Email open rates are, in truth, a rather flawed metric (as I’ve discussed here before). However, some information on who opened, how many times, what they clicked, etc. can still be an extremely valuable tool for PR professionals, helping them with follow up efforts and enabling them to tweak their tactics for future improvements. Sending HTML releases out every day, we see a few things that can really hurt an open rate, so here are some thoughts on what to think about if you’re trying to improve yours.
PREVIEW PANE VIEW: emails that looks bad, or worse, blank, through the preview pane simply will not be opened. The inbox is a busy place so make sure recipients can see your headline, a few lines of text, and get an idea of additional content when viewing through their preview pane even with images blocked.
SUBJECT LINE: around here, we believe the preview pane view is even more important, but a good subject line can help. The most important rule is to be honest, transparent and open. And, since recipients should also be able to see your headline as well as your from line at a glance, think about those three elements in relation to each other.
SEND WHEN PEOPLE ARE AT WORK: Emails sent too early or late simply don’t deliver good open rates. We find mid-week, late morning to be a good time to send. Consider the time zones on your list and remember that most people open email from top to bottom, rather than oldest to newest. If you send when they’re not in the office, you’ll be off there screen by the time they check back in and less likely to get their attention.
KEEP LISTS CLEAN AND TARGETED: We handle all opt-outs and CAN-SPAM compliance for our clients, but many of our clients manage their own lists. Staying on top of lists, ensuring the people you’re sending to want to get your news, and getting permission from any bloggers on your list can be a full time job. But lists with a high percentage of bad addresses or recipients who are not well targeted are one of the main reasons an email delivers poor metrics so make sure to target wisely.
POOR OR UNDER-DEVELOPED CONTENT: No pretty pictures or clever subject lines can over-compensate for bad content. We know that sometimes you have to send a email even when its not that newsworthy. And, to tell the truth, we’ve seen some of those very emails perform pretty well. The key is to add interesting content around your email such as video, audio, great images, backgrounders, consumer friendly elements (such as recipes, food and beverage pairings, tactical tips, etc). As a general rule of thumb, the richer the email, the better the metrics.
BLOCKED IMAGES & HANDHELD DEVICES: If you’ve tracked open rates over the past few years and yours have held steady, you’re probably doing something right. The ability of senders to track opens has gone down as more email applications block images and recipients increasingly open email on handheld devices–two reasons we can’t track openers. Make sure to send a plain text version and a handheld friendly version of each release so that, even if you can’t track them, you’ll make it easier for those recipients to get your news.
SPAM FILTERS: Part of our job is to keep on top of the oh-so-many-reasons spam filters might send your email to a junk folder and keep clients’ language and template designs system friendly so they make it to the inbox. While there are too many reasons an email might land in a junk box to mention here, the top three are probably TOO MANY CAPS, spammy words such as “free” or “limited time offer” and an imbalanced text to image ratio. We do extensive spam and browser testing on each email before sending and you should too.