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How to Get People to Open – And Read – Your Emails Email marketing is one of the quickest and most effective ways to grow your brand, expand your audience and make more sales.

By Liviu Tanase Edited by Brittany Robins

Key Takeaways

  • Craft attention-grabbing headlines to drive engagement.
  • Maintain a high email sender reputation to avoid your messages going to spam.
  • Triple-check links and copy. Nothing breaks trust like sloppiness.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Think about the last time a brand emailed you. Did you open the email? Did you read the whole thing? Did it drive you to buy something or engage with the company? Did you even notice who sent the message before marking it as "read" or sending it to the trash?

These days, inboxes are flooded: On average, a person receives 121 emails per day. While you may think your company's emails stand out, a large portion of your subscribers will delete those emails before they're ever opened. To avoid quickly landing into the trash, you need to craft effective marketing emails. This requires strategy and precision.

Using email marketing to your company's advantage is about more than the content of the emails themselves; you need to build a list of users and addresses, avoid complaints of spam, follow the laws and maintain consistency in outreach — all in the hopes of driving consumers to action.

Below, you'll find essential tips and insights to help you build a dynamic email marketing plan. But before sending a single message, it's important to understand how email providers work in the first place.

Understanding email sender reputation

One factor that can truly make or break your email campaign is email sender reputation. This is an evaluation made by email providers (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc.) to assess the quality of senders. Every provider aims to keep inboxes free of spam, and they've come up with formulas that act much like a credit score for email.

A long history of sending out valuable and relevant information will boost your reputation while bombarding messages and trying too hard to push sales will hurt it. The lower a sender's reputation, the more likely their message will go straight to your spam folder.

It's hard to convert users to consumers when they never see your message in the first place, so you'll want to maintain — and improve — your email sender reputation. Here are some factors to keep an eye on:

Email list quality and accuracy

If your contacts are old or obsolete, you could damage your reputation by continuing to send emails to those irrelevant email addresses. Why? Because it will lead to more bounce-backs and unopened messages. As your click-through rate falls, so too does your sender reputation.

Email consistency (and volume)

If you go from sending one email per week to sending dozens of emails per day, you will raise red flags for being spam.

Email content

If you use suspicious trigger words in your subject line or body text, your emails could also be flagged as spam, preventing your message from being delivered and blemishing your sender reputation. These triggers include phrases like "free gifts," messages in all caps and subject lines that make exaggerated claims (e.g.,"100% free," "Be your own boss," "Get out of debt").

Open rates

If people are commonly deleting your emails without reading them, your reputation score will also decline. The higher your open rate, the better your reputation will be.

Long domain history

The longer you've sent emails from the same domain, the more solid your reputation will be. Unfortunately, newcomers are at a distinct disadvantage, as there are no shortcuts to establishing a long history.

Spam flag

Users typically mark your emails as spam when you're sending too many messages or the messages aren't relevant to them. Providers take note of this, and each instance hurts your email sender reputation.

Proven strategies to get people to open and read your emails

Your email list is updated and intact. Now you have the opportunity to speak directly to consumers. What do you want to say? Why are you saying it? And most importantly, how do you get your audience to actually read your emails?

Use these eight simple strategies to get your audience's attention:

1. Craft attention-grabbing subject lines

The subject line is often the difference between a user opening your email or sending it straight to trash. Entice readers by playing to their curiosities. Consider these two subject lines, for instance: "Your August newsletter has arrived" and "How Harry changed his life in 28 days with AS Plus." Which email are you more likely to open? Probably the latter because it's enticing; it demands your attention. Consider running A/B tests on your subject lines to find what's most effective with your recipients.

2. Be consistent

Choose how often you're going to email your list, and stick to it. No one likes getting random emails at random times. Sending emails on a schedule also tells inbox providers that you have a legitimate business, so your emails are more likely to stay out of the spam folder. This consistency also applies to design and tone: Your emails should have a standard look and voice.

3. Provide value

Make sure you consistently deliver quality content. Your emails should provide value to your audience instead of just touting your brand. This could be financial advice, recipes, interesting data points — anything related, but not directly tied, to your brand.

4. Don't try to sound smart

The easiest way to lose email subscribers — and, ultimately, sales — is to sound too lofty or formal in your messaging. If you want to connect with your audience, talk to them as if you're speaking to a friend. Be conversational in your language and tone, and share your knowledge in an approachable manner.

5. Share social proof

How did a client of yours overcome their struggles thanks to your help? Did your services save John thousands on his taxes? Did your coaching help Mary land that job? Don't be afraid to share wins with your audience. Once consumers learn how you've helped others, they're more likely to seek out those services.

6. Make your emails interactive

People want to be heard, so give your audience that opportunity to share their perspectives. Send them a quick email with a question, ask them to take part in a short survey or see what topics they'd like to read from you in the future. This will increase your email open rates and could provide you with ideas for future campaigns.

7. Be an innovator

If all your competitors are sending daily emails, send emails twice a week. If your competitors only aim to sell, make sure you're building trust by first providing additional value in your emails. Use an approach that makes sense for your specific brand, industry and audience.

Factors to consider when scheduling your marketing emails

A successful email campaign takes more than captivating content; like in business, timing is everything. With click-through rates as low as 2% for some industries, one of the best ways to get users to open — and read — your emails is by knowing how often to send them.

If you bombard subscribers with emails, they'll eventually grow tired of receiving them and opt out of messages. A Chadwick Martin Bailey study found that of users who unsubscribe, 69% of them reported receiving "too many emails" as the culprit. Send too few emails, though, and your messages may get lost in the ether.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how often you should send promotional emails. Every business and its audience is different. But no matter your industry or company size, consider these factors when planning the cadence of your email marketing:

Industry stats

Study your competitors; track how many emails they send each week. This can help you compare your strategy to theirs – but don't blatantly copy them. Every business has its own incentives, and your competitors may be sending more (or less) emails because they have a specific goal. Keep tabs on peers, and customize your strategy for your needs.

Nature of product or services

The number of emails you send largely depends on what you're offering your customers. For example, if you sell air conditioners, you'd send more emails in summer than in winter. If you run a news agency, your subscribers should expect daily emails to stay informed. Find out how your brand fits into the lives of consumers and design your outreach based on those findings. Around 32% of users unsubscribe from brands due to "irrelevant or useless" emails. Don't make the mistake of sending emails just for the sake of it.

What your customers want

Let your customers choose how many emails they wish to receive. Present this option when they sign up for newsletters or send out a poll to subscribers. If you give users what they want, at the rate they want it, they'll be more likely to open and read your messages.

What to double-check before hitting "send" on your email campaign

Everything is ready: your email list is built, your content is written, and you're ready to spread your message. But before you do, it's essential to check your work.

The content of your emails should establish trust with consumers, and nothing breaks that trust like sloppiness. Typos, broken links, unformatted text — these may seem like small slip-ups, but they send the wrong message to subscribers. If your company can't send an error-free email, why should consumers trust you when making a big purchase or signing a multi-year contract? Before sending your marketing email, double-check the following:

Test links and your template several times

Your social media icons, your "View in browser" and "Unsubscribe" links, your calls to action — do they all work properly? You can test them manually or, if you need more reassurance, use a tool like Litmus, which tests email campaigns across operating systems and devices. Be sure to confirm that your links and templates work across browsers and devices: 63% of emails are opened on mobile phones, and formatting can change across platforms.

Examine your reports and email list quality

Inspect your email verifier reports and see if anything has changed recently. Do you notice a drop in your click-through rates? Have you gotten any spam complaints? HubSpot research found that email databases deteriorate at an average rate of 2.1% per month. That's enough to cause your emails to land in the spam folder, so double-check these data — and remove addresses that bounce — before launching your campaign.

Triple-check your copy

Typos are not only embarrassing, but they also convey a lack of professionalism and attention to detail. In addition to a few pairs of human eyes, use a grammar and spell-checking tool to ensure your copy is error-free. You can also test your emails by sending them to a select group of employees who will then provide feedback.

How to avoid email spam complaints

Spam messages account for more than 46% of email traffic, and email providers are constantly blocking and filtering them. As a user, it's helpful to report junk emails and avoid future outreach. But issues arise when legitimate emails like yours get reported. The acceptable industry standard is one complaint for every 1,000 emails sent. Rise above that, and you risk all of your messages landing in spam, as Google warns. Thankfully, avoiding that fate isn't hard when you follow some basic rules:

Only email consenting subscribers

If you're considering buying or renting an email list, think again. Even your closest friends must go through the subscription process, not just your customers. If someone complains about your email, remove that person from your list immediately, as they're more likely to mark your message as spam and hurt your sender reputation.

Use your brand name in the "from" field

Your subscribers should immediately know who is sending the email. When users don't recognize an address, they're more likely to mark it as junk.

Standardize double opt-in

Double opt-in is a process in which your system automatically sends an email to new subscribers, asking them to click a confirmation link. This prevents fake signups and ensures your list of recipients is expecting to hear from you.

Stick to your schedule

Find an ideal cadence of sending marketing emails and stick to it long-term. It's the most effective way to build engagement, and it sets expectations for subscribers, meaning fewer complaints.

Be predictable — to a point

If you're planning a rebrand, ensure that your visuals remain aligned with your core branding elements. This clarity drives engagement and brand loyalty, which leads to higher sales.

How to grow your email list

Your email list is essential to not only engaging current customers, but also reaching future ones. This communication establishes trust, builds brand loyalty and opens a dialogue between company and consumer. It's natural, then, that a growing email list leads to higher demand and more revenue.

This can be a slow and steady process, but here are some easy-to-implement tips for growing an email list:

1. Add more sign-up forms to your platforms

Have at least two sign-up forms on your website and add one to your blog, as well. Make the process frictionless by reducing the number of forms to fill out and posting these sign-ups on your social media pages.

2. Use social media more intentionally

Your social media channels are a great tool to capture more email addresses. Promote your email list consistently in posts, social profiles and videos, highlighting what followers gain by signing up.

3. Include a sign-up link in all of your emails

This way, if your email is forwarded, the person who receives it can easily opt-in to future communications from you.

4. Encourage promotion by word of mouth

Talk to your peers, friends and customers about the helpful information you share via email. Encourage them to not only subscribe but also to share your subscription form with others.

5. Get permission

Emailing someone who hasn't granted permission to receive communication is a surefire way to sabotage your own deliverability. People who haven't opted-in to your emails are less likely to engage and more likely to report you as spam. Even if they're a customer, they must express a clear interest in getting marketing emails from you.

6. Check every new email address

Prominent email verification platforms will allow you to check a few email addresses for free, a good option if your list is growing slowly. However, at least twice a year, make sure you run your entire list through an email verifier. This will provide you with peace of mind knowing actual humans are receiving your emails.

7. Use Google's reCAPTCHA on your sign-up forms

Any obstacle you can put between your email list and fake sign-ups helps to build a healthier email campaign. A program like Google's reCAPTCHA uses a variety of algorithms to tell humans and bots apart. While some spambots can bypass even the most advanced anti-spam systems, reCAPTCHA will help you protect the health of your email list by detecting fake addresses.

8. Part with dormant subscribers every three months

Keeping dormant, unengaged subscribers on your list leads to lower click-through rates and signals to inbox providers like Google and Microsoft that your content isn't relevant. The email marketing platform Rejoiner suggests removing contacts every three months or so. This will boost your open rate and leave email providers less likely to send your messages to spam.

How to nurture and monetize your email list

Once you have an email list, it's time to push consumers to action. At its most productive, email marketing has an ROI of $45 for every dollar spent, making it one of the most effective marketing channels for businesses.

But monetizing your email list takes time. Large subscriber lists don't always translate to profits, and tapping into subscribers' spending power takes creativity. Engagement is key: The more subscribers engage with your content, the more likely they are to buy your product or pay for your services. When it's time to start monetizing your email list, the following tips can help keep you on track:

Monitor your conversion rate

The goal of any email marketing campaign is a high conversion rate (e.g. the percentage of subscribers who become paying customers). This is one of — if not the — most important data point for your email campaigns. Track your conversion rate for every sent email, and see what drives users to act.

Personalize your messages

Look in your own inbox and ask yourself what stands out and why. The emails that get your attention are likely tailored for you. Segment your email list according to purchase history or demographics like age or location, and personalize your message for those segmented audiences. To better understand what your subscribers want, consider gathering more information on your sign-up forms. An astounding 77% of consumers are willing to share information with brands to get a personalized experience.

The laws of email marketing

Ignoring best practices for email marketing may not only hurt your campaign but could also result in broken laws and heavy fines. The CAN-SPAM Act, a 2003 law applying to commercial email messages, was enacted to protect consumers and prevent the proliferation of junk mail. End up on the wrong side of the law, and your company could be on the hook for up to $51,744 for each email violating the act.

What makes a message commercial? It's broad. For example, a message doesn't have to promote a product or service directly to be considered commercial: Emails that promote content (e.g., blog posts, articles or tutorials) would be considered commercial because they indirectly promote the company. Operate under the assumption that every message your company sends is commercial.

Those who follow the best practices for avoiding spam complaints will mostly be covered. But if you want to legally adhere to the CAN-SPAM Act — and steer clear of fines that could wipe out your company — avoid these legal pitfalls:

False header or sender information

Your messages must accurately identify both the person and business that initiated the message. The header information should also include the originating domain (typically your business' web domain) and real email address.

Misleading subject line

The subject line should clearly explain what the recipient will get when they open the message. Both inaccurate and vague subject lines could land you in trouble.

Hiding ad disclosures

If a message is an advertisement or promotional in nature, your email must communicate this. Leave no room for ambiguity.

Concealing your location

Your messages must include a valid postal address registered with the U.S. Postal Service.

No unsubscribe option

Commercial emails must include an easy way for users to unsubscribe. This process must be free of fees or conditions. Ensure users can opt out by visiting a single webpage or sending just one email.

Not completing user opt-outs

If a user unsubscribes, you must honor that request within 10 business days. Once a person unsubscribes, you're not allowed to transfer or sell that person's email address to other marketers.

Not keeping tabs on third parties

If you hire another person or company to manage your email marketing, you're still responsible for complying with the CAN-SPAM Act. Monitor their activities for compliance on an ongoing basis, and make sure they know the law, too.

Start sending those emails

It's time to get your email marketing plan off the ground. But don't think of all this advice as one-and-done. Maintaining a healthy and successful email marketing campaign requires discipline — audits of your email list, systems to proofread and edit content and a strict schedule. Track your progress and adapt strategies, if necessary. So long as you follow these best practices, you'll be on your way to creating a dynamic email program.

Liviu Tanase

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder & CEO of ZeroBounce

Liviu Tanase is a serial entrepreneur and telecommunication executive with extensive experience in the creation, growth and sale of novel technologies. He is currently the CEO of ZeroBounce, an email validation and deliverability platform.

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