To open or not to open, that is the question...

As email volumes continue to rise, your subscribers are faced with a constant inbox battle, to open or delete? So how can you improve the chances of your email being opened?

Before your subscribers open your email they will have relatively little to base their decision on, just the sender's name, the subject line and, in some cases, a preview pane. So here are a few tips to help you improve these areas of your email.

Sender's (From) Name
Your From Name is one of the first things your subscribers will see and it plays an important part in their decision whether to open your email or not.  It's often the case if they don't recognise who the email is from, that they will not open it.  So the key to a successful From Name is recognition. The question to ask is, do your subscribers know you personally, or do they know your company, brand or product? To increase the chance of your email being opened, it's best to use whichever would be most recognisable to your subscribers.

So what do you do if you're mailing to a list of contacts who may not know you?
Try adding detail about who you are to your From Name. For example, instead of using 'NewZapp' we might use 'NewZapp Email Marketing' or 'NewZapp - UK Email Marketing Provider'. Telling your subscribers a little more about the source of the email can help qualify yourself as a legitimate sender.

Subject line
It's just one line but it can potentially be the most important line of your campaign.  Even if you've sent your subscribers the most interesting and relevant email possible, if your Subject Line doesn't reflect this, then it's likely your email will remain unopened. Your Subject Line needs to capture their attention, but more importantly, it needs to compel them to open your email.

There is no golden rule for what makes a good Subject Line - what works for one doesn't necessarily work for all. The question of how to create a good Subject Line is a whole article on its own, but here are a few tips to get you started:
  • Communicate the value - If you're asking your subscribers to take time out of their day to read your email you must be able to communicate the benefit of doing so.  Ultimately if your subscribers fail to see any value in opening your email they are unlikely to do so.  So whether it's vital information, a new offer, or just some interesting news, you're Subject Line needs to tell your subscriber what they'll get from opening it. 
  • Keep it relevant - Your Subject Line needs to be both relevant to your subscribers and to the content of the email.  There's no point capturing their attention with a great Subject Line if it has little or no relevance to the content of your email.  While you want to make your Subject Line is interesting, it's important to communicate what your email is actually about.  In order to encourage an open, your Subject Line also needs to be relevant to your subscribers. For example, if you sent your existing customers an email with a Subject Line about first-time customer offers they may be deterred from opening, even if your email contained other topics of interest to them. 
  • DON'T DO THIS or this!!!! - While capitalisation and exclamation marks may catch the eye of some subscribers, it may not necessarily be for the right reason.  If your email doesn't get caught in your subscribers' filter or junk folder, using caps and over use of exclamation marks can be off-putting to some recipients. They may take the opinion once they've read the email, that the subject line gave a false impression of urgency - which leaves a bad impression on you, and may make them sceptical about how seriously they should take your emails in the future.
Preview pane
Not everyone will have a preview pane set on their email application, but for those who do, it can have a significant impact on the decision to open or delete an email.  A preview pane allows your subscriber to move beyond the From Name and Subject Line and see a taster of exactly what your email has to offer. As such, a well crafted email that looks good in the preview pane can help improve your open rate.

The first thing to consider is what your subscribers will see if they're viewing your email in a preview pane.  If you're using images within this area take into consideration how your email will appear if your recipients have their images disabled.  It's important to consider your balance of text and images in this area.  If you've used either one large image or lots of images with little or no text, if your recipient has their images disabled you could be missing out on an opportunity to showcase your content and encourage them to open.

For example, how inspiring is the email below when viewed in a horizontal preview pane with images switched off?

Similarly, if someone is using a vertical preview panel, any important message that sits top right of your email is likely to be out of sight until the email is opened in its entirety.

When creating your email consider the layout of your content. When it comes to email marketing it's definitely not a case of save the best for last.  To encourage your subscribers to open your email, try introducing the most interesting content at the top of your email where it's clearly visible within the preview pane. To increase your chances of an open, ensure you have a clear and compelling call to action within your preview pane, this will encourage your subscribers to open your email.

And finally...
When you're reviewing these areas of your email campaign, it's important to remember that your subscribers will not view any one of them in isolation. When testing different approaches, remember what you put in one may dictate what would be best to include in the other.