Ben Silverman

Making a connection through email marketing might seem like it’s only an email address and an inbox away. However, getting that one click to open the message is often the most difficult part of engaging and converting your target audience.

Align your expectations with your audience’s

First, take stock of the goals of your email campaign:

  • Are you a B2C company announcing sales or promotions?
  • Are you reaching out to potential customers who have expressed interest in your business in the past?
  • Are you sending out a newsletter to keep your brand top of mind?
  • Do you want to nurture your leads?
  • Are you offering a major asset like a new video, whitepaper, webinar or case study?

When your audience knows what the campaign is for, they’ll be more likely to open the email. Transparency is key – make it clear what the email they are receiving is for.

Write a killer subject line

To grab your reader’s attention with your subject line, use simple, honest, direct and intense language. Mailchimp recommends keeping your subject text to under 50 characters – anything longer and you risk losing readers’ attention or having the message be cut off by certain email clients. Numbers, especially odd numbers, are proven to capture attention and clicks, as are negative and exclusive phrases.

Avoid the word “free,” unnecessary exclamation points and words in ALL CAPS. And whatever you do, leave out icons like this:

If subjects with these elements don’t first set off an email client’s automated spam filters, they will set off your readers’ mental spam filters, and will likely wind up in the trash.

The first couple lines of content

Similarly to the subject line, get to the point as fast as possible while still keeping your writing elegant, honest and human. Most email clients, including mobile services, show the first few words of the message body right in the inbox. This is your time to shine.

Be sure to offer new information that is not covered by the subject line. Think of it as your audience’s preview into your message’s content. Starting with a quick salutation and then launching into your message as soon as possible gives your audience the most incentive to open. Don’t waste that precious space with a URL (which won’t be clickable from outside the message), an extra-long salutation or symbols. 

Don’t forget your ‘From’ field

An email that includes a person’s name and a company will be most effective in getting your users to open it. The more your From field can communicate, the more honest your email will seem. Including only your company name might be off-putting to some people checking their inbox. If you also include a name, it adds a personal touch. For instance, an email from is a lot less welcoming and personal than one from

Even though your audience signed up to receive emails from you:

  • An email with just a brand name in the From field might seem too impersonal and cold.
  • They might not remember signing up or what your company is.
  • The emails might come off as too promotional and brand- or sales-oriented.

On the other hand, marking an email as coming from your personal name might also be problematic because:

  • Users may not recognize the sender.
  • It might seem like spam or a wrong address.
  • The email could seem falsely personal. Seeing an email marked as directly from the president or a celebrity can be insultingly inauthentic or scammy.

Segment your audience: Learn about timing, location & behavior

Using your buyer personas, you can determine a lot about your audience’s email habits, including when your various audiences are likely to check their email, where they check their emails and what kind of device they use. It’s even possible to determine if their emails are being pushed to them, if they check their mail every hour or if they check it once a day.

You can segment your email by hundreds of factors, most notably:

  • Device type
  • Location
  • Age
  • Industry
  • Purchase behavior
  • Funnel / buyer’s journey stage
  • Email client
  • Cart/site abandonment

Personalize your writing

Find a balance between relevant, polite personalization and going overboard trying to make your email seem like it’s actually a one-on-one personal conversation. Your segmentation will help with this, because you’ll be reaching out to people who are specifically interested in what you have to say.

Write as if you’re writing directly to that one person, which will become easier once you study your personas and learn about each of your audience segments. Getting personal is important, but as with the From field advice above, avoid making it seem like you expect them to believe that you’re actually personally writing to them. Your audience likely knows that you use a service to reach hundreds or thousands of subscribers.

Timing is everything

Timing the release of an email for your audience will lead to more opens and click-throughs. A detailed persona should give you an idea of the best times to reach someone: a mobile-optimized message for the train ride in the morning, a longer email during the day when they might check their personal email, or a wearable-optimized quick notification for the rush-hour subway ride home.

Additionally, scheduling your email campaign around a specific event is an important way to build interest. The initial announcement and follow up for webinars, new products or video releases will be dependent on your audience’s behavioral patterns.


We’ve made it past the toughest test – actually getting your reader to open your email. In the coming weeks, we’ll be going over optimizing your emails for mobile, embedding rich media and targeting your emails to custom audiences.