John Bonini is a leader in growth and user acquisition. He works at Litmus. He’s also an award-winning writer, and his podcast, Louder Than Words, was named by Inc. as one of the “12 marketing podcasts you should listen to every week.”

The 1 Common Trick Emails With Ridiculously-High Open Rates Use

The 1 Common Trick Emails With Ridiculously-High Open Rates Use

When it comes to conversions, there’s nothing more dangerous than the idea of measuring ourselves against the averages. 

For benchmarking purposes, it’s fine, but in most cases we use it as a ceiling to be reached rather than one to break through and destroy. 

In other words, it unconsciously imposes limits. 

There have been many speaking engagements, webinars, and podcasts where I’ve been asked about averages. Never is this more prevalent than with email subject lines, as people are looking for direction. 

By nature, email subject lines are a turbulent endeavor. They’re always changing, as is the list in which they’re being sent to, so it’s only natural for marketers to seek numbers to grasp to, but as I said, they often serve as a life raft.

But for the sake of argument and to provide context to the numbers I’m going to get into, I thought it was important to include some averages here. 

According to a report published by MailChimp, the average email open rate for software and technology companies is 22.90%. In fact, as you can see from the report, most average open rates hover around the 20-25% range.

The average marketer sees this number and says, “Now I know the number I need to hit.”

The curious marketer sees this number and says, “Now we have our floor.”  

Emails that get opened

Overseeing marketing at an international marketing agency, I facilitate a ton of email campaigns. 

(And no, the mini-heart attack you have after hitting send never goes away.)

New business campaigns. Upsell strategies. Event promotions. You name it.

Naturally, I have a ton of experience with subject lines to pull from. Ones that worked. Ones that completely sucked. And ones that delivered big time. 

It’s invaluable insight, and now I’d like to share a slice of it here. 

The following two subject lines are from an actual email campaign the agency sent out promoting a new ebook series focused on increasing landing page conversions.

Subject Line 1: How to Drive More Traffic to Your Landing Pages
Subject Line 2: Quick Question...

Which do you think was opened more? 

If you guessed the second subject line, you’d be right. “Quick question…” had an open rate of 58.17% while its more descriptive counterpart an open rate of 27%. 

Here are two other notable subject lines worth mentioning:

"Here’s how we increased conversions on blog posts by 76%” (Open rate: 62.16%)

"Tune in today at Noon EST!” (Open rate: 69.5%)

Let’s talk about why these worked so exceptionally well.

The open loop

The open loop, also known as the curiosity gap, is known in psychology as hinting toward information of interest that piques a person’s curiosity enough for them to want (need) to know more.

You, as the marketer, open a loop they naturally want to close.

This was the force at work in the examples I listed above. Look closely, each of those subject lines opens a curiosity that, as it turns out, our recipients couldn't resist closing.

"What question could he possibly have for me?"

"I need to know what they did to increase conversions like that."

"What's tomorrow at noon?!" 

This works in any setting. Next time you’re in a roomful of your friends or family, try it for yourself. Pose a question like, “hey, who was that actor that played Alan Grant in Jurassic Park?” 

Watch everyone rush to their phones to answer the question, not for you, but for themselves. You just opened a curiosity gap that they need to close.

The same goes for your email subject lines. 

It’s natural to feel like you need to explicitly state the value of your email in the subject line, however this can also have an adverse effect, as the recipient feels like they’ve seen everything you have to offer already.

Movie trailers often suffer the same fate. How often have you heard, “I’m not going to see it. They gave away the whole movie in the trailer!"

Consequently, people miss out on the real value of consumption because they  already feel like they know the whole story.

I need to know more!

Yesterday I received an email from SumoMe that I had to open. 

“The 1-minute tip that will 10x your email signups."

What’s the tip? I need to know more! (I talked to Noah Kagan, founder of SumoMe, who shared that the email had an open rate of 26.35%)

Now perhaps the most important thing to remember is that if you open a loop, you have to close it. SumoMe’s email was packed with actionable ways to utilize their list builder tool (which I already use on my website) to maximize email signups. 

They opened the loop and got my attention, but most importantly, they closed the loop and delivered value.



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