Sending out email newsletters is the highlight of my day. Most people hate it. They fear sending emails to their subscribers like I fear getting my prostate examined. That’s cos most people SUCK at sending emails. Most people don’t know how to get high email open rates.
I’d hate sending out emails too if I felt like I was blindly spinning a roulette wheel. I’d hate it if I got dismally low opens and clicks. But, as it turns out, I’m pretty damn good at it. Sending out emails is like CRACK to me (disclaimer: never tried crack cocaine but let me know if you wanna kick it with some meth).
I love hitting SEND and seeing the numbers climb over the next few hours and days.
Now I’m gonna help you have that same excitement and, more importantly…. RESULTS.
That number in the headline? If you know the average email open rates, you’ll know that’s not normal. That’s the equivalent of having a 13-inch dong in the marketing world. But that’s exactly the result I helped one of my clients get.
I consulted with her, then I wrote her first email newsletter ever. She had a strong subscriber list for her niche and someone who barely has a year under her belt. She hasn’t got thousands of email subscribers but the way she’s been collecting sign-ups means that the people on the list are quality (more about that further down).
She was super nervous when I hit send. But then the opens and clicks POURED in. It was like an avalanche. Then the appreciative emails came in too. Lovely emails like this one:
Watching her eyes light up was a real treat. But she was scared it was just a fluke. So we talked some more. We bounced some ideas around. Then she wrote her second email and ran it by me.
Now every email she writes gets super solid open and click rates.
You can see 3 examples in the first image above.
Note: the reason for the 0.2% click rate in the second one was because there was nothing to click (except the little MailChimp banner).
Before I tell you what made her email newsletter so successful, I’ve gotta say a thing about these figures because there’s a ton of confusion around what’s a good open rate. Luckily, it can be cleared up quickly
What is a “good” email open and click rate?
Last year, one of my clients was struggling to get anyone opening his emails. He was basically hovering around the 4% open mark. So he came to me and I wrote him a subject line and email. Obviously, there’s only so much that an email writer can do. If you’ve been doing shady business practices, there’s a limit to how much I can help you (plus I don’t work with shady people so you’re kinda out of luck). But I wrote this guy’s email and the result?
28% open rate.
When he told me, I was thrilled. “Fantastic news! What a leap! That’s a really solid open rate!”
“Yeah,” he said, sounding disappointed. “But I really want to get it to 100%…”
I was shocked. The client had no idea how good a 28% open rate was (especially for his industry). He also had no idea that 100% is practically impossible with his 1,000-strong email list.
Anyways…. Let’s clear this up. Here are the high, medium, and low statistics for email opens (general guidelines):
High = 21-35%
Medium = 15-20%
Low = 0-14%
So the client who got a 28% open rate, shot up from low to high instantly.
The client who got a 60.9% open rate was basically on GOD MODE.
What can you expect?
If you follow the tips I’m gonna lay out, you can expect to get in the high range. But one disclaimer: this isn’t an exhaustive guide. There are many reasons why people might not open your emails. Bad copy is only one of them. If you follow these principles and you still can’t get your email open rates to climb, you need to have a serious look at what you’ve been doing.
Let’s dive in.
Number 1 Rule: Always Give Value
You’ve probably already heard this a million times before: always give value.
The problem is a lot of people THINK they’re giving value… but really they’re just serving themselves.
Hammering people with “LAST CHANCE SPECIAL OFFERS” is NOT giving value. It’s freakin annoying. It looks like spam. Everybody does it. And it doesn’t help me out. Your customers see it as a desperate ploy to reach into their pockets, not to give value to their lives.
One whiteboard software company (who shall remain nameless and shameless) sent me an email with this subject line:
“Did you see these special deals?”
I opened it. Not as an interested customer but as a copywriter wishing to analyse where people are going wrong.
The email had paragraphs and paragraphs of badly written, basically nonsensical copy about their product without mentioning the deals. Then, right at the end, they write this:
“Here is how you can get the 3.0 version of “product name” for free.
Get version 2.0 today and you’ll get version 3.0 for free as soon as it releases.”
The email then went on to outline pricing plans for version 2.0.
My girlfriend really hated me that day cos I couldn’t stop ranting and raving about how utterly DEPLORABLE this email was.
I mean, are you freaking kidding me? You tell me about a special deal. You tell me I’m gonna get a product for free. Then you tell me I need to buy another product first and then I will get the next one for free? So basically, version 3.0 is an update. Shouldn’t purchasers of 2.0 get that for free anyway?
But I’m sure the person who sent that email could justify they were giving value. “We’re telling them about the product, giving them the update for free (we should charge for it), blah blah blah”.
No. That’s not giving value.
How to ACTUALLY give value (and why you should care)
A lot of people will be reading this and thinking, “Why have I gotta bother with all this value stuff? Isn’t my product/service value enough? I simply need to tell people about it.”
Well if you want people to open your emails… you can’t just keep spamming them and trying to get them to buy.
Customers aren’t jumping at the chance to open sales letters.
But customers WILL open your emails if you help them.
Once you’ve helped them, and they get used to you helping them, they’ll open more of your emails. You’ll build a relationship. And we all know that people prefer to buy from people they know and like.
Look, the bottom line is this: give to receive.
It’s kinda like some Jedi mind trick but basically you have to change your mindset from…
“How can I get more people opening my emails?”
“How can I provide more value to people?”
Once you’ve internalised that, you’ll get more people engaging with your emails.
Two of the best ways to give value:
– Educate your audience
– Entertain your audience
If you can do both, that’s even better.
Ways to give value:
– Give advice/tips about things your niche is concerned with
– Show alternative uses for your product/service
– Show lesser-known ways your product/service can benefit their life/business
– Show case studies of people that have used your product service
Let’s look at some hypothetical examples.
How Super Duper Vision can improve their email open rates
Let’s look at how an online contact lens/glasses store can improve their email open rates.
Here’s what most contact lens store email headlines look like:
“Get ready for summer by stocking up on lenses”
“FREE eye drops with your next order”
“Spring Sale: 5% off orders over $100”
You get tons of these emails. The word “FREE” doesn’t mean anything anymore. It just blends right in with all the other spam. But if you actually open one of these emails, you’ll get some pictures of lenses and a bunch of links to “buy and save now!”
Contact lenses and glasses are going the way of airfare. People aren’t loyal to specific companies but rather grab what they want when they need it from wherever.
But if I was writing the emails for Super Duper Vision, I would make sure I forge a relationship with customers. I want to help my customers on a deeper level than just “get 5% off orders over $100”. In exchange for helping them, I know that I’ll have their loyalty. When it comes time to order, who are they gonna go to? Me.
So how can we help contact lens wearers?
Here are a few ideas for value-giving emails that will get high open rates:
– Eye care tips
– Travelling with contact lenses
– How to put contact lenses in without fuss
– How to choose glasses for your face shape
You could use those exact words for headlines. You’re probably thinking those headlines wouldn’t work. Why do you think that? Because they don’t look like headlines? Keep reading and we’ll talk specifically about headlines in a moment.
Anyway, let’s say we wanted to teach people how to put contact lenses in easily. You might use the subject line: 5 ways to put contacts in easier. Then the email would be structured like this:
Can you see how this gives deeper value than the normal boring emails? People don’t remember who gave them 5% off anymore. But they do remember those that teach them something and make their lives easier.
Alright, time for one more example.
How Super Duper Supplements can improve their email open rates
I’m subscribed to a ton of supplement company newsletters. And their emails all look the same:
“Check out our new stock”
“Save 15% on everything! Today only!”
“12 days to Christmas sale! 12% off everything!”
Not super inspiring.
Don’t get me wrong. You can still send out emails alerting your customers to special sales and deals. But don’t JUST send this stuff. These “salesy” emails have no value if that’s all you’re sending.
Here’s a good ratio: 3 value/helpful emails to every 1 overtly salesy email.
How might a herbal supplement company offer value to their subscribers?
Alternate uses for products that will educate their customers?
Instead of vague emails that offer a discount on your “products”, why don’t you talk to the people who will ACTUALLY USE your products.
Super Duper Supplements sells activated charcoal. Well, who buys that? What if Super Duper Supplements taught people how to cure their IBS with activated charcoal? Maybe a personal story about how one guy cured his IBS after 5 days of taking charcoal after meals?
Super Duper Supplements also sells creatine. Well, who buys that? What if Super Herbal Supplements taught people how to improve their bench press with creatine? Maybe a personal story about how one guy put 10 pounds on his bench after a week of creatine?
If you sell supplements that are good for memory, target the people who are most likely to wanna improve their memories!
For example, my favourite supplement stack for improving memory (used specifically to learn Japanese) is the following:
If I had a store that sold those products, you can BET YOUR ASS I wouldn’t be sending spammy emails saying, “Get 12% of our products”.
I would be targeting students, language learners, people suffering from mental decline. I’d be sending out emails that include tips to improve your memory and ONE of those tips would include links to those specific products.
You know what else Super Duper Supplements can do to improve its emails?
Include recipes with delicious food pictures that require some of their products as ingredients.
Some ideas for recipes off the top of my head:
– Hangover cure smoothie
– Herbal tea for anxiety
– Paleo mango cheesecake
The bottom line is you’ve got to give value to get something back. If you want to see an example of this in practice, look at what you’re reading right now.
I offer consulting and copywriting services to a maximum of 5 companies per month. I could have just put up a static webpage detailing my services. But I know that an article like this gives massive value. People in the market for a copywriter will be more inclined to get in touch with me after reading this article. Especially if they’ve implemented some of my advice and seen that it really works.
Now let’s look at how to actually write some headlines that will get people opening your emails.
How to write email subject lines
I’m subscribed to a lot of newsletter lists and I see a lot of people doing things wrong.
Scare tactics, misdirection, cheating, lying, overuse of buzzwords (free – sale – one time only).
Your subject line needs to do two things:
1. Arouse enough curiosity to get opened
2. Keep the promise it made
A lot of people think they just need to stuff the word ‘free’ or ‘special deal’ into their headline to get a high open rate.
Not the case.
The client who got close to 60% open rates never used that tactic.
That tactic works well but only if you’re clever about it. If every single email you send is FREE FREE FREE… you’ve just ruined your relationship with your reader. It no longer means anything.
Even worse are the marketers who make promises they don’t deliver on.
Like the whiteboard software company that offered a “special deal” that turned out to be neither “special” or a “deal”. They cheated me. I opened their email, saw they had tricked me, and now I don’t trust their company. I will never give them my money.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind when writing your subject line:
People open emails from people.
People open emails from FRIENDS.
People rarely look forward to company emails UNLESS they sound like a friend talking to them.
So instead of trying to put forth this big important image of you THE COMPANY and them THE CUSTOMER……
Take a step back and think: ‘how would I write this subject line to a friend or family member?’
The result is often headlines that LOOK NOTHING LIKE HEADLINES.
Look at the headlines I wrote for the Super Duper Vision company. Normal. No gimmicks.
Show them you’re gonna solve their problems and people will open your emails.
You can consider your email open rates as stats that reveal how much value you’re offering to your audience.
Subject line formulas
Are there tried and tested formulas for email subject lines?
Ad companies have spent billions finding headlines that pull in readers like quicksand.
I’m gonna list a few of my favourites but with the following caveat: these headlines will work but you mustn’t use them blindly. You really need to understand why they work and when it’s best to use them in your industry.
You also need to keep these three rules in mind:
1. Write like a friend
2. Don’t make promises you can’t keep
3. OFFER VALUE (e.g. Show you’re gonna solve their problem)
With those in mind, here are a few of my favourite email subject lines that ad men have used to make a lot of money.
Give me [short period of time] and I’ll give you [specific thing they want].
Eugene Schwartz came up with this one. He wrote: “Give Me One Evening and I’ll Give You a Push-Button Memory”
This one’s great because you outline a small specific period of time in which your reader can get their benefit. I used it for the headline of this very article:
“Give me 10 minutes – and I’ll get you a 60.9% email open rate (and 12.3% clicks)”
“Give me 10 minutes and I’ll fix your sciatica”
“Give me 5 minutes and I’ll save you $420 on your mortgage”
‘Give me 3 minutes and I will show you how to lose those stretch marks!”
The key is to be specific.
Do you make these mistakes?
There’s a real famous ad with the headline, ‘Do You Make These Mistakes In English?’ Max Sackheim wrote the headline and Gary Halbert raved about how great this ad was.
This headline is super effective and can be used for virtually any industry. It appeals to our curiosity and our sense of social embarrassment. No one wants to think they’re making mistakes without realising it!
“Do you make these start-up mistakes?”
“Do you make these email newsletter mistakes?”
“Do you make these mistakes in your marriage?”
Another top tip, the use of words like “these” and “this” are very effective at getting people curious. It’s like an open-loop that our brains just HAVE to close. We want to see what “this” is or what “these” are. So we click and voila! You have a higher email open rate.
This one doesn’t need explaining. If you know your customer, you’ll know what they want to learn. Position yourself as the authority and show them how something is done.
“How to hire a copywriter”
“How to improve your email newsletter open rate”
“How to reduce your commute time with our new app”
10 ways to…
Hard to mess this one up unless your content is poor. People love lists because they are quick and easy to read.
“10 ways to get people opening your email newsletter”
“10 ways to improve your complexion right now”
“10 ways to get better vision through your diet”
Another top tip: pay attention to the subject lines and headlines that pull YOU in. I know, revolutionary, right? Once you’ve got a good sense of what draws you in, you can start putting yourself in the shoes of your customer.
Mindset shift: Stop thinking about what subject lines will get more clicks and start thinking about how you can address your audience’s pain points.
Do you sell yoga courses to a predominantly 24-42-year-old female demographic?
Then think about the pain points you could address…
– Five yoga poses to soothe PMS
– How to make your skin glow with a 24-hour green juice detox
– Here’s how to become more flexible (and what happens when you do)
Once you’ve got a headline that addresses your audience’s problems, you’ll get higher email open rates.
Now you have to make sure they want to open your future emails. AND you want them interacting with the email you just sent (e.g. Clicking links).
How to improve your email click through rate
The average email click through rate is around 3%.
You can easily double or triple that if you follow a few principles.
First, you actually have to put some links in. I know, duh, right? But seriously, it’s easy to forget to do this sometimes.
Make the links relevant, entertaining and helpful.
If you have links to your stuff embedded in the middle of a bunch of useful content, people are gonna click through.
If your link is just “buy our crap here”, people will probably decide to do something better with their time.
But if you help people with their problems, putting a link to relevant stuff will get clicked.
Quick tip: if you have a ‘Buy Now’ box in your email, make sure that the colours are appropriate. I have seen WAY TOO MANY emails that have weird colours for these boxes. The worst I ever saw was a yellow box with white writing. I couldn’t even see what the button said. Don’t do that. Look at what Amazon and Google do with their call-to-action colours.
How should you structure your emails?
First, you want to clarify the ONE THING you are trying to do in the email.
Seriously, just pick one thing and write it down.
My ONE THING for this article is “help you improve your email open rates”.
The one thing a Super Duper Supplements email might wanna do is “show them three ways to reduce inflammation” (hint hint: one of them is fish oil capsules and this company sells fish oil capsules!)
Once you know your aim, you can structure your emails using this simple formula:
Grab their attention and tell them what you’re gonna show them – “I’m gonna show you how to get a 59.1% email open rate”.
Do I have your attention?
Develop their interest – “Here’s an example of how I did it.”
Are you interested?
Make them desire the same results – “Here are the super simple principles I followed”.
Can you feel your desire building?
Get them to take action – “Do this, this, and this. Then let me know how it worked out!”
Are you gonna take action? Or are you just gonna sit there and do nothing?
One of the most important things in your email is the ACTION part. You want them to do something. And this should be related to the aim of the email.
If Super Duper Supplements just sent an email about reducing inflammation, they should put a call to action at the end that says “grab the best fish oil capsules here. We’ll send em out to you in 2 business days and your muscles will be pain-free in 4 days.”
Sometimes the call to action can be getting them to reply to the email.
What tone should you use in your emails?
Simple: write how you speak.
It’s not poetry. No need to be elegant. You just need to get your point across clearly and in a friendly manner.
Stop with the “corporate speak” (yuck, yawn, barf).
A lotta people think they gotta talk all respectable. They think talking normally is beneath them. They think their brand is better than that. Not true.
People don’t wanna read long strings of indecipherable legalese. Seriously, your email isn’t a Kantian manifesto here. If you’re making me sweat and strain it better be due to the chicken tikka masala you forced me to eat last night and not because I’m reading your email.
Also, here’s a top tip: have fun.
I used to hate sending out email newsletters in the beginning too. But that’s cos I was too uptight. When I returned to my normal self and started speaking like I do with close friends and family, things got a lot easier.
For me, I love to have thought-provoking conversations and teach people new things while also making lots of immature toilet jokes (just call me Shittgenstein).
How frequently should you send out emails?
It depends on your audience. But, as a general guideline, 1 email per week is a good average.
That might mean you send an email out on the same day of the week every week.
That might mean you send an email out twice in one week, then the next 10 days later, then 3 in another week.
Experiment to find which day and time of day is best for YOUR unique audience.
You want to email enough so that you are a regular fixture in their life but not too often that you bug them.
You want them to look forward to your emails.
What days and times are best for sending email newsletters?
Again, it depends.
But here’s a general rule based on what I’ve seen:
Sundays – Good
Mondays – Great
Tuesdays – Great
Wednesdays – Bad
Thursdays – Great
Fridays – Bad
Saturdays – Good
I’ve had some writers tell me that the weekend is their dead time. But then other writers say they see massive success on the weekend.
I’ve seen it go both ways and it often depends on your demographic and niche. So, experiment!
How long should your email newsletter be?
You’re gonna hate me. But, again, it depends.
As a general rule, 500 words seems to be the sweet spot. People are busy but 500 words is quick to read. Perfect for toilet time when your scrolling down your mail app.
How to get email subscribers
We’ve talked a bit about the mentality required to get people opening your emails. But what if you don’t actually have any email subscribers?
Well the formula to get subscribers can be broken down into these 3 simple steps:
1. Build your platform
2. Give value on your platform
3. Ask for subscribers
Seems simple, right? That’s because it is. People tend to overcomplicate these things and start fussing about a million and one things that won’t matter until you actually GET your subscribers.
The thing that people find difficult is that results are not instantaneous. People want a silver bullet and a bunch of tricks that will net them a thousand subscribers overnight. But if you want quality audience members, it doesn’t really work like that.
You gotta be steady and consistent and patient.
The client who pulled close to a 60% open rate currently has almost 3,000 subscribers on YouTube. That’s damn good for her niche. What makes it even better is the quality of those subscribers. You know how YouTube always looks like a racist, sexist, cesspool? Well if you look at her comment section she gets nothing but kind, helpful, and caring comments. She’s got a real good community and they love her work.
How did she get that? She worked consistently, putting out multiple videos a week for over a year. No one was watching at first. It took a whole year to get to 1,000 subscribers. And then it EXPLODED. The next 2,000 came very quickly (in a matter of months) and is still going up.
What I’m trying to illustrate with this example is this: there are no shortcuts but good things happen pretty quickly (in the grand scheme of things) if you put in the work.
Make sure you have multiple platforms, each to varying degrees of importance depending on your niche and your own strengths. Give value across all of them.
For example, your number 1 platform might be YouTube if you have the personality. Your number 2 platform might be your website if writing is your strength. Then Twitter might be your number 4 platform and number 5 might be Instagram.
Put in the work, give value to your audience, and then (super important) ask for subscribers. Give them a reason to subscribe:
“If you liked this video, please make sure to subscribe to my weekly newsletter for insider info.”
“Thanks for reading this article about email open rates. Want more like it? Check out my newsletter!”
In fact, now would be a pretty good time to let you know about my own email list…
It helps to see things in action. So feel free to sign up to my email list. I’m not trying to sell you anything. But every week or so (not too often) I’ll send out something I know you’ll love. At the very least, you’ll get a kick outta it and maybe learn something cool.
Let me know how you get on. Put this stuff into action and you’ll see higher email open rates and click through rates.