Read This Email. Why Again?

Many small businesses promote their products, services and discounts through emails. But how do you get customers reading? Our Team Digital has the answer.

learn more about Colleen DeBaise

By Colleen DeBaise

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We've asked a coterie of marketing experts to join Entrepreneur's Team Digital to provide answers to your common questions about building an online presence. Got a question? Ask it in our comment section below or on Twitter using #TeamDigital. Each week, we'll spotlight a different topic, and twice a month we'll host Google Hangouts (see our June 12 Hangout) where Team Digital will chat about best strategies for managing an online reputation, marketing through social media and using mobile techniques to attract customers.

In this week's column, our Team Digital answers: How do I get people to open my email? Many small businesses promote their products, services and discounts through emails or e-newsletters. But how do I actually get people reading?

Jim Joseph
Use an emotional hook. Facts and figures about your brand are not motivating. But a real emotional appeal will get your customers to not only notice, but to relate. Getting them to relate will get them to open!

Jim Joseph, Cohn & Wolfe

Brian Honigman

Mix valuable content with exclusive offers aimed at driving sales, and call out both in your subject line.Your subject line should be treated as a headline that quickly illustrates that this email and future emails from your business contain valuable content. Incorporate links to your blog posts, videos, gifs, how-to's, ebooks and other information that expresses your company's unique perspective. Balance this rich content with limited offers that your audience won't find elsewhere.

Brian Honigman,
Peter Shankman
Tie in what's going on in the world. This doesn't mean to selfishly exploit a tragedy, but you certainly can take some light-hearted news and turn it to your advantage. People are more likely to open what they are already familiar with, so use the news. As an example, I worked with a jewelry company who would frequently offer email sales. When Lindsay Lohan was busted for allegedly stealing jewelry from a store in L.A., I immediately advised my client to send an email to their list with the subject line "Lindsay Five Finger Discount Sale!" and offered a higher percentage off. It was one of their largest conversions to date.

Peter Shankman, Shankman|Honig
John Jantsch

Be a welcome sight. I know people want to hear about tips and tricks that give an edge but nothing beats producing and sending something people look forward to opening. There are many ways to do this - be controversial, be open and personal, be short and sweet - the only thing you cannot be in your email is boring.

John Jantsch, Duct Tape Marketing
Ilise Benun

Once is not enough: Resend the same message more than once. Whether you're sending a personal email or an email newsletter, the key to getting someone's attention is often repetition. The first time people see something, it's just one of a barrage of messages. But when you resend, with a friendly, "Hey, in case you missed this..." they are more likely to take notice. Don't worry about annoying recipients. People's attention is scattered. Even if you resend exactly the same message, they may not even notice that they've received it already.

Ilise Benun,
Eric Siu

Spend the most time on writing a compelling subject line. The subject line is the first thing people see so if you can't attract a click there, your e-mail is essentially dead. I'd even go as far as to say to invest 50% of your time into the headline and 50% into the content itself. It's that important.

Eric Siu,
Rick Mulready

...And don't forget to test attention-grabbing subject lines against each other. Email marketing is all about testing to see what works best, so come up with a couple of strong subject lines and see which one invokes the higher open rate. Consider using emotion-based or benefit-driven headlines. Ones that create curiosity or contain a statistic can also work well.

Rick Mulready,
Jason Falls

Forget about me, me, me. Stop filling your email content with self-serving, "me" content. If there's value and utility and awesomeness for them when they open, they'll open more often. Make them want to open your emails because what's inside is incredible.

Jason Falls, CafePress
Jayson DeMers

Use personalization. Include the person's name in the subject line (ie, "Jayson, we've got a special offer just for you"). You can even use personalization in the "from" field by using a real person's name (who the recipient will know) rather than your business name. For example, if I wanted to promote a webinar I was presenting, I could send an email using my personal name as the "from" line. I'd also personalize the body of the email if I chose to do this. This will greatly enhance open rates.

Jayson DeMers, AudienceBloom
Adam Kleinberg

Step One: Make sure it gets delivered. Avoid trigger words in your subject line like "clearance," "cash" and "buy." They will put your email at risk of getting swept into recipients' spam filters before they ever hit the inbox. HubSpot has a great list of words to avoid, which you can consult here: Your customers can't open an email they never receive.

Adam Kleinberg, Traction
Karen Leland

...And avoid the big no-no words that are turn offs. Similar to the last point, most marketers know to avoid the word "Free" in a subject line since it can send you into the spam filter. However, research shows that there are three other words which -- while they sound innocent -- can lower your open rates. Stay clear of "Help," "Percent Off" and "Reminder" in your email subject lines.

Karen Leland, Sterling Marketing Group
Joanna Lord

Lead with what they get. Are you introducing them to great content? Did you update your product? Are you saying thank you? Give them real value before you ask them to do something or click through. If you establish this in subject lines and consistently deliver real value, your customers will grow to appreciate and engage with more and more of your emails over time.

Joanna Lord, BigDoor
DJ Waldow

Earn your subscribers' trust first and the rest will fall into place. You want people to open your emails? Sure, you can craft the most compelling email subject line of all time -- use humor, create a sense of urgency, and so on. However, if your subscribers don't trust you, if they don't believe your content will be of value, they will never open your emails. Once you have earned that trust, you can break all sorts of "rules" and still be successful.

DJ Waldow, Founder & CEO of Waldow Social
Colleen DeBaise
Colleen DeBaise is special projects director at

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