We asked 19 marketers to share their insight on boosting email engagement. This is what they told us.
If you’re like us, you spend a good amount of time and energy crafting the best emails for the people on your list. You know there’s no other way to build long-lasting email marketing success. Maybe your efforts are already yielding great results, but let’s face it: we can always do better.
Email engagement: what’s the best strategy?
So, what are some of the best ways to engage email subscribers? We asked around, and today we’re sharing what we’ve found. Nineteen marketers – plus a talented journalist – talk about their experience in:
- sending multiple types of emails and the tactics that work best for them
- increasing open and click-through rates
- producing content that keeps people clicking.
Whether you send periodic newsletters or run targeted campaigns, here’s how to make every email count.
Let your true colors shine through
“I’m a huge advocate for injecting personality into emails, from the subject line to the sign-off.
It makes emails sound like an actual human wrote them. One of my favorite techniques is to use pop culture references.
A caveat: make sure your references would truly resonate with your audience. That means you don’t simply drop them willy-nilly, no matter how badly you want to mention Star Wars, for example. Baby Yoda may be cute as a button, but if most of your audience winds up wondering – “Is that a new yoga class for infants?” – it’s best to steer clear of Baby Yoda references.
The key is to know thy audience. Have an intimate awareness of their psychographics. So you can write your emails as if you’re talking to a friend. Those are the emails that subscribers look forward to reading.”
Chanteuse Marie, email conversion copywriter at The Launch Copywriter
What would YOU click on?
“When someone allows you into their inbox, consider it a privilege. They have (hopefully) chosen to subscribe or ‘opt-in’ to your emails. They want your content. Now, how to keep them engaged? Here are a few of my favorite tips for keeping your subscribers clicking through.
Stay away from “the newsletter” type email. Let’s be honest. Does anyone LOVE reading someone’s ‘newsletter’? Not really. If you want to engage readers, you want to provide content that people will find useful, fun, inspiring. A newsletter is often an update of events and just not a great way to boost email engagement. Keep the content interesting and people will keep reading your emails.
Make your emails clean and simple. Whether you use images or just text, keeping things simple makes it WAY easier for people to take action.
Use buttons often to get people to take action. Everyone loves a big button. Use buttons several times throughout your email to get people to your website, blog or product page. Make the wording fun too – like ‘Yes! Take Me There’ or ‘Let’s do this!’ or ‘Click here to get the goods.’
Keep out any unnecessary text. Again, people don’t have time to read long emails. Cut out as much fluff as you possibly can. Keep your emails short and simple and get straight to the point.
Keep it casual and personal. The best thing you can do is write the same way you would talk. Sometimes it even helps to read your email out loud. Keep the language casual and light. Subscriber’s don’t want stuffy or too buttoned-up. Personalize with the FNAME merge tag and then keep it conversational.
Lastly, if you want subscribers to engage, ask yourself – what would YOU click on? Or what would make you take action from an email? Start noticing in emails what things you’re drawn to and what emails you’ve taken action from.”
Emily Ryan, Digital Marketing Specialist at Westfield Creative
Segment and test
“Segment your email lists! I cannot stress enough how important this is, especially if your business serves different user segments, markets, or has multiple business lines.
Segmenting your email list also helps to deliver the right message to your audience who are at different stages in their buyer journey. For instance:
- segment new subscribers from your existing customers and target both with different messages, at the appropriate time.
- as for your newsletter subscribers, you could nurture them with informational content leading up to a purchase. At the same time, you could target your existing buyers with a referral marketing or a cross-selling campaign.
Also, keep your eye on click and open rates and use those metrics to test your email copy, offering, the time you’re sending your emails, as well as headlines. Having great email headlines is 90% of the battle, so always be testing.”
Aditya Sheth, Content Marketer at Venngage Infographics
Everyone loves a freebie
“What you use to boost email engagement rate depends a lot on the outcome you’re looking for: Do you want to increase conversions? Replies? Open rates? If you’re looking to boost open rates, then you want to experiment with different subject lines.
At HubSpot, we noticed that the term ‘free’ increases click-through rates by as much as 30% when used in both email and web page calls-to-action. That’s why we decided to use these learnings and apply the term ‘free’ to our subject line for The Grow Better Letter, a bi-weekly email newsletter sent to HubSpot CRM users.
This newsletter’s subject line (‘Marketing Email and Ads, now free in the HubSpot CRM’) and content made it outperform other email sends. It lead to the highest performing newsletter email of 2019, encouraging 40% of recipients to open it.”
It’s not all about sales
“No matter what kind of email marketing campaign you are running, I find these three points the most important to remember:
1. In order to engage your audience, know your audience. You should also be sure to understand how they benefit from being in your email list. Whatever the reason is that you are sending the email, know exactly what kind of engagement you are hoping to get from it. #ItsNotAllAboutSales 🙂
2. Timing is super important. If you have the right tools, you will be able to schedule sending times for each time zone. Make sure you research what day and time your emails should be sent out for best engagement.
3. Test your emails and have a second, third or even fourth set of eyes check them before they go out.”
Christin Baumgarten, Marketing Manager at Mailbird
Personalize, automate and write killer subject lines
“When it comes to email marketing, I always say personalization and automation are must-haves.
Personalization is essential because people appreciate being seen as individuals, not just as a number. Using the first name of your customer and asking the right questions at the right time will exponentially increase the chances of your email being noticed, opened and clicked on.
Automation, on the other hand, will save loads of time, increase your conversation rate and let you create more relevant emails.
Also, don’t overlook the importance of a killer subject line. Your customers won’t waste their time reading something that doesn’t bring them any benefits or pique their interest. Craft a subject line that will make them feel like they simply have to read your email.”
Aleks Kowalczyk, Digital Marketer at InvoiceBerry
Go a few levels deep with segmentation
“Segmentation is key to increasing your open rate and click-through rate. Your entire database is not going to care about every message you send. You become irrelevant and that’s when they click unsubscribe.
But, by narrowing down your email list to ONLY the people that the message is relevant for, you build trust. They begin to see that you understand their problem. You are talking to them.
When I’m sending out an email, I try and get very granular with the list I send the email to. Go a few levels deep. What industry cares about this message? Within that industry, what titles would this matter for? Are you only marketing to a certain region? Segment by location. Would the offer appeal more to a small company? Only send to businesses under $5 million in revenue. By segmenting to this degree, you can target your message to the exact right person.
Bonus – you can use this segment for advertising, too! Programmatic advertising platforms, like AdRoll, use these segments to show the right advertising to the right people.”
Sarah Noel Block, Digital Marketer at Tiny Marketing
Invite them to share their opinion
“If social media has taught us anything, it’s that everyone loves to give their opinion.
With that in mind, one of the best ways of engaging email subscribers is to ask them to fill out a short quiz, survey or questionnaire that gives their opinion(s).
The key here is not to create the kind of surveys that people hate. You know the ones with a trillion questions that you couldn’t give a hoot about? Yeah, don’t do that.
Instead create a simple survey of less than five questions which are all multiple choice. So they don’t have to think too much.
In the email, explicitly tell your subscriber that you’ve put together a short five-question multiple-choice survey where they can share their opinion about something they care about.
Suddenly you’ve broken the pattern of: open email, scroll to the bottom, delete’ and instead turned a passive reader of your emails into someone who gets involved. They’re now in an active mode.”
Kennedy, CEO & Co-Founder of ResponseSuite
Be helpful and they’ll engage with you
“Always remember there’s a real person on the other end of that email – a real person with problems and aspirations. If you consistently help them get from where they are to where they want to go, they will pay attention. They will engage with your emails.
There’s no need for sneaky tactics or secret hacks or anything like that. Simply, start with an understanding of what your subscribers want and need. Then write genuine emails that connect with those things. That’s your foundation. (FYI, none of those ‘secret’ hacks will even work if you’re building an email marketing program on a faulty foundation.)
Focus on weaving those subscriber insights into your email topics, your subject lines, your body copy, your button copy, your freebie offer, and even your paid offers. If you do that, I have no doubt you’ll see an ROI from your email efforts.”
Paige Poutiainen, conversion copywriter at The Impact Copywriter
Study and apply direct mail tactics
“Email engagement starts with a strong subject line. No matter how great your email is, if your end user doesn’t open it in the first place, there’s no way they could engage with it.
So, what makes a good subject line?
While there’s a lot of best practices, one overlooked tactic is to apply the tried and tested principles of direct mail. That means creating subject lines that are personalized, direct, and avoid title case.
Additionally, your subject line should evoke curiosity and interest (such as by creating a knowledge gap) or some other type of emotion, such as exclusivity, pride, or need for approval.
As for your copy, you can use the same principles. Here are a few more tips:
- Typically, when it comes to warm leads, it’s best to keep the copy short and direct.
- On the other hand, with cold emails, it can go either way. I’ve found that it sometimes pays to use longer copy with emphasis – bolding, italics, a TLDR at the end of the email on the action you want the user to take – for those who only skim your email.
- Focus on one specific goal/offer (especially for cold emails) that you want to user to take (book an appointment, visit your website, etc.) When thinking of the goal, it’s important to know your audience and what stage of the marketing funnel they’re in so that you don’t create an offer that can’t get past a reader’s threshold resistance.
- Customize. I can’t tell you the amount of emails I get requesting something and using a barely customized template. If you’re not going to put in the effort to send me an email that stands out, why should I bother reading it? For warm leads, you can explore behavioral targeting.
- Track, measure and test as much as possible.
Use these tips as a starting point. However, what works well for some people might not work as well for you. So, make sure to test your tactics so that you can get the highest email engagement.”
Josh Brown, Digital Marketing Consultant at Helpjuice
Tell a story
“Arguably one of the most effective and easiest ways to connect and engage doesn’t involve subject line hacks or including meme GIFs (though who doesn’t love a good meme?). It’s simply this: tell a story.
We have an age-old love for a good story: they draw us in and we can’t help but want to hear more. You can segue from a story to the theme or offer you want to talk about, but it sets the scene nicely and practically sucks readers into the email.
What’s more, your story doesn’t have to be an epic tale of adventure or achievement. They might be everyday encounters, such as running into an ex while at the movies, or a night out on the town with friends. In fact, personal stories are often the best, as they show a side of you that people can relate to.
Include a story or two in your next few emails, and find out for yourself how your readers take to them.
Don’t be boring
This relates to all copy, but when it comes to emails, it’s doubly important for one good reason: your reader’s over-flowing inbox.
Most people are hit with a barrage of emails every day, and too many will never get opened before they end up in the trash. If they’re going to go to the trouble of opening and reading what you’ve sent, they’d better be getting something interesting or entertaining from it… otherwise your emails will end up in the bin, too.
To create emails that engage, entertain and avoid the deadly “unopened in the bin” fate, start with these simple strategies:
- Talk about things your readers like to talk about (remember, it’s not about you)
- Tell stories, about yourself, friends… or anyone
- Use pop culture references (like the “Baby Yoda” craze sweeping the Web)
- Don’t be afraid to show your personality – people want to hear from other people, not a faceless business.”
Dean MacKenzie, conversion copywriter
Understand your customers’ wants, needs, and frustrations
“Writing high converting emails is easier and more effective when you understand your customers’ wants, needs, and frustrations – insights that are most easily uncovered by doing some investigating. That is, asking your customers what led them to you, what features they use the most, and how they are using your product.
Use that in-depth customer knowledge to write emails that show your ideal customer exactly how your product will help them achieve their goals.
ROI in email marketing comes from crafting an email strategy around your customers’ needs, wants, and desires and then using your customers exact words to convince them to take action.”
Patti Haus, conversion copywriter / speaker / email marketer and strategist
Run tests and make sure your email looks good on mobile
“Design your email to be mobile-friendly. Despite the growth in mobile emails, 58% of email marketers don’t consider adapting their design. It would be a shame if you were one of them.
Some experts recommend plain text, believing this helps you avoid spam filters and landing in Gmail’s ‘Promotions’ tab.
Most importantly, write your email in a crisp and concise manner. Also, consider placing your call-to-action above the fold – that means as early in the email as you can.
If your demographic is a younger audience, use a GIF, incorporate emojis in the text and subject line and include other interactive elements as well. However, use them in moderation.
Finally, remember there’s no going back once you hit the ‘Send’ button. So, run tests on multiple devices, including mobile, to ensure your email looks great.”
Mehdi Hussen, Digital Marketing Manager at SalesHandy
Make the most of the preview text
“The first line is critical to your overall email engagement. Many email programs show a preview of the first line, so it often determines whether your email will get opened or not. You need to get the tonality right and immediately frame your message in a relevant way.
A good pointer is to write as you would to someone you’ve met in person. Don’t be overly formal, don’t get tangled up in annoying business jargon and – the biggest no-no of them all – don’t talk about yourself. Your focus should always be on the recipient.
You need to show your readers that you GET them. That you’re familiar with their industry, that you know their goals and that you’re aware of their struggles. And that you can help.”
Nina Quist, Head of Marketing Communications at Telavox
Clean your email list
“Too often marketers focus on crafting the perfect subject line or designing an outstanding email and forget a key element of email engagement: your email list.
If your list includes subscribers who haven’t purchased from you in years or haven’t even clicked one of your emails in ages, you can do whatever you want – your open rates and your click-through-rates will remain low.
Before you start an ambitious email engagement strategy, clean your list.
To do so, I recommend two actions. First, use an email list verification service to keep only active addresses. Then, implement an email sunsetting strategy to regularly remove your inactive subscribers. Once you do that, you can start working on the emails themselves.”
Greg D’Aboville, Head of Growth at Wisepops
Avoid bombarding them with promotional emails
“While mastering the art of email engagement needs time and careful planning, it isn’t as difficult as some will tell you. If you want to keep an engaged email audience, avoid bombarding them with hundreds of promotional emails.
Instead, focus on showing them how much you value them either by celebrating their achievements with amazing rewards or by teaching them something new that will improve their lives.
Since such email campaigns can nurture and build solid relationships with your subscribers, sending them will help your audience realize the true value of your company and motivate them to engage with your business throughout their customer journey.”
Nick Dimitriou, Head of Growth at Moosend
The key word is “value”
“One tip to engage email subscribers – whether it’s a newsletter, abandoned cart email, or even a transaction email – is to make sure that every email you send provides value.
For example, if you send an abandoned cart email, it should include a link to the shopper’s cart as well as an incentive to complete the purchase. Furthermore, consider including items similar to the one that was abandoned.
So, let’s say someone abandoned a winter coat in their cart – related items might include similar jackets or other winter clothes, like a scarf or winter hat. If it’s a newsletter email, the content should pertain to your subscriber’s needs or desires.
Part of being able to create that value is to segment your email list as much as possible so that you can personalize your emails to a more granular level. This way, you’ll be able to tailor your content and offers to your specific customers’ needs and wants.”
Anthony Capetola, Chief Marketing Officer at Sales & Orders
Your email is a story, hook readers from the start
- “Mind the structure. A lot of people forget that emails should have a logical introduction, body and conclusion, just like an article or a story. If you don’t hook your readers from the start, they’ll just close the email and even hit the delete button.
- Be consistent. If you don’t send emails at all and then start blasting customers, expect a lot of unsubscribes and bounces. Send regular notifications and offers, and you’ll have an easier time engaging them.
- Split test, always. Even if you have just 500 subscribers, it’s enough to split test and see what works. You can split test everything, from the subject lines to the email body and the design.”
Olga Mykhoparkina, Chief Marketing Officer at Chanty
Blind tests can be eye-opening
“Email marketers have to remember that many of their emails will be read on mobiles. Therefore, you simply cannot use small font sizes (<6.5) or insert huge paragraphs of text. I know that it sounds basic but I still get such emails in my inbox.
Second of all, forget about resource-heavy graphics. Your emails should be concise in regards to both content and size so all the recipients can consume it no matter what device they’re on.
When it comes to optimization, I’d suggest you put a lot of effort into your subject lines. Again, very basic, but can’t be overlooked.
Don’t stop with your best guess but come up with 10 to 20 ideas and run them through software like Email Subject Line Tester. Also, show them to your colleagues and ask what they would click.
It’s also fun and oftentimes eye-opening to do a blind test on folks from your company. Once, our Project Manager forgot about a newsletter that had been rolled out earlier during the day and clicked on a ‘random’ email in his Inbox because it had an interesting subject line. Lo and behold, it was our email.
By doing such blind tests you can find out which of your subject lines can get you the highest open rates.”
Jakub Kliszczak, Marketing Specialist at CrazyCall
How Kara Cutruzzula grew a newsletter featured in Vanity Fair
I subscribed to Kara’s emails a few months ago. After I read the first one, I opened every single one of them and can tell you her emails are the best thing my inbox sees.
How does she do it?
For starters, Kara has been a journalist for more than 11 years. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Money, Newsweek, Time, and Esquire, just to name a few. On top of that, she’s a playwright and lyricist – someone who lives and breathes words.
Of course, having extensive writing experience will help you come up with copy that’s compelling and fun to read. But there’s more to boosting email engagement, as Kara has told me.
Here’s her advice.
“Show off your flaws, scars, and big-time flops.”
It may sound counterintuitive — who wants to follow someone who’s flailing? Yet I’ve found that talking about projects or situations that haven’t met my expectations always helps other people open up to me about their own missed opportunities. And that’s what engagement should be: a two-way conversation about something meaningful.
I’ve told my newsletter readers about assignments that went sideways, nervous butterflies before presentations, and goals I came nowhere near achieving. Every time I share something almost embarrassingly honest about my own creative process, I get 10x more replies than usual saying, ‘This happens to me, too’ or, simply, ‘Thank you.’
People want to know you’re human, so don’t be scared to show them that you are.”
Vanity Fair has called Kara Cutruzzula’s newsletter – “Bras Ring Daily” – “a life coach in your inbox.” Go subscribe, it’s going to enrich your life in so many ways!
Want more email engagement? Start with a clean list
Building a community that enjoys getting your emails takes time. Not only do you have to know your audience, but people need to get to know you, too. And if you end up in their spam folder, chances are they’ll never even see you.
So, as a final tip: check your email list today to see if it’s up to date.
If you’ve been getting bounces, it may be time for a scrub. Also, if your open rates are low and you’re getting spam complaints, you may have to let go of some of your subscribers.
On the other hand, you’ll have a more powerful email list, improve your deliverability and give people a chance to see you in their inbox.
To start, you can test our email verifier at no cost. Then, once you create an account, you get to validate 100 email addresses for free – every month. Give it a try and let us know how it works!