Five Ways to Increase Email Open and Click Rates

Chris Hughes

March 20, 2015

inboxThere are a lot of theories and opinions regarding email as a communications tool.  Some people say that email is incredibly strong and growing in popularity while others say it is dead.

The statistical reality is that 200 billion emails are sent daily throughout the world, so clearly email is not dying.  For recent alumni, the 2014 Millennial Impact Report indicated that 85% want to receive general campus news via email, and 61% indicated a preferred method of being asked for donations is email.

So clearly email is still very strong.  However, email unquestionably falls into the same category as every other channel in today’s multichannel/cross-channel world:  strategic focus and decisions are required to realize any benefit.  It’s true for phone.  It’s true for direct mail.  It’s true for email.

Defining and measuring email success is not an exact science, but two of the strongest indicators of email success are open rates and click-thru rates.  Therefore, here are five ways you can increase open and click thru rates for emails:

  1. Maintain data integrity
  2. Dynamic subject line and sender name
  3. Download photos reminder
  4. Safe senders list reminder
  5. Incorporate videos

Maintain Data Integrity

When it comes to email, which account does the donor prefer and check regularly?  If you don’t have a good email address, nothing else matters because it doesn’t reach the intended recipient.

Acxiom reported in 2013 that 74% of people had at least two personal email accounts, and 36% had three or more accounts – not to mention the average of 1-2 business accounts per person.  Plus, 17% of Americans create a new email address every six months!  Therefore, it’s likely your email-friendly donors and prospects have at least four email address choices that are far from static.

Be sure your advancement operation includes consistent data integrity checks:

  • A couple of times a year, ask donors and prospects if that email address is preferred or if they have an updated preference.
  • If you don’t have an email address for an alumnus or donor, be sure you are maximizing opportunities in other channels to capture that information.
  • Online sweepstakes and contests initiated through social media channels are a great way to encourage alumni to provide a preferred email address.
  • When someone registers online to attend an event, is your registration database linked up with your fundraising database to capture contact information?  Are you capturing updated direct mail, phone and email addresses during registration?
  • Consider running regular email verification and append services on your database.

Dynamic Subject Lines and Sender Names

When it comes to open rates, the subject lines and sender names have significant influence on whether the recipient opens the email.  Much like the carrier envelope in a direct mail, the sole job of email subject lines and sender names is to get someone to open the email.

Four focus areas that will greatly increase your odds of increasing open rates and click thru rates are (a) personalization, (b) relevancy, (c) action verbs and (d) make your request obvious.

  • Personalization can include everything from names to recent history or anything else that is unique to that donor.  Inclusion of the recipient’s name in the subject line is also becoming more commonplace in the marketing world.
  • Relevancy is arguably more important than personalization.  This means segmenting your emails by demographics and interests and sending several versions of an email (just as the industry has been doing with direct mail for at least a few decades).  Salsa Labs recently reported that individualization of emails in this donor-relevant manner could increase email opens by as much as 244% and click thrus by as much as 161%.
  •  Action verbs not only attract the eye, but more importantly do not feel “institutional” to the reader.  The average person receives a couple hundred emails daily on one or more of their accounts.  Use your sender name and subject line to give the reader a strong reason to open your email.  Initiate an action request for them.  Using a question mark in a subject line is often a good tactic, as is the mere mention of video (which will be discussed more below).
  •  Make your request obvious to the reader.  What is the purpose of the email?  Is it to solicit a gift?  Is it to steward a donor by getting them to read an online story about the impact of their gifts?  Whatever the purpose, it should be very clear – and make sure your click thru links are both distinctive and serve that defined purpose.

Download Photos Reminderdownload

All ISPs are different, but one consistent item appears to be that photos in an email need to be downloaded by a recipient in order to be counted by the computer as an opened email.  Therefore, put reminders at the top of your emails to encourage recipients to download the photos.  Sell them on the need to download photos for maximum impact.

The requirement to download photos is one reason why open rates are not considered a more definitive analytic.  There is no clear way of knowing how many people read emails without downloading the photos, especially on mobile devices where half of all emails are read.  However, active encouragement at the top of emails to request donors to download photos should begin to improve the accuracy of the open rate number.

Safe Senders Reminder

“Please add us to your safe senders list.”  We’ve all seen this line in emails we get in our personal lives.  Adding this reminder to your donor emails can accomplish the following:

  • Improves deliverability.  Being added to a safe senders list is another way of confirming to ISPs that your email address is legitimate and safe.
  • Keeps you out of the spam box.  If an email goes into a spam in-box, you can pretty much guarantee it won’t be read.
  • Reaffirms the donor’s emotional relationship with your institution.  Clicking that link is another way of the donor saying “I trust you.”
  • Can work in tandem with downloading photos, which means now your email is not only being delivered to the in-box, but more likely to be counted as an opened email.

Videos in Emails

There is no denying the popularity of videos, and the inclusion of videos in emails is becoming more prevalent every day.  Videos can be used for every phase of the donor cycle – solicitation, stewardship, cultivation.  They can also be used to enhance telefund reminders and fulfillment.

It would be easy to write pages upon pages related to videos in emails.  For now, here are a few of the key elements to consider:

  • Using the word “video” in the subject line can increase open rates by as much as 20%
  • According to a 2013 report from The Relevancy Group, using video can increase click thru rates by as much as 55% and increase revenue from email by as much as 40%.  Some marketers have experienced a 200%-300% increase in click throughs by using videos.
  • Viewers retain 95% of a message when watched in a video vs. read in text
  • Video already accounts for half of all mobile phone data usage, and is expected to increase to nearly two-thirds in the next year or two.
  • Videos do not have to be “award winning” to be successful.  In many cases, a quality video can be filmed, edited and uploaded with just a smartphone!
  • Videos can be used not only in emails, but repurposed for web sites, social media and crowdfunding campaigns (especially those via ScaleFunder).  Video content is shared through social media 12 times more than links and text combined.  In addition, a single ScaleFunder crowdfunding campaign in the fall of 2014 had more than 2,000 video views!

 In Conclusion…

For your email activity to be truly successful, it needs to be strategically approached with the same focus as every other communications channel.  Open rates and click thru rates are two commonly-used metrics to analyze email success, and incorporating some of the above recommendations should help enhance the overall success of your emails.

Remember, no email can be successful if it is not opened. 

Read More In: