5 Fail-Proof Strategies For Increasing Your Email Open Rate

by Jacob McMillen

Last updated on July 27th, 2017

It’s no secret I’m a MASSIVE fan of email marketing.

Email lists simply convert at a higher rate than any other organic channel, and unlike channels such as AdWords or social media, your email list is an asset you will ALWAYS have control over.

Unfortunately, an email list isn’t automatic money. What you do with your email list is even more important than how quickly you can build it. The world’s largest list won’t do you a shred of good if no one opens your emails.

So that’s what we’re looking at today. This isn’t a list of tips to increase your open rate.

This is a list of 5 FAIL-PROOF strategies that are GUARANTEED to increase your open rate.

1. Build a list that wants to hear from you.

Sales is a numbers game.

I get it.

And there is a place for purchasing lead lists or things of that nature. But your email list isn’t that place.

A bought email list is virtually worthless, with very few exceptions. If you want an email list that will open and respond to your emails, you need subscribers who are there voluntarily.

You need a list of people who actually want to hear from you. Here are a number of ways to get that:

  • Double opt-in subscriptions via your website
  • Auto-subscribe customers at purchase for online stores
  • Create lists based on people who have contacted you previously concerning list topics
  • Buy out a competing site and its email list

A high-profile client I worked with recently receives and answers emails very frequently concerning his content but had never bothered to build an email list. In order to build his list more quickly as part of a new blog launch, we collected around 8,000 addresses of people who had requested info in the last few years.

I sent out a very low-pressure welcome email, with links to the new blog, and received over 3,000 opens (41% open rate) with only 66 unsubscribes. Needless to say, the strategy worked out, but only because it was a list of people we knew wanted to hear from us.

2. Create a great first impression.

First Impressions

Personalizing and specifically targeting is a good first impression. David Jones does a great job at this (Image Source).

Your first impression with your email list is no different than any other first impression.

It’s extremely important.

Your open rate is primarily a result of what subscribers expect to see when they open your email. If your first email offers tremendous value and creates positive expectation for value to come, your brand will be immediately associated with quality in the minds of your subscribers.

On the other hand, if your first email offers little value and fails to set an accurate expectation for future mailings, you might not be able to recover.

The only way to control every subscriber’s first email experience is to create an auto-responder for new subscribers, and that’ why I recommend…

3. Make your lead magnet an autoresponder.

In my experience, new subscriber auto-responders are THE most underutilized weapon in email marketing.

Either they are poorly focused, poorly designed, poorly implemented, or simply not used at all.

One of the biggest problems is that users are annoyed by the immediate influx of emails. They said, “Yes, I want to received periodic updates” and they were hit instead with daily sales pitches. Or in other cases, they receive one vague introductory email that fails to capitalize on the immediate interest of a new subscriber.

The answer to these problems is to make your lead magnet an auto-responder.

When people sign up for an ebook, a pdf, or a how-to template, they are not signing up for the purpose of receiving your emails. They are signing up to download your lead magnet. This means that your first email is already somewhat intrusive.

By making your lead magnet an auto-responder email series, your subscribers are now actively seeking for you to email them. The entire premise of your relationship with them is now high-value emails for them to open, and this will continue after the initial email series is complete.

Email List

Duct Tape Marketing starts off their lead magnet with a pop-up. People who fill out a pop-up form are most likely REALLY interested in what you have to say (Image Source).

4. Write a compelling subject line.

Subject line

Urgent subject lines are one way to do it. Learn even more ways here.

Everything we’ve talked about thus far has dealt with brand association and consumer expectation.

Many factors go into both association and expectation, and depending on where you are at right now in your email marketing journey, you may not have total control over these elements.

What you do have total control over, right now, is your next email’s subject line.

Your subject line is THE primary way to increase email opens. Write something people want to click, and you’ll increase opens. Right something people need to click, and you can even overcome past mistakes.

Here are a few strategies for increasing the effectiveness of your subject line:

  • Make an outlandish promise (and then deliver)
  • Create curiosity through vague language or mentioning something ridiculous
  • Pose a question your audience wants the answer to
  • Reference a trending person or event

For more strategies for writing compelling headlines, click here.

5. Don’t send an email unless it’s something you’d want to read.

I can’t tell you how many worthless emails I’ve received from quality businesses and publishers.

While I typically won’t unsubscribe based on one low-quality email, I will be less likely to open the next email I get from that business.

Every email you send should cement your first impression as a high-value provider. Every. Single. One.

If it’s not something you would be pleased to receive in your inbox, you should think very hard about sending it to your subscribers. You may need to send out a more admin-oriented email, but do everything in your power to make it interesting. Add useful content to it. Include something free or beneficial.

Even a single poor email can be enough to discourage opens. I learned this the hard way by sending out a handful of emails one week that were all focused on new website features and didn’t offer any standalone value.

As a result, my open rate dropped from 40% to 32%… not fun.

By delivering consistent quality, you can create an audience that will virtually always click on your emails when they show up in their inbox. And that’s exactly what you should be going for.


In review, the best way to maximize open rates is to build a list of subscribers who actually want to hear from you by capturing their emails with an email auto-responder lead magnet and delivering an amazing first impression.

Follow this up with consistently high-value content, introduced via compelling subject lines, and you can expect to see open rates in the 40 percentile.



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Jacob McMillen

Jacob McMillen is a website copywriter and content strategist. He helps businesses stop playing around with content marketing and start seeing tangible ROI. Download his free guide: 2 Fail-Proof Marketing Strategies For Businesses On A Budget


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  1. Helena says:
    December 12, 2017 at 9:08 am

    Good information, Thanks for sharing. Really for increase the email open rates, We need to send email for the audience that wants to hear from you otherwise your hard work will be in vain

  2. JERRY dESUZA says:
    January 14, 2016 at 4:24 am

    Nice Article Thanks for Sharing SUch A Great Info about E-mail

  3. Ali says:
    December 5, 2015 at 12:37 am

    Jacob well written, I specially agree with your point 4 & point 5, since the compelling subject line is very very important, for me using special characters such as # or even numbers have increased my open rate but yes, it’s need to be compelling one.

    And Point 5 is also well said, a user receives typically so much mails a day that he can’t pay attention to everyone and your email will only have a special way when you send them on very important issues!

    I appreciate you for the article.

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