Throughout the online marketing world, there is general agreement of the importance email serves within an online marketing campaign.  Email is about as direct as you can get with online marketing.  A quality direct email can drive traffic as well as any known online effort. As the recent article “Why marketers should keep sending you e-mails” by McKinsey & Company point out, “E-mail remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media – nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined.  That’s because 91 percent of all US consumers still use e-mail daily, and the rate at which e-mails prompt purchases is not only estimated to be at least three times that of social media, but the average order value is also 17 percent higher.”  (McKinsey, “Why Marketers Should Keep Sending You Emails”)

So the discussion becomes, what can be done to most impact the engagement of every single email you send?  While it is true that there are factors completely out of your control, there are many things you can do to increase the likelihood your email is actually opened and read.  Genoo has been sending millions of emails every year, so we have some ideas of where you can start!

Subject Line and Content Message

There are many studies and opinions on what makes a great subject line.  It is a topic that if researched, you will find countless theories on success.  Quickly consider your own experience.  What email subject lines regularly get you to click?  What information is necessary to make that message relevant enough to open rather than instantly deleted?

We have summarized the keys to an engaging subject line into 4 keys.  A great subject line must be advantageous, precise, distinct, and urgent.

Advantageous means that the content is relevant and useful to the recipients and that the subject line matches the content of the email itself.  If your subject line is confusing based on your recipients’ expectations, be prepared for some confused recipients.  Even worse, if the subject line sounds relevant but the content of the email is not, be prepared for plenty of unsubscribes.

Precise refers to two angles, both the conciseness and accuracy of the subject line.  How few characters can you use to fully describe your email?  How concisely and directly can your message be made?  Of course for a truly precise and successful subject line, both elements need to be present.

The third factor is distinct. This is referring both to the subject line as well as the content of the email as a whole. Make sure you are not sending the same message over and over because your mailing list will tune out.  One way to make each subject line “extra unique” is to personalize the subject line itself.  “Emails with personalized subject lines have 26 percent higher unique open rates than non-personalized emails.” (Experian, “Email Marketing Services’ 2013 Email Market Study”) Delivering emails that jump out to the inbox should be the goal and uniqueness is a great way to accomplish this.

Lastly, your subject lines need to be urgent.  If after noticing your email, the receiver doesn’t instantly click to read the message, the odds are your email is not going to be read.  Your subject line needs to grab the attention and be opened on first glance.  What is the risk to the recipient if they don’t open the email instantly?  People are motivated by fear, so creating a little anxiety for not reading an email can go a long ways. 

Subject Line Keywords and Characters

Understanding exactly how SPAM filters work is very important to properly craft marketing emails.  SPAM filters comb over your email analyzing a large list of criteria including words, phrases, characters, and other signs that are associated with SPAM complaints.  Keep in mind that what is considered SPAM is always changing.  Depending on what other users are reporting as SPAM, your mail server’s SPAM filter adapts accordingly.  What this means is that what is not SPAM one month, could be considered SPAM the next month.

So what exactly makes words and phrases “spammy?”  Phrasing that clearly screams, “We are selling something,” but in very ambiguous way. ‘Click here and save,’ ‘don’t miss this opportunity!’ and ‘once in a lifetime sale!’ are examples of poor subject lines that are primed and ready to find the SPAM folder.  When looking over lists of the most common SPAM words, many are money and commerce related.  Examples of the most common SPAM words include ‘credit,’ ‘bargain,’ ‘billion,’ ‘discount,’ ‘cash,’ ‘guarantee,’ ‘fees,’ and ‘certified.’

Other factors of subject line structure to avoid are unnatural punctuation and capitalization issues.  Excessive exclamation points or question marks will raise SPAM flags.  Keep the formatting of your subject line fairly straightforward because too much EXCITEMENT!!! probably won’t even make it to your recipient.

Images and Attachments

While plain text emails are not considered “sexy,” they are very effective in passing through SPAM filters.  Sending an intricate, colorful, picture heavy email looks great to the sender.  The downside of course is that the same things that “spruce up” your email are the same additions SPAM filters are looking for.  How great is your email if it doesn’t even make it to the recipient?  SPAM filters recognize the high number of colors, graphics, and features in your email and instantly consider the email as potential SPAM due simply to the HTML structure.  Individuals don’t typically send complex HTML emails between one another, so when there is a lot going on in a message, filters pretty easily recognize that the email is from a business.

On top of the SPAM filter, another reason to minimize images in an email is that recipients won’t even load the message images.  If you have the majority of information and content within images in your emails, if even a small percentage of your recipients do not load images, this creates a group of your mailing list that will not consume your message purely based on how they read their emails.  Removing as many potential harmful technicalities from your message will help at the very least provide the greatest opportunity for your message to reach and be consumed by your audience.

Test and Adapt

When all is said and done, the fact of the matter is there are many factors that affect the delivery and engagement of your email.  Some factors, like subject line and message content, are very controllable.  Others, such as SPAM filter recognition and recipient server tendencies, are things you have little control over.  Because of these many factors, it is important to consistently test different variations and record what is most successful.  Depending on your goal and your audience, distinct trends will emerge specific to your individual market.  Just because a case study discovered that Wednesday mornings are the best time to send an email, this may not be the case for your business.  Simply build your email campaigns to isolate important factors and use the findings to strengthen all your future campaigns.  Consistently testing and adapting your campaigns based on previous results is key to email marketing success.


McKinsey, “Why Marketers Should Keep Sending You Emails”

Experian, “Email Marketing Services’ 2013 Email Market Study”