Solutions to Increase Your Email Open Rate

3 Reasons No One Is Reading Your Marketing Emails

By Jennifer MalinsMay 13 /2021

Is your ideal customer reading your marketing emails? If your email open rates aren’t where you’d hoped, relax. I’m on more email lists than I can count, and there are three main reasons I don’t open most emails, but these can be fixed.

But first, a confession: In spite of the fact that I hate reading emails, I subscribe to new email lists every month. “Why,” you ask.

A proud Ravenclaw, I’m an eternal student, which means I’m a sucker for free downloads. You know, those free how-to videos and ebooks that you get in exchange for your email address?

The folders on my desktop contain tons of these little treasures. In return, I get regular emails from these companies, which often end up in the trash, unopened, until I eventually decide to unsubscribe.

So yeah, I’m an email marketer’s worst nightmare. But before you judge me too harshly, I don’t subscribe just for the free stuff. I genuinely want to hear what the sender has to say, but the subsequent emails are often a letdown after the ebook high.

That’s why I’m the perfect sherpa to help you trudge up the seemingly insurmountable mountain of creating successful marketing emails.

Keep reading to learn the three things that cause me — and many others — to delete emails within seconds and eventually say thanks, but no thanks in the form of unsubscribing.

The 3 Reasons I Don’t Read Most Marketing Emails

The big-picture answer is simple. I signed up for these newsletters based on a written or implied promise and the sender did not deliver. Sometimes, I recognize this broken promise while skimming through the email, which is why I delete it before clicking the CTA.

Other times, they end up in the trash without me even opening them. Here are the three ways the sender broke these promises:

1. The subject line was weak

Bob Sugarman’s AdSense, a copywriting classic, is still relevant today. He said that the goal of the first line of copy is to compel the reader to read the second line. The goal of the second line? Yep, it’s to get you to read the third line and so on.

Think of an email as an ad. The subject line of your email is your first line of ad copy. You only have a few words, so choose wisely. If it’s not enticing, the reader won’t even open it, which hurts your analytics.

And if no one reads your message, what’s the point?

Lucky for you, I’m really bad about taking out the digital trash, so I [still] have plenty of emails from the past several months to serve as examples of subject lines that made me sigh as I scrolled past without even bothering to press delete.

Example #1 - Starting next week: Pr

The cutoff point for each email provider varies. Aim for 40 characters or less. In this case, the subject line got cut off after only 22 characters.

I mostly read emails on my phone, and if the subject line doesn’t clearly show what’s in it for me, I won’t bother to open it. Be sure to place the most important part of your message first and make it succinct.

Example #2 - Gmail: One simple rule to transfor

This is going to show me how to transform something, which is great, right? As much as I love the word “transformation,” everyone writes about transforming something. It sounds like an unrealistic promise for an email, like someone coming on too strong on a date. Desperation is not attractive.

Example #3 - The Digest: March 10th: Confli

Ok, The Digest is a newsletter, and I guess March 10th is the date of the newsletter. These two facts took up nearly the entire subject line and I don’t know what’s in it for me. It’s obviously going to be about conflict, but what kind of conflict? That’s such a broad topic, and I didn’t think I needed help with that at that time.

The truth is, everyone has some kind of conflict in their lives, but if you just use the word “conflict,” the reader may assume it’s about relationships. This email was actually about inner conflict regarding career choices, which did apply to me at that time. Oops!

In addition to the above examples, here are some words and phrases that make people's eyes glaze over and skip opening your email message altogether:

  • Announcement
  • Time is running out
  • Discount
  • Important message
  • You’ve got to read this!
  • An important notice about …

So many emails have these words and phrases in the subject line and they tell me nothing about what’s inside, only that a group of salesy salespeople are more concerned about their goals than my best interests. I immediately hit delete on these.

You won’t please everyone, no matter how great your subject line may be, but if you make it about the customer, your open rate is sure to increase.

2. You emailed the wrong person about the wrong thing

I still receive emails about dating (I’ve been married for several years) or diapers (I don’t have children). It’s like getting a birthday card from a friend six months after your birthday that is addressed to the wrong person.

We all want to be seen and heard. We want to feel special. These senders obviously have no clue who I am and they don’t care, so I won’t only delete the email, I’ll flag it as spam, which hurts the sender’s ratings.

Know your audience and be sure to segment your emails so they go to the right group of contacts within your contact list.

Segmentation: The Buyer Persona

Writing an email to a busy stay-at-home mom in the suburbs who’s on the board of a large nonprofit organization and loves playing tennis is going to have a very different lifestyle than a 25-year-old single male who loves to rock climb in foreign countries with his buddies.

You can’t write a tailored email to both of these people, even though both of them may be buying your product or service. They have different priorities, interests and needs. Develop one or more buyer personas and then write to those people.

Segmentation: The sales funnel

I paid for an expensive class with an organization I admired and followed, but I opted out of their newsletter list when they kept sending me sales emails about a class I’d already completed.

I was obviously the right target audience because I took the class, but the context was wrong. They were targeting the top of the funnel, which is not where I was at all.

Instead, they should have added me to a different email list designed for people who had taken this class but may be interested in other ones.

Know where your buyers are in their journey and tailor your emails to their place on the path. In other words, don’t send every email to every contact every time.

3. Your email has body issues

I’ve received emails that had such enticing subject lines that I actually opened the email only to find issues with the body of the email:

  • The email was waaaaay too long. Sorry, busy Type-A personality here. If I want to read a novel, I’ll open my Kindle.
  • The sender used the email as a way to vent rather than give me something valuable. I’m a nice person, really, but I have my own problems. Vent to your friends. Give value to your customers.
  • The subject line didn’t match the message of the email or was misleading. For example, what if you thought you were going to get a tip about dog grooming and the body of the message was merely a sales pitch for pet products that happened to include a grooming kit?

Deceptive subject lines not only hurt your analytics, but they can also damage your bottom line through a heavy fine.

  • The layout was confusing or too busy. Make sure there’s a logical flow rather than a mishmash of stuff. Images are great but use them sparingly. I personally loathe anything that flashes at me.
  • It took too long to load. Test your emails before you send them. Long load time decreases the likelihood that someone will read it.
  • The copy was boring. Yep, it needs to be short but still interesting. Know your recipients. What interests them? What are their pain points? What are their dreams and desires? Speak to those things. If you’re segmenting your emails based on personas, this is much easier.
  • The links didn’t work. There’s nothing more frustrating than taking the time to read an email during a busy day and getting excited enough to take action, only to find the link doesn’t work or the page being linked to is under construction. Be sure to test your emails, including the links, prior to sending them. Mistakes will still happen and sometimes these are out of your control, but if you take the necessary steps on your end, you will keep them to a minimum.
  • I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. If your email doesn’t have a purpose, don’t send it. This doesn’t mean they all have to be about selling something. However great or small the action is, your email should have a clear call-to-action (CTA). Maybe you want your subscribers to download your latest resource or read your most recent blog post. An email with a snippet from the article with a “Read More” button that links to the full blog post is an example of a simple CTA.

Why Email Open Rates Matter

An email provider has algorithms that allow it to serve as a gatekeeper, much like a receptionist in a corporate office. Your prospects are busy and don’t want to be bothered by unwanted emails.

So how does an email provider know when something is unwanted? When a recipient consistently decides not to open your email, this may cause future emails to be flagged as spam.

I’ve had several personal and business Gmail accounts over the years and I’ve noticed that when I frequently ignore emails from certain senders, they end up in spam. These have sometimes been emails I wish I would have seen, so it hurt both the sender and me.

And let’s wax philosophical here: If no one reads your email, does it really exist? After all, the point of sending out emails is to hit the conversion bullseye. If you end up in the spam box, you get zero points because your arrow missed the entire dartboard and ended up in the forest where the recipient may never find it.

The solution? Put the customer first.

Writing good emails is an art and a science, but many people focus on what they want to get out of it, such as awareness, conversions and sales. But the average customer doesn’t care about your bottom line. Your products, services and the emails promoting those products and services should be all about the customer.

OK, it’s time for some brutal self-honesty: Would you want to read your emails? If you hate reading most emails, why write ones that you wouldn’t want to read yourself?

To start writing better marketing emails, study yourself first. When it comes to emails, both personal and professional, why do you delete some and save others? This will help you with the next step: knowing your customers.

Write emails that target their pain points, goals and dreams. Segment your emails so that you target the right person at the right place on their [buyer’s] journey. And be sure your emails are in compliance with federal regulations.

But don’t stop there. Your customers are always evolving and so is your business, so you need to constantly analyze your data and refine your strategy. In marketing, there are always mountains to climb, so don’t rest at the summit too long. There’s another peak just on the horizon.

Email Marketing Strategies in Content & Design for 2017

Jennifer Malins
The Author

Jennifer Malins

Jennifer uses her journalism background to capture client narrative and translate it into marketing that matters. Previously, she wrote SEO-rich web copy and blogs for a variety of healthcare practitioners and served as the VP of Programs for a literacy nonprofit.