Does Your Open Rate Measure Up?

Unlike cold calls and direct mail, which are frequently viewed as intrusive or unwelcome, email marketing messages give recipients the freedom to read and review correspondence on their own time when it's most convenient.

Less distracted by the day's deadlines and tasks, recipients are better able to retain the information they're given.

But, unlike calls and direct mail, there are a myriad of unpredictable obstacles your email message must travel through before the customer even has the chance to decide if they want to open it.

It must make it from the sender, through the Internet Service Provider (ISP), spam filters and ultimately to the inbox.

If your message gets through, it then must face the reader's own screening process, during which the user typically scans decides whether or not to open a message in just a manner of seconds.

Studies show that nearly 95 percent of marketing emails are successfully delivered to their intended recipient. Of those, approximately 20 to 30 percent are opened.

Several factors influence open rate and escort email messages through various filters and obstacles along their path.

The first area marketers should concentrate on is the manner in which messages are viewed by automated ISP blocks along the delivery path. Senders can easily maximize delivery by eliminating spam phrases such as money-back guarantees, expressions of urgency or lines like "click here!", "Why pay more?", "Free!" or "Buy now!"

Email marketers should also avoid the use of caps lock and excessive exclamation points.

The subject line is arguably the most important part of your email, as it determines whether or not a message is opened. In your recipient's inbox competing with hundreds of emails, you have approximately three seconds to grab a reader's attention and entice that person to open your message.

Strong subject lines are short, approximately 35 to 45 characters, and they convey relevance, urgency and value.

Examples of good subject lines include:

* Ace Corporation Announces User Webinar on January 16, 2010
* Acme Services July 2010 Newsletter
* Exclusive Holiday Offers From Retail Giant
* How To Survive Tax Season With A&J Accounting

Clearly identifying your company, ideally in both the "from" address and the subject line (when possible), helps recipients recognize that your message is from a trusted source and someone they want to hear from. When your customers recognize the sender and expect the message, open rate is greatly enhanced.

When writing email message content, you'll also want to engage customers with useful information they'll enjoy receiving.

For example, customers respond well to geographic targeting. So marketers can capture interest by simply mentioning the recipient's local region or providing directions to a local branch, office or shop.

To ensure relevance, a sports shop, for example, might want to promote snow boarding equipment to Vermont residents and golf equipment to their customer base in Florida.

Marketers should also consider seasonal or current topics of interest. If New Years' is right around the corner, a women's clothier could showcase formal attire.

Use humor to connect with readers, varying messages to ensure readers never feel inundated with repetitive content.

List segmentation and email triggers also provide a cost-effective means for delivering highly relevant and timely information to subscribers.

Finally, send messages on a regular and predictable schedule. Ideally this means a customized schedule the customer selects, but at least monthly delivery is an acceptable rule-of-thumb for many industries. Email marketing campaigns sent too frequently can overwhelm busy customers and waste company time, money and resources. This can also increase spam complaints and opt-out requests.

On the flip side, infrequent campaign delivery tends to confuse readers, as some forget who you are and assume that you don't care enough to stay in contact with them more often. This sentiment, in turn, boosts spam reports, and companies tackle more and more hard bounces due to obsolete email accounts.

Launch, test and repeat to garner strong response and results. Companies that are able to pinpoint the ideal timing, content, send schedule and relevant message can maximize their open rates and build their corporate brand and ROI.

About the Author: Louis Chatoff is a Deliverability Manager with EZ Publishing, Inc., the creator of the StreamSend Email Marketing service. StreamSend specializes in helping companies and organizations harness the power of permission-based email marketing promotions and email newsletters.