The Complete Guide To Email Open Rates (Plus How To Increase Yours)

Bonus Material: List Building Starter Kit

Based on hundreds of millions of email campaigns analyzed by MailChimp, the average email open rate across all industries is 20.81%.

For different company sizes, here’s what the average open rate looks like:[*]

The takeaway: Size doesn’t make a difference when it comes to open rates. Your small team can have email campaigns that are just as successful as big Fortune 500 companies.

But with 20% average email open rates across companies of all sizes, this means:

  • Fewer people who signup for your content upgrades seeing your new content
  • Less social media sharing/promoting of your message/brand
  • Meager attendance rates for what should have been your six figure webinar
  • Fewer click throughs from your sales emails to your sales pages
  • Fewer sales.

If you’re happy settling for average, you definitely won’t be closing sales or raking in fat stacks of cash like you want.

So what can you do to smash open rate records and make sure your messages are read? And how do you know what a “good” open rate should be, anyway?

This guide will explain everything from what’s considered a good open rate to what’s holding you back from achieving it. I’ll give you super-simple changes you can start making right now to boost your open rates for good.

Click here to get your List Building Starter Kit!

What’s Considered A Good Open Rate?

To determine if your open rate is “good”, you should compare your open rate to the open rate of other companies in your industry. 

Here’s a breakdown of the average email open rate across 43 industries:[*]

Industry
Open Rate
Agriculture and Food Services
23.12%
Architecture and Construction
23.13%
Arts and Artists
26.03%
Beauty and Personal Care
17.01%
Business and Finance
20.47%
Computers and Electronics
19.39%
Construction
21.01%
Consulting
18.96%
Creative Services/Agency
21.59%
Daily Deals/E-Coupons
14.92%
Ecommerce
15.66%
Education and Training
21.80%
Entertainment and Events
20.41%
Gambling
18.47%
Games
19.71%
Government
26.52%
Health and Fitness
20.06%
Hobbies
27.35%
Home and Garden
22.21%
Insurance
20.99%
Legal
21.14%
Manufacturing
20.51%
Marketing and Advertising
16.48%
Media and Publishing
21.92%
Medical, Dental, and Healthcare
21.09%
Mobile
18.41%
Music and Musicians
21.80%
Non-Profit
24.11%
Pharmaceuticals
18.95%
Photo and Video
22.99%
Politics
22.30%
Professional Services
20.77%
Public Relations
20.21%
Real Estate
19.67%
Recruitment and Staffing
19.33%
Religion
25.33%
Restaurant
20.26%
Retail
19.36%
Social Networks and Online Communities
21.13%
Software and Web App
19.81%
Sports
23.77%
Telecommunications
20.27%
Travel and Transportation
20.03%

Now you know the average for your industry, all you have to do is calculate your email open rate, then compare it to your industry average.

How To Calculate Your Open Rate

Calculating your open rate is easy. Promise.

Your open rate = the number of emails opened / the number of emails sent - the ones that bounced.

Most email providers crunch these numbers for you, but it’s nice to know the math behind how it works before comparing yourself to the industry average and optimizing.

If you’re using MailChimp, you can find your open rate on the email campaign dashboard:

In ConvertKit, you can find it under the Broadcasts tab in the Menu, under each individual email broadcast sent:

In Sumo, you can find it under the Email tab in the Menu, on the right side of each email you’ve sent:

Note: Sumo now let’s you collect and send emails for free here.

Now you know your email open rate for one email, all you need to do is: 

  1. Add up the open rates from your last 10 emails.
  2. Divide by 10 to get your average open rate.

Note: Don’t cherry-pick your best performing emails to skew your true average.

Now you know what your average open rate is, we want to improve it. Yup, even if you think it’s pretty good. Why? 

Because here’s what a 10% increase in open rates could do for your business:

If your average order value is $1,000,, you’d earn an extra $2,500 from making a few tweaks to increase your open rates.

So let’s get into the 12 ways to improve your email open rates to start making more money in your business.

12 Reasons Your Open Rates Aren’t as High as They Could Be

#1: You’re Not Whitelisted

SPAM filters are a blessing for emails like this:

But now they’re stronger than ever. Which means that your emails might be ending up in that pesky spam filter, too. 

More bad news: Gmail has a Promotions tab, which automatically moves marketing messages for users to a separate tab outside their primary inbox.

With automatic filters like this, emails from “unknown senders” (that’s you) may be automatically banished to the junk folder, never to be seen by your new subscriber.

And that’s not even the worst part.

There’s no way for you — or your subscribers — to know this ever happened. After all, how many of us sift through our junk folders on the regular?

That’s why you need to ask your new subscribers to whitelist your email address.

Most subscribers won’t know what you’re even talking about, so you’ll need to take the lead and direct them before this situation happens.

You can accomplish this task in two ways:

  1. By adding instructions to your Thank You page. After your visitor opts-in, direct them to a page with directions for how to whitelist your email address and ensure they receive all your fresh content.

  2. Use either the success pop-up feature on your Click Trigger or List Builder pop-up. In both cases, readers see your whitelist request instantly, like this:

This increases the chances of them seeing your message and taking action. #Win

Once you’re whitelisted, you’ve earned VIP status to your new subscriber’s inbox. 

#2: Your Email Addresses Are Low-Quality

Your subscriber list may be long, but is it strong?

Collecting sub-par email addresses does zero favors for your open rates.

First, if people sign up for your list using fake email addresses just so they can grab your freebies, you’ll have varying combinations of randomthrowaway1234@gmail.com. 

Since your email provider scans the email address as somewhat legit (as you did before reading this), your message will be delivered, but no one will open it.

Another issue: Email accounts can become inactive unbeknownst to you.

If someone changes jobs or decides to upgrade from cutie627@aol.com, they may forget to update their email with you even though you continue to send to them. 

Finally, if you’re collecting email addresses manually — say if you’re hosting an in-person conference — illegible, handwritten email addresses will become your worst nightmare. You mistake one letter for a number and off goes your email into the virtual abyss. 

All three of these situations mess with your open rates. On the bright side, you can fix it.

Just check out your bounce rates. When you search for this figure in your email provider, you’ll notice two different kinds of bounce rates:

  1. The soft bounce.
  2. The hard bounce.

A hard bounce indicates the email address is outdated and useless (read: hit delete ASAP).

You’ll see hard bounces on email addresses attached to companies or domain names (in the case of people changing jobs), former teenie boppers (cutiepie4lyfe@yahoo.com), or fakes and throwaways (test2@gmail.com).

Soft bounces are a little trickier.

Unlike a hard bounce, the email address is most likely valid even though your message still can’t be delivered. The recipient’s mailbox could be full or their email provider’s server may be down.

Most email providers give you the option of re-sending the emails at a later time when they encounter a soft bounce:

While this is nice in the case of server issues, if an email address is consistently marked as a soft bounce, re-sending it won’t help. Eventually it will become flagged as a hard bounce anyway.

Both soft and hard bounces are indicative of the quality of your list. So if you’re seeing these pop up more often than not, it’s time to cut the ties with those emails for good.

It’s better to have a clean list (even if that means you’ll have fewer subscribers) targeted specifically to your loyal fans.

Avoid a lot of these problems by having subscribers confirm that they’ve opted in for your emails using a double opt-in.

#3: Your Emails Aren’t Optimized For Mobile

You’re not the only one who reads their emails on the porcelain throne. 

Over two-thirds of emails are opened on a mobile screen. Optimizing is a must, especially to improve your open rates:

  • Users open 16.81% of their emails on a tablet.[*]
  • Almost half of all emails (48%) are opened on smartphones.[*]
  • 75% of Gmail users check their email on their mobile devices.[*]

But we’re not talking about optimizing your email content. Your subscribers won’t get to that part if they’re not even opening them.

Instead, we’re referring to what your recipient sees before they open your email.

The first item to optimize is probably the last you’d expect: your “from” name. 

Whether you use your name or the name of your company as your “from” name, you’ll need to consider character length.

AWeber tested how the name John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt fared with each email platform. Here’s what they uncovered:[*]

As you can see, mobile screens cut your “from” name off at about 20 characters or less. So “from” names <20 characters are ideal.

The next area worth your attention is the preheader text.

 

This is the one to two sentence email preview following the subject line -- the perfect place to add a teaser.

Don’t be one of the many who fail to take advantage of this amazing lead in. 

  1. Use a call to action.
  2. Support your subject line –– don’t reiterate it.
  3. Keep the preheader character count between 85 to 100 characters. 
  4. Cut to the chase.
  5. Test out different preheader summaries.

You should see a noticeable boost in your open rates when you correct these small mobile issues.

If you’re using Sumo, you can optimize your “from” name, email subject line, and the preheader text in the campaign editor.

#4: Your Emails Are Coming From the Wrong Name

Should you use your brand’s name in the "from" address of your emails? Or should you send emails out using a name from someone on your team?

The answer depends entirely on the type of business you run.

Are you a solopreneur rocking your own personal brand?

Then your "from" name should be your personal name, like Marie Forleo, Peter Voogd and Caroline Kelso have done:

Your subscribers will feel as if they’re receiving a message from a friend.

If you’re running a company brand, this doesn’t make sense.

Subscribers won’t recognize your name and they’ll trash your email before even opening it.

If we look at the example below, we can see two different "from" name versions for larger companies.

MarketingProfs is taking advantage of their brand name power by using it as their "from" name. 

Matt from Under30Experiences is a more personalized brand, so he chose a combination of his real name and a shortened version of his biz name.

Make sure your “from” name makes sense for your brand. 

#5: You Haven’t Trained Your Subscribers

In the same way you gave readers a heads up to whitelist your emails, your new subscribers need to know what they can expect from you. 

Give them an idea of how often you’ll be reaching out. Bonus points for mentioning the specific day and time you’ll send your messages. 

This will help them anticipate your emails and prompt them to scan their junk folders. You can do this using a short and sweet welcome email like this one below.

These are welcoming and informative, and do wonders for your open rates too.

#6: You Aren’t Striking While The Iron’s Hot

Once you’ve given your readers the rundown of what to expect, you’re ready to start delivering high-quality content.

The most efficient way to do this is by creating an email sequence.

See, when your subscribers first sign up, they’re super excited. 

They’re what we in marketing call “hot leads”.  This is when they’re the most engaged

Keep them that way by creating a mind-blowing email sequence.

This powerful step sets the tone for your new relationship with your reader. It establishes trust and builds authority. Check out how Brennan Dunn does this:

Each day, his new readers are greeted with a helpful lesson that gets them one step closer to solving their problem. You’ll notice that the next lesson is delivered the very next day to keep his readers interested and moving forward. 

By offering your subscribers tons of valuable (yet free) advice at the start, they’ll be happy they're getting the help they need right away. 

This almost guarantees your readers open your next emails as soon as they receive them.

In Sumo, you can create automations like Brennan under Email in the menu and click the Automations tab.

If you don’t create an automated email follow up sequence, your readers may lose their steam and ignore your future emails, hurting your open rate.

Pro Tip: Use Sumo’s FREE email automation feature to make it super simple to execute this tip.

#7: You’re Not Generating Buzz

If there was ever one thing you could learn from Kylie Jenner it would be how to generate buzz around your product.

Through a series of Snapchat videos, she created so much hype around her 2015 lip kit launch that she sold out all three products within one minute and crashed the site she was selling on.[*]

You can create this same type of buzz for your product using email instead.

Entice readers with a sneak peek of what’s to come like Jenner does on Snapchat by adding a simple P.S. at the bottom of your emails.

By generating buzz here, you’ll have readers excited to open your emails before they’re even sent.

#8: You’re Being Too Formal

As your readers scan their stuffed inbox, they’re more likely to open messages from their friends and family first.

But, let’s face it, this is not how a friend would email a friend:

Connect with your subscribers by treating them as if you were having a conversation with them in-person. 

Derek Halpern does an amazing job with this, making you feel as if every time you open an email, you’re reading one from a friend:

Starting from the subject line itself.

It’s perfectly acceptable (and encouraged!) to use acronyms, emoticons, hashtags, popular phrases, and whatever else your audience digs to show them you speak the same language (and you’re not a corporate robot). 

Just don’t force it or try to be someone you’re not. Your audience will see right through your phoniness and probably never open your emails again. #KeepIt100

#9: Your Subject Lines Need Work

The best way to find out if your subject lines are sabotaging your open rates is by dissecting and A/B testing them.

Retention Science discovered the ideal length for subject lines is somewhere between 6 –10 words; 8 words seems to nab the golden ticket.[*]

Take a look at one of your mobile previews.

  1. Did you stay within the roughly 33 – 35 character limit, or was your subject line cut off?
  2. Was your message properly conveyed before it was shortened?

The answers to these questions will clue you into what to test first. 

Next, look for any words that could trigger the SPAM filter. Send Check It’s Email Subject Line Tester is the tool we use to test for spammy words in our emails.[*]

You enter your subject line:

Then the tool tells you if any spammy words were found, so you can remove them:

Econsultancy highlights the worst offenders out of a list of 40+ as:

  • Free
  • Help
  • Reminder
  • % off
  • Sale ending soon
  • Deals

While the next batch of words won’t trigger a filter, they could be contributing to your low open rates regardless.

Superlatives like “perfect” and “good” decreased open rates by 28% and 20%, respectively, Econsultancy adds. 

They also pointed out that “report” and “webinar” dropped rates by 23% and 16%, too.

When you remove these trigger words and you’re still bummed by low open rates, take it as a sign to work on your subject lines.

Once you have your newly revamped subject lines, you’re ready to A/B test them to determine which ones resonate with your audience.

Although even a catchy subject line won’t help if you’re sending emails out at the wrong time. 

#10: Your Timing Is All Wrong

Did you know that if anyone is going to unsubscribe, 66% of them will do so between 5pm and 10pm?[*]

So sending your message at the wrong time could do more harm than decrease your open rate — it could literally cost you subscribers.

There are two issues when it comes to timing your emails:

  1. Sending at the right time in general.
  2. Sending at the right time for your audience.

MailChimp found that in general open rates are highest from Monday to Friday.[*]

And that the optimal send time peaks at 10am:

So as a general rule of thumb, sending Monday to Friday at 10am in your recipient's local time zone is considered “best practice.”

But the true answer to the “best time to send emails” will depend on your audience. For example if you’re emailing neonatal nurses, many have optimal send times past 8pm.

To find the right timing for your business, understand what your target audiences normal workday looks like, and time your emails to send based on that behavior. 

#11: You’re Sending Your Emails To The Wrong People

Want to boost your open rates by at least 14%?

Segment your list.

Segmenting produced a 14.6% increase in open rates when compared to a non-segmented list.[*]

By sending your message to the right audience (which is probably not your entire list) you’ll deliver a highly targeted message that piques their interest. Subscribers are more likely to click through your offer and move further down your funnel.

There are dozens of ways you can segment your list, but four of the best ones to start with include:

  • Engagement: Use your open rates first. Send one email to readers who opened your email and a separate one to those who didn’t. For those who skipped your email, test out a different subject line or preheader text and keep the email inside exactly the same.
  • Past Interactions: If someone signed up for your productivity hacks guide before, they’ll probably be interested in similar topics moving forward. 
  • Buyer’s Journey: Your customers are all in different stages of your funnel, so it only makes sense to segment them based off their stage. Those starting out may need more information while those deeper in the funnel may be looking for discounts and social proof before they commit to making a purchase. 
  • Buyer Persona: Even if your target audience is comprised of mostly one gender, your data probably spans a few different age ranges. If that’s the case, it’d be in your best interest to send emails targeted to each demographic. Baby Boomers won’t want to read the same topics as Millennials.

If you haven’t started segmenting your list yet, now is the time to do so.

Start by using Sumo to segment and group your list based on the form your readers opt into.

First, create a Group:

Then connect that Group to your email collection form:

This simple automation takes out a good chunk of work for you, and gives you a highly segmented list.

#12: You’re Not Using Double-Opens

Since we know most of your subscribers won’t open your emails, it’s smart to have a backup plan.

That’s where double-opens come in. No, you’re not getting the same people to open your emails for a second time -- we’re not about padding stats here.

Noah Kagan coined the term double-opens and it means you’ll resend your email to subscribers who didn’t open it the first time one week after the first one launches.

The only item you’ll change in this second email is the subject line (see tip #9 for more help on this). 

When Noah tested this, he saw an 11% bump in his open rates for a total of 30%+. In his case, that meant 7,028 more opened emails from 1 minute of work:

Original:

Double-open email: 

See why you can’t afford to skip this stupidly simple step?

Many email providers have this feature, although I can’t guarantee it will be under the same Kagan-trademarked name. ConvertKit calls their feature Resend to Unopens:

Start using this open rate tactic right away. Like, now.

Start Increasing Your Open Rates Today

You need to increase your open rates to turn more subscribers into customers in your business. 

But before you get overwhelmed with what to tackle first, here are three simple steps you can take immediately:

  1. Add your whitelist instructions to your Success popup or thank you page so new subscribers aren’t lost in the shuffle (and your hard work doesn’t go unnoticed).

  2. Clean up and segment your subscriber lists so you can deliver the right messages to the right audience. 

  3. And whatever you do, don’t forget to take advantage of Double-Opens (seriously!).

You can use the free version of Sumo to do all of the above.

Don’t have an email list yet? No worries. Grab our list building starter kit to kickstart your list growth now! Psst… It goes well with a Sumo free account.

Click here to get our list building starter kit!

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