., it’s your birthday).

Win 1,000 Gallons of Gas?

Now, most corporate email is boring and completely fails as a direct response medium. But today I was pleasantly surprised by an email USAA sent to me.

Subject: Enter the 1,000 Gallons of Gas Sweepstakes.

Here they have combined two of the elements I discussed above. They are issuing a command (“Enter”) and making a compelling offer (a chance to win 1,000 gallons of gas).

Here’s a screenshot of the email:

As far as corporate emails go, this one is really good.

They’ve got a clear, compelling offer. They’ve got a deadline. And they’ve got a call to action.

What’s more, they’re tapping into the internal conversation many Americans have had about high gas prices.

Not bad!

The bottom line: Email marketing can be both powerful and profitable if you do it right.

What tips and advice do you have?

-Ryan M. Healy

Ryan M. Healy

Ryan Healy is a financial copywriter and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like WordStream.com, SmallBizClub.com, and MarketingForSuccess.com.

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