Get Them to Open Your Email: Three Tips from GovDelivery

Email is the simplest of digital marketing tools and one of the most effective ways of motivating an audience. Of all the tools in the online suite, it’s been around the longest. It’s pre-web, people! The first email was sent in 1971, when the World Wide Web was nothing but a fanciful theory and social media meant communing over magazines with your friends.

It’s old. It’s not sexy. Yet, a good email list can drive traffic to your web site like nothing else.

But how do you get subscribers to open your emails? That was the subject of a recent GovDelivery talk, How to Design Great Emails. This breakfast talk offered tips to create engaging emails that resonate with citizens and drive results.

While geared for government communicators, the tips offered by Allison Hamilton, are applicable for anyone who manages an email list, no matter what technology they use.

How much of your email do you actually read? If you’re like most people, you scan the subject lines in your inbox looking for things you have to read or want to read. Everything else gets trashed, right? How else can you cope with the onslaught of electronic communication that all of us endure?

To get readers to open your email, you need to be clear, concise and direct. Remember: the average attention span online is 8 seconds. You need to capture readers before they move on to the next bit of online communication.

That means simplifying. Make things easy for the reader. Don’t make them think.

Use a compelling subject line, include relevant imagery and have a clear call to action – that’s how you get people to open your emails.

Here’s a slide from Allison’s talk on the anatomy of an email. She could’ve spent an hour just on these keys to getting readers to open your email.

Anatomy of an email1. Subject Line – Imagine writing the title of a book. How would you describe it in 5-7 words? What is this email about? What are you giving the reader? Look back on previous emails and check open rates. What words/phrases resonate with your readers? Don’t use your organization’s language – use that of your readers.

2. Relevant Imagery – Why do ads contain photos? Why don’t companies just spell out the benefits of their products in long blocks of text? Because photos work. They draw the reader into the page – particularly photos of people. Create/buy/acquire a photo library of relevant imagery to use for web and email. Relevant imagery means images that tell the story of your organization.

3. Obvious Call to Action – This seems, well, obvious, but it’s not. I’ve worked in organizations where the call to action is buried under paragraphs of text. Why? Because XYZ Agency wants to tell readers how wonderful they are. Or they want to explain how they developed this new thing and here’s a page of scientific explanation that you need to slog through. No. If you want reader to do something – download a report, sign-up for an event, lobby their Senator – then put that “above the fold.” It belongs at the start of the email, not the end.

We look down upon email. It’s an “email blast” in many organizations, which is a terrible term for such an important tool. Do you want to be blasted?

Email is simple and effective. It delivers results. And it could do more, with just a few simple tweaks to the “above the fold” content. To improve open rates on your emails, use a compelling subject line, include relevant imagery and feature an obvious call to action.

For more tips on successful email, check out the slide presentationsblog recap and photos from GovDelivery.


Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

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