How to get an 80% open rate on your emails

The online world is riddled with an incurable disease called “sameness,” especially when it comes to emails:

  • Actionable emails tell you “How to do X in [number of] days”
  • Hard-sell emails tend to warn “Last chance!”
  • And affiliate promotions start with “My good friend is doing this thing…”

I chose to break that pattern. And in the process, I have realized that the only way to stand out in a crowded inbox is to be different.

The strategies I’ve developed have helped me get open rates above 80%:

My open rates have been as high as 88%.

It took me 6-8 months of testing to perfect the art of compelling emails — emails that people are eager to receive, open, and read. And they’re more likely to buy when I sell in these emails.

These emails do three things:

  1. They make your readers curious
  2. They ensure readers will open your next email
  3. They highlight your personality

Today I’m going to unpack each of these elements so you can boost your open rates, no matter the size of your subscriber list or what industry you are in.

How to make your readers curious

When something doesn’t make sense, we’re drawn to it. Like a magic trick, we want to figure out what’s going on or how the magician knew what card you drew.

Great email subject lines use this magic trick, too. They open a curiosity gap that readers just can’t help but want to close (by clicking and reading).
I use two strategies for creating this curiosity gap: using weird word combinations and disrupting mental patterns.

1. Use uncommon word combinations
You may have heard the phrase “easy peasy lemon squeezy.” Well, I turned that into this subject line:

“Easy Peasy Ballsqueezy” stands out. It’s not something you (or your brain) expects to see. Plus, since we all like things that are easy, readers were eager to open this.

The email gave readers 24-hour access to a mini course from my membership program. Then readers could pay to join the full program.

In those 24 hours, I sold 130 memberships and earned $3,244.

When I sent my email, I got emails notifying me of all these sales.

It’s easy to create subject lines like mine that are so wacko that the reader will want to open the email just to see the connection you’re making. Just follow three steps:

  1. Think of a regular phrase that describes the subject of the email. For example, “How to get rid of weeds in your garden.”
  2. Ask yourself:
    • What do people feel when they get this result?
    • What else evokes the same feeling?
    • Are there any idioms, movie dialogues, or book quotes around that feeling?
    • Are there any stories, fables, or real life events around that feeling?
  3. Using those answers, play with your original words to say something unusual. With the gardening example, that could be something like “Alien Weeds Assaulting Your Garden? Go Terminator on Them!” Or “Make Weeds Beg for Mercy with This Method.”

2. Disrupt readers’ mental patterns
In addition to phrases that don’t make sense, subject lines that challenge someone’s worldviews or beliefs will make them take notice.

For example, here is a reader’s response to one of my emails:

Perhaps a bit NSFW, but it worked.

People don’t think of these things when talking about starting a day. It’s unusual and disruptive — and that’s why it worked so well. This email had an open rate of 69% and a click through rate of 28%.

Readers even posted screenshots of this on Facebook and Twitter tagging me. Nothing like free publicity.

Here’s another one that gave a new spin on an old joke:

This was one of my most profitable emails. The open rate was slightly lower (56%) but still super strong. More importantly, I made $35,000 in 24 hours without a sales page.

These sales came from one unconventional subject line.

To do this yourself, simply think what will get readers to do a double-take.

You can do this by taking a familiar idiom, but saying it in a new way.

For example, instead of saying “A fool and his money are easily parted,” you could say something like “A fool and his money never REALLY get to meet.” Or instead of “Curiosity killed the cat,” you could say “Curiosity killed all the kittens in the neighborhood.”

Or give readers something they would never expect. Here are a few examples:

Subject line Reader reaction
This is how your own mother is selling you out “My own mother?”
Can a polar bear win a mud-wrestling match? “Huh?”
A story about the kindness of Mexican drug lords “Kindness of who?!?!”


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How to ensure readers open your next email

Subject lines are key, but they’re not everything. You can also boost your open rate by making readers excited about the next email they’ll receive.

At the end of your email, tease what the next one will include.

For example, when sending a series of emails leading to a sale, the first email could hint at one specific tip that you will share in the next email. This should be something that you know your readers especially struggle with.

They’ll be eager to open their emails just to get that one tip.

Look at how well Jon Morrow of SmartBlogger does this:

He first opens a curiosity gap by telling readers that their belief about email shares is wrong. Then, rather than closing the curiosity gap in this email, he leaves it open. Instead, he teases readers by saying “open my email tomorrow” to learn his solution.

I’d open the next email — wouldn’t you if you cared about this topic?

Here are two sample paragraphs that you can swipe and tweak for your own emails. These are especially effective during launches when you may be sending more emails than usual and want to make sure nothing gets lost.

It really is as simple as adding a few lines like these at the end of each email to get people hooked and eagerly awaiting your next email.

How to be quirky with confidence

The last step if you don’t want your emails to get lost in readers’ inboxes is to be YOU.

Your readers signed up for your emails because they not only trust you, they like you. So let your personality, talents, and quirks shine in every single email you send. This will make them like and trust you even more, and that will lead to more sales.

I have plenty of hobbies, interests, and quirks. And I’m unashamed to sprinkle references to them throughout my emails and subject lines.

Here is my opt-in confirmation email. It sets the tone for my future emails, using my reputation as a foodie.

This may not work for you, but it works for me.

Are you into Star Wars or Jane Austen Novels? Mention them in your pitch emails. Do your readers know you as a food connoisseur? Open up your next email with a hint of that.

Dare to be different.

People are tired of seeing the same “webinar starts in 30 minutes” and “last chance to buy this” emails. So here is the email I sent as a reminder about my webinar:

This one had a 58% open rate. And after 2 reminder emails, more than 60% of the people who signed up for the webinar attended.

How to write unignorable emails that sell

Now you have my formula and process that not only gets my emails opened, but also garners massive engagement from my list every time I send out an email.

In addition to opening my emails, my readers click through — and they make purchases when I sell.

If you want to stand out in your readers’ inboxes, follow my steps. Make them curious with your subject lines, and then promise them more in your next email so they’ll open that one, too.

And don’t forget to let your personality shine through. After all, if you sound like everyone else, your voice will get drowned out by your competition.

How about we play a little game now? Give me one blah or lukewarm subject line in the comments below, and I will give it a makeover.

Make sure you use some of the techniques laid out here, and I will be happy to improve it even more for more opens, more clicks, and far more engagement.

Who’s game?

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