Guide to Increasing Your Email Open Rate

It’s frustrating when you keep sending out emails to subscribers and outreach recipients and you hardly hear back.

I know the place where you are. Been there and I still end up there sometimes.

Often the problem is not your ideas or your message, it’s that people are turned off by the first thing they see about your email.

Your subject line.​

But I have good news: if that’s the issue, it’s entirely fixable.

Use this practical, hands-on guide to effectively increase your email open rate and get people to read what you want to say to them.​


Just a couple things, for a refresher.

Calculating the email open rate is easy.

​Being the ratio between the total of emails opened and the difference between email sent and bounced, all multiplied by 100 – so it comes down to doing simple math calculations.

Which is awesome!

And it would really be awesome if that happened. In fact, according to a Campaign Monitor 2019 study, the average open rate is 17.92% and that mostly happens on Thursdays (18.6%).

So now that we got the basics covered, we can dive deep into the guide.

1. Your Subject Line Is Your CTA​

Being the first thing a recipient sees, they must feel compelled to click it and open the email to read the message.

That means the subject line must be your strong conversion point, like a headline is to a blog post or an article.

To make it attractive, engaging and conveying a sense of urgency, you can use copywriting techniques and write a subject line that is:

​As an email subscriber and outreach recipient myself, I know that human beings are attracted to email subjects that do their job quickly and without stress.

If you’re doing outreach for digital marketing backlinks, the recipient expects a link earning talk in that email, and that means making the subject line about links or website-related interests.

One good example is Ed Gandia’s newsletter (that I subscribe to): each email is a tip on copywriting, business or B2B issues, and the email also links to a podcast episode or article where I can go to learn more about the solution to the issue that they want to resolve.​

​Getting personal is also a must because emails are letters, not company registration reports, and bored recipients will either skip (and forget) about the email or delete it right away.

Both in the subject line and in the body of the email, do it as Felix Winstone from Talkative says: write like you talk.

The aim of the first email is to start a conversation,” Winstone says, “Don't try to sell everything before you even know the person. Keep the language friendly and easy to understand. Short sentences are better than long ones. Read your email out loud. Would you say that in person? If not, rewrite the email.

111017 - Innovation Centre Portait Session - Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, Wales © Ryan Hiscott Photography

Don’t waste time, resources and people’s patience – when you write to the reader in the subject line and then in the message, be personal and brief.

Imagine how a friend would do it! They’d say: “Hey John! Here’s a quick 2-minute cookie recipe”

Short (7 words). Personal and friendly. To-the-point.

It could work just right.

The more personal, shorter, specific your subject lines are, the higher your chances to get an email-bombarded, super stressed outreach recipient to open that email and read it to the end (and respond to it.)

2. The Right Subject Line For The Right Audience

When we talk about subject lines, we are talking about human psychology.

So it’s not only important to put yourself into the mind of an email reader, but also look at the psychology of that specific audience.

For example, if you’re doing outreach to collect interviews from an audience of people with mental health issues, you know that you are talking to people who:

So it’s not only the message that matters, but even your subject lines must not trigger any anxiety or panic attack or a sensation of discomfort.

Also, don’t forget about the personal connection factor: we humans respond better and more promptly to someone we feel a personal connection with, and whom we already know.​

That’s what Sagi Gidali from Perimeter 81 achieved:​

[In 2016] we began to send out an email to our users that came directly from me, one of the founders. It proved to be an incredible tool, with a unique open rate of 60% and high engagement level (as in dozens of email responses a week). This personal outreach got our users communicating directly with us, and has helped us to not only connect with our customer base, but also deliver a better user experience.

Nice, huh?
​A delicate art, that of the subject line is. (Cit. Yoda.. no, not really)

3. The Psychology of Power Words

Indeed, human beings are emotional creatures.

And some words work better than others to convey emotions and a sense of scarcity, urgency or even just curiosity.

Those words get the name of power words and they can help glue the user interest to the email and push them to click it “right now.”

It happened to me recently with a Search Engine Journal email about an upcoming webinar on SEO client reporting.

The subject line asked: “Can you join our webinar on client reporting in an hour?”

Just like that. Just the way a friend would ask me if I have time to go jogging together right now.

I said “OK, let’s try”. I signed up for the webinar and I successfully attended.

That was a very powerful subject line, wasn’t it?

Fairly short (11 words), personal and to-the-point.

(I’m sure now you can see the pattern.)

So for the subject line to really work to increase email open rates, it has to work like a magnet and emotionally push readers to act.

Then the message itself has to deliver on the promise made by the subject line, but this is for another story.

And now, go grab this list of 700+ power words you can use immediately to increase conversions.​

4. Email Frequency

The frequency of your emails can have a huge impact on open rates.

People are busy, and when they get to their inbox, they might already be tired and not have the energy to take care of all incoming email.

So if you email or follow up too frequently, your emails might go unread and your open rate will drop.

If you recently experienced this situation, take a few hours to study your emailing habits and see where you might have to make improvements.

Study the hard email data that you have in your hands and look for gaps.

For example, let’s say that you send emails on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Looking at your charts, you notice that your Monday emails gets read, Wednesday Emails rarely even get an open and your Friday emails get read but sometimes not on Friday; maybe on Saturday or Sunday.

What could you say about this?

Well, your Monday emails definitely get read, so keep sending them.

But Wednesday emails don’t, so why waste time, energy and money on something that results in no ROI? Stop emailing on Wednesdays.

Friday email get read but maybe not on Friday. Maybe on the weekend. So you could do some testing and shift the sending day from Friday to Saturday and see what happens.

A well-done analysis can help you implement effective changes. That’s what Winstone did with follow ups, that he defines as “the most critical and underrated component of email outreach”. With hard data and analysis at hand, Winstone’s business generated more meetings from the third outreach emails than the first emails.”

I think the power of data and a well-thought out emailing frequency speaks for itself here.​

5. Segment Your List and Listen to Your Recipients

But analysis isn’t enough.

You should also listen to your recipients if you want to improve open rates.

If do outreach, collect both direct and indirect feedback from your recipients that you can use on follow ups.

For example, if the person you contact opens and responds to your emails more often on Tuesdays, email them on Tuesdays the next time. You could even create a segment for all contacts that respond on Tuesday to email follow ups on the Tuesday of the following week.

This is what I mean by indirect feedback. Direct feedback will be the answer to the question “Where can I email you again about this?”

(Outreach is human relationships, so that’s not strange to ask.)

If you run a newsletter, it’s a good idea to routinely poll subscribers about what they want to read in your emails.

I’ve done this myself with small newsletters that I’ve run over the years and I noticed that, in my case, readers where less interested in promotions and more excited about getting new ideas.

So I decided to add the promotion at the bottom of my mails and stop sending promotional emails to the list. The new email structure included ideas and small articles, and an “here’s some interesting offers” section at the bottom, before the closing, which sometimes got clicked.

6. Beware of Spam-Triggering Words

Original research by shows that there are 550+ words that can trigger an email client spam filters.

So if you were thinking about sending out your “best offer” or “double your income” amazing email, well… it might not even reach the recipient.

In fact, some email clients filter out spam-triggering emails in a way that it never reaches the recipient’s inbox (AOL is one such example.)

Use this list to recheck your email subject and body before you hit the ‘send’ button. It might spare you bigger headaches.


It wouldn’t be a practical guide without some good tool suggestions, right?

Because finding out if your subject line gets a chance with this week’s open rate, there are two handy tools you can try:

  • CoSchedule’s Subject Line Analyzer (get it here): CoSchedule’s free tools are popular, yet there’s little talk about the Subject Line Analyzer. Run your subject line through it to see if you effectively used power words and check on optimal length and personalization.
  • SendCheckIt’s Email Subject Line Tester (get it here): like CoSchedule’s tool, but much more in-depth in the analysis reports (minus the power word lists). If you are new to email marketing, I recommend this tool over CoSchedule’s to get started.
  • Boomerang for Gmail (get it here): this is an amazing tool for email marketing, specifically if you’re doing manual outreach and you need to set follow up reminders. But this is also an amazing app to run a full email analysis (for anything I discussed in this article and much more) – this AI-based feature is called Respondable and it’s probably the best part of Boomerang.


Crafting a good email that gets opened is a careful game of psychology and marketing practices, and it’s not impossible to master.

Come up with several subject lines and A/B test them with a beta team if you are unsure.

Or you could leave the difficult part to us and let us handle the outreach!

Listen to our podcast episodes on effective HARO outreach and publicity to better understand how we do it.

Thanks for reading!