What is a good open rate for emails delivered from a small- to medium-sized business? According to MailChimp, companies ranging from 1 to 50 employees should feel pretty good about open rates averaging anywhere from 20 – 23%.

So if your open rate doesn’t at least meet the industry average, you’ve got some work to do. Here’s what may be holding you back.

The Technical Stuff

Don’t beat yourself up just yet. Many of the things that cause emails to not get opened aren’t your fault on an email-to-email or even a day-to-day basis. They’re things that happen based on how you set up your account with your email service provider, the list you send emails to and other formatting choices you likely made long ago.

Let’s dive into the technical stuff that’s causing your emails to not get opened.

You’re being marked as spam.

Consumers can’t open emails they never see. Spam filters plague all email marketers, big and small, forcing your great emails into junk folders alongside other non-compliant emails. According to ReturnPath, 21% of permission-based emails (which yours should be, since you’d never send to someone without their consent) end up in junk folders.

So you’re probably thinking, “How do I avoid being marked as spam?” It’s all about being in compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act. Check in with the FTC if you want more information, but here are the basics.

  • Don’t be sneaky in how you word things like your From name and subject lines.
  • Include an option to opt out or unsubscribe, and comply with these requests promptly. They’ll give you 30 days, but we recommend keeping up with these more frequently, maybe every couple weeks.
  • Include a physical mailing address for your business in the footer of your emails or elsewhere.

Your emails are hard bouncing.

Hard bounces happen when a recipient’s address isn’t valid or is inaccurate. You should scrub your contact list for these emails at least every quarter. If you send emails frequently though, consider doing so every month.

Your emails are soft bouncing.

Soft bounces are a little less devastating in that you have a valid email address, and your message has reached the server. Unfortunately, a soft bounce means that once it got there, either the server was down, the mailbox was full, or your message exceeded the recipients storage size limits. Beat soft bounces by trying a second send again after a week or so has passed.

The Human Stuff

As for what you can control after the technical stuff, open rates are mostly attributed to the aspects of your email consumers can see in their email preview pane. (Some marketers say the email preview pane is all they base their open rates on, but there’s something to be said for how your brand recognition and reputation affect whether or not someone wants to hear from you. More on that in a sec.)

We want you to wow your contact list with your email campaigns. Here’s what may be stopping you from getting their undivided attention.

Your subject line focuses too much on selling.

There’s an old industry saying, “Tell, don’t sell.” Communicate value and what you bring to the table before trying to win business. Even if your email is promotional in nature, focus on the benefit of your offer more than the price you’re asking.

Your subject line is too lengthy.

If your subject line is longer than 50 characters with spaces, it’s getting into the danger zone of not being read. Keep your subject lines under this length, keeping in mind that anything longer may not show up on a mobile screen.

Your subject line is boring.

Ever heard of “click bait”? That’s the stuff that has you clicking through articles on Facebook and realizing the content you’ve landed on doesn’t necessarily fit what you thought you were about to consume. These tricky headlines are infamous for being really intriguing and catchy, but also severely misleading. The long-term effect of this tactic is a loss of trust and negative impact on brand reputation.

Your goal as an email marketer should be to achieve the same amount of opens as those who employ “click bait” headlines, without the deception. Need some tips for spicing up boring subject lines? Here’s how we do it.

  • Organize your email content and your subject line to read like lists of helpful information. They sound something like “6 Questions You Need to Ask Your Attorney” or “Top 10 On-Trend Hairstyles for Fall”.
  • Offer something special. Use words like “inside tips” and “exclusive offer”.
  • Use emoji if they suit your brand. If you’re not sure if they’re brand-appropriate, consider how you could be creative, yet still respectful with them.
  • Go for shock value. For example, “Can you really trust your current attorney?” or “That hairstyle is so last year.” Caveat: Your messaging within the email still needs to reflect the expectation your subject line has set, else you become a sneaky click bait marketer who will quickly earn unsubscribes.

Your subject line is too common.

Avoid words like “free,” “sale” and “help”. These blend in way too well with other marketing emails, making yours seem like just another run-of-the-mill email.

Your preheader text is unappealing.

You may remember preheader text from our recent blog on how to write for mobile consumers, because it’s an incredibly important part of the mobile email user experience. It’s the text that appears right below the subject line and provides a 100-character preview of what’s inside the email.

Here’s the kicker: If you don’t customize your preheader text, it’ll default to the first line or two of your email. So if your email starts with an image, or even worse a “Trouble loading?” statement, that could be the first impression you’re delivering. Ouch.

Take the time to come up with 100 characters or fewer (including spaces) that provide additional information to consumers, and you’ll avoid the put-off an unappealing preheader could be delivering.

Your “From” field is off-putting.

Hopefully when you set up your first email marketing campaign, you chose an email domain that didn’t include the words “sales” “info” or “marketing”. These terms, when placed in the From field of your email, could give the impression that the email is a mass send that’s unable to receive replies or is otherwise spammy.

Instead, opt for [email protected], or something close to it.