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Factors in email open rates

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Saturday March 31, 2007 )

A recent survey of over 2,200 US Internet users has revealed some interesting insights into how email recipients determine whether to report a message as spam. In the majority of instances, they don’t even get as far as opening an email before doing so.

The ESPC / Ipsos Email Survey found that over 80 percent of respondents do use the “report as spam” button when it is available.

A whopping 80% will click the “report as spam” button without evening opening the email. Of those respondents, the criteria for making the decision:

– the contents of the From line = 73%
– the contents of the Subject line = 69%
– if the sender is unknown to the recipient = 79%

20% of the respondents also admitted to using the “report as spam” button to unsubscribe from newsletters.

Given this overwhelming majority of users who won’t even go as far as opening an email if they even suspect it’s spammy, it’s important that your email marketing and general communications use very clear subject lines and “from” details – not only to avoid the headaches of spam reports; but to ensure that the people whom you want to read your messages at the very least open them.

For my own “from” line, I use:

Michael Bloch [Taming the]

I feel this works pretty well for two reasons:

a) Using my own name makes the communication seem more personal; not just a faceless company.
b) Stating the site name helps with recognition if the person doesn’t know who I am.

For subject lines, depending on the campaign or type of communication; I’ll often ask a question or relate it directly to the person, something simple such as:

, did you have any questions?
, a X coupon for you

The first example works particularly well in a marketing follow up series. A bit of hype in a subject line is ok, but too much and your targets will dive for the delete or report button. For example:

Easter specials, 20% off!

is fine, but..


is probably a little over the top :). Bear in mind that aside from human scrutiny; automated filters give subject lines special attention and weighting in determining whether a message is spam. Using all caps and multiple exclamation points will certainly raise some red flags.

For newsletters these days, I’ll tend to try and highlight what’s in the newsletter in the subject line instead of just having “Taming the March newsletter”. I do find this definitely helps improve open rates .


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