We’re all swimming in a sea of email overload. Because of this, we’ve learned to filter. I, for example, like to go through all my emails and immediately delete ones I don’t care about, then go back in and read the ones that are more important to me.

But how does a person perceive the value of an email?

This is a question you should consistently be asking yourself as you create email content. Here are five smart tips to improve email open rates and engagement.

1. P is for…

A few months ago, I was looking for some pants. I wasn’t having much luck finding what I wanted, but I saw a Kohl’s and decided to go in.

Alas, pants! (No, “P” is not for “pants” …keep reading…)

As I swiped my credit card, the cashier asked for my email to send coupons and special offers. I figured maybe I’d need more pants down the road, so why not?

Big mistake.

Since then, Kohl’s has sent me at least one email a day — if not two — about everything from sports bras to men’s cologne. I don’t feel the emails are bringing me anything of value. They aren’t personalized to me or the products I’m interested in, so, not only is Kohl’s annoying me by spamming my inbox, but at this point I’m just assuming none of the emails will be relevant—that’s an automatic delete from the inbox.

Improving your email open rates and engagement requires personalization on two fronts: in the subject line of the email and in the segmentation.

So, let’s start with personalizing the subject line. Here are some ways to use subject line personalization to increase open rates, beyond the default of “First Name”:

  • Personalize by geography
    • Ex: These jackets are popular in Chicago
  • Personalize by job function
    • Ex: This email is for CIO’s only
  • Personalize by generation
    • Ex: For grandparents who need a helping hand
  • Personalize by company name
    • Ex: Is ABC Company at risk?
  • Personalize by interest
    • Ex: For golfers who hate the rain…

Just as important as the subject line is the content of the email. Here are some smart segmentation strategies you may not be thinking about:

  • Segment by change in engagement
    • Ex: If they haven’t logged into their account in a while, send them a reengagement email. But don’t wait too long! Six months without reengagement is TOO LONG. Reengage after 3 months, or less, depending on your business model.
  • Segment by whether they open on mobile vs. desktop
    • Ex: The email experience is different on mobile vs. desktop. If you notice certain subscribers are opening mostly via mobile, optimize their emails with larger text size, less clutter, and links or buttons that are easy to tap with their fingers.
  • Segment based on Customer Lifetime Value
    • Ex: The CLV of someone who requests full-service offerings will be higher than someone who is reaching out for advice, so try segmenting those higher CLV people for special upsell offers.
  • Segment by purchase cycle
    • Ex: If they purchased a pack of something that will last a month, send them a reminder email for a new shipment after 21 days.

2. Random Reasons to Celebrate

According to subjectline.com, celebration-related emails generate higher open rates (21% more for B2B and 29% more for B2C) than regular emails. People are desperate to celebrate something—anything! Capitalize on that trend by aligning your emails to a non-holiday holiday. There are plenty of random ones out there that could fit your brand, such as:

  • National Nap Day
  • National Avocado Day
  • National Clean off Your Desk Day
  • National Pistachio Day
  • National Towel Day
  • National Chocolate Pudding Day
  • National Emoji Day
  • National Bowtie Day
  • National Eat Outside Day
  • National Wear Brown Shoes Day

3. Time and Time Again

While WHAT you send is important, WHEN you send it is equally as influential. There’s a lot of research out there about the ideal time to send an email. Some experts say you should send your emails at night because people will have less clutter in their inboxes, and it will stand out if they’re checking emails before bed. Others say to send your emails very early in the morning to get to your target before the influx of emails during work hours.

If you’re going to remember one thing about when to send your emails, though, it’s this: More than 80% of campaigns are sent on the hour.

So, if you send your email campaign at 7:00 AM or 7:02 AM just like everyone else, you’re more likely to get lost in the shuffle. Boost open rates and engagement by scheduling your emails for times like 7:19 AM, or 7:42 AM instead. Research shows that sending messages at off times boosts email open rates by 15-17%.

4. Do More with New Subscriber Emails

“Thank you” or “Welcome” emails already have high open rates because they are timelier, but most marketers aren’t fully capitalizing on them. Instead of simply saying “Thank you” in that first email, add a promo code or exclusive offer to boost those email opens and engagements even higher. Be sure to mention the offer in the subject line. Check out this REI email as an example.

5. Don’t Fear the FREE

Free used to be a scary word for email marketers. It was a surefire way to get tossed into spam. Many would try to work around it by using words like “complimentary” instead. However, email providers have finally caught up with the times, and “Free” is no longer a dirty word. In fact, the word free performs 2x better in email open rates than “complimentary”. Plus, emails that include the word “free” in the subject line have 10% higher open rates in general.

Speaking of things you shouldn’t fear…

Emojis are another email strategy you should tap into. OptinMonster found companies that use emojis in subject lines have 56% higher email open rates than those who don’t, and that number continues to climb. Some of the top emojis used in both B2B and B2C include the clock, the eyes, the pointing finger, the alarm, the check mark, and the explosion.

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