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49 Reasons Why Your Emails Have Low Open Rate

The general perception is that the email open rate is the number of people who open your emails. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
An email open rate is defined as the ratio of the total number of unique people who opened the email and the total number of delivered emails.
Suppose a total of 100 emails were sent. Out of those, 20 emails bounced, which means a total of 80 emails were delivered. Out of the 80 delivered emails, 20 emails were opened. That means the email open rate will be 25%.
The calculation goes like this –
Email Open Rate = Unique Open Emails / (Total Number of Emails Sent – Total Number of Bounced Emails)
25% = 20 / (100 – 20)
Emails that are not delivered cannot be opened. So, this number is not included in the calculation of the email open rate.
Tracking of the Email Open Rate
It is important to understand that the tracking of the Email Open Rate is not a perfect science. To track whether an email has been opened or not, a small one by one pixel graphics (transparent, invisible picture), also known as a tracking pixel, is inserted into the email being sent. Only when the graphics (picture) is loaded (after getting downloaded from the server), the email is marked as opened. Since the email open rate relies on the download of a graphic image, it isn’t 100% accurate. There can be multiple issues with the tracking mechanism mentioned above:
  • Many internet service providers (ISPs) as well as users never load the graphics in an email. Without the graphics being loaded, even an opened email will not be marked as an open email
  • Many users prefer to receive their emails in text format only. In this case also, the graphics is never loaded and although opened, the email will not be marked as an opened email.
  • Users who use mobile, tablets or other such devices to read their emails, read only the text version of the email. As such, the graphics never get a chance to be loaded in the email and although the email is opened and read, it is not marked as an opened email.
  • Non-HTML (text) emails are not tracked at all (as the graphics are not loaded at all in such emails). As such, even if the email is opened, it will not be marked as an opened email. Some email reading applications do not allow open emails to be reported. Some email reading applications let the recipient choose whether to allow open emails tracking as a personal setting.
Because of the above mentioned reasons, it is likely that the actual email open rates are on the higher side than the reported rate.
This feels pretty good for Marketer 🙂
If you have low email open rate, then, there could be a number of reasons for a low email open rate. You need to check the email open rate against the benchmark for your particular industry. The email open rate varies based on the type of industry, the geographic location, type of ISPs (Internet Service Providers), etc.
If you have been sending emails for a while and the open rate has declined initially and subsequently plateaued, that trend is normal. But in case your open rates have been way below the benchmark and is continuously declining, there might be some inherent issues with your campaign.
Why Your Emails Have a Low Open Rate
1. Inefficient Subject Line:
Subject lines are the gatekeepers to your emails and the first thing that the recipient sees in their inbox. A good subject line can dramatically increase the likelihood that your email will be opened. On the other hand, a boring subject line can dramatically decrease your email open rate as it implies to the readers that your email is not worth opening.
A good subject line can make or break an email.
A good subject line has two components: firstly, it tells the recipient what the email contents are and secondly, it tells recipient that the email is worth opening. The subject line should stand out and spark interest to the recipients, without looking like a spam. It should be short, clear, concise and to the point. It should tell the recipient exactly what to expect in the email content and why the email is worth opening.
Statistics points to the fact that the email subject line impact the email open rate. As per the data, 33% of the email recipients open the email based on the subject line alone.
2. Be Concise: Effective subject lines are quite short in length and concise (under 50 characters normally). They are short but descriptive, relevant to the recipient and to the point.
3. Avoid Buzzwords: Certain keywords (buzzwords) negatively affect the email open rate and thus, should be avoided altogether. Some examples are “free”, “help”, “reminder”, “percentage off”, etc
4. No Personal Touch: Adding the recipient’s name gives a personal touch to the email and the email does not look automatically generated. Adding recipients past trends and buying habits in the subject line adds to the personal touch.
Statistics shows that personalized emails are 22.2% more likely to be opened.
5. Offer an Incentive to the Recipient: You should give some incentive to the recipients to open the email. Add some urgency to the subject line, offer them something they value or something that are relevant to them so that they are incentivized enough to open the email.
6. Test and Test Some More: Although there are general rules, still, the best way to know what resonates with your recipients is to test and then, test some more. Try multiple subject lines, check the statistics as to which ones have a higher open rate and analyze what you did differently with the subject line that actually clicked with the recipients. No audience are the same. So, test what works well with your audience.
You can test your Subject line from here.
7. Create a Sense of Urgency for the Recipient: Using the words like “this weekend”, “limited offer”, “first come, first serve”, etc creates a sense of urgency in the recipients and thus it becomes highly probable that the email will be opened.
8. Remove Negative Connotation: Negative Connotation decreases the probability that the recipient would open the email. Avoid using negative connotation as much as possible so that the email open rate graph trends northwards.
9. Get Highly Specific: Use data from the recipient’s interests, past trends and buying history. Use these information to make the subject line highly specific and relevant to the recipients.
10. Do Not Use Words That Look Aggressive: Using words in capitals, exclamation marks, etc makes the subject line look aggressive, unfriendly and even spammy. Avoid using aggressive subject lines. Avoid looking aggressive.
11. Inefficient Content:
When someone signs up for your emails, they have something specific in their minds. They are looking for something which is useful for them. If on receiving your emails, their expectations are not satisfied, they will stop opening your emails next time they receive them. If subscribers are not enjoying your content, they will stop reading your emails.
Focus on the content of the emails such that it would help in solving the recipient’s problem. Thus, the recipients will be more receptive to your emails.
12. Efficient but Irrelevant Content:
Sometimes, it might so happen that the content is efficient as well as interesting, but it is not relevant to the recipient. This might happen if you have different types of subscribers in your email list. Sending same email to a broad type of subscribers tends to decrease the email open rate as the content does not appeal to the wide variety of subscribers.
Try sending targeted emails to a smaller set of subscribers in your email list who will be more interested in the contents of your email. Try dividing your email list according to the interest of the subscribers, their geography, their buying trends, their recent activities, etc. This will not only increase the email open rate, but will also decrease the “opt-outs”.
13. Sending Emails too frequently:
With very few exceptions (high value content), the greater the volume of email sent to an individual, the lesser number of times they will open the email. In general, the more the volume of emails, the lesser the level of engagement with the subscribers for an email campaign. If your email open rates are way below the industry average and you send multiple emails, you may want to evaluate if you are sending too many emails to the subscribers for their liking.
When people first subscribe, set their expectations as to how frequently they would expect your emails. Even better, if you can ask the subscribers how often they would like to hear from you. This could be done with an online survey or through a questionnaire at the time of subscribing. Moreover, it is a good idea if you can provide them with a preference page in which they can update their interests as well as the frequency of receiving emails.
14. Unsegmented Email List:
If you send generic emails to all the subscribers in your email list, you will not be able to engage with your subscribers and the email open rate will be on the lower side as the email content will not be relevant to most of the subscribers. Sending targeted emails to specific subscribers, segmented on location, interests, buying history, latest trends, recent activities, age, language, gender etc will engage them thoroughly and would increase the email open rate as the emails will be relevant to them.
The aim is to send targeted emails to segmented subscribers so that the content of the emails are more relevant to them, as against sending email blasts which lacks relevancy for the subscribers.
Statistics shows that segmented campaigns perform 14.4% better in terms of email open rate as against not segmented campaigns.
15. Recipient not Interested in your Emails:
There might so happen that initially, the subscribers were interested in your emails, but in due course of time, due to a change in their lifestyle, job changes, changes in priorities, they have become less interested in your emails. [ This might also happen in case you have bought an email list and the subscribers have not explicitly given you their authorization to receive your emails. ]
In such cases, the subscribers will not be interested or willing to open your emails. Moreover, subscribers will be more likely to mark your email as spam as opposed to just unsubscribing. Inactive emails will tend to bring your email open rates down.
Unclean and old email lists will contribute to low open rates, bounces, spam flags and can lead to marking of your emails as spam.
16. Emails Getting Struck in the Spam Filter:
If your email gets delivered in the recipient spam folder, rather than the inbox, the recipient will not even get a chance to open the email. There are multiple reasons why an email gets filtered into the spam folder of the recipient. Some of the most frequent reasons have been enumerated below.
Test your email newsletter template and find any issue from here.

17. Avoid Keywords Which Trigger Email as Spam:
Certain keywords in the subject line trigger the email as spam. Avoiding such words will land the emails in the recipient’s inbox, increasing the probability for the recipients to open them. Avoid using keywords like “Free”, both in the subject line as well as the email body. Instead, use words like “complimentary”, “at no charge”, etc. Some of the spam triggering keywords are as mentioned below:
Guarantee, 100% free, FREE, ALL CAPS, $$$, !!! or excess of any symbol, Attention!, Act Now!, Re:, FWD:, T e x t w I t h g a p s
18. Avoid Being Deceptive:
Do not use words like “Re:” or “Fwd:” in your subject line. These used to a good hack few years back, but, not now!
19. Keep a Simple Email Body Format:
Do not cram too much information in the email body or use complicated email layout that might impact email rendering in mobile devices.
20. Have Optimum Text to Image Ratio:
Do not cram images in the email body. Maintain the ideal 60-40 text to image ratio. Avoid having single large image in the email body. Have as much text as possible, instead of images.
21. Avoid too many Links:
Avoid cramming too many links in the email body. Prefer text instead of links.
22. Use Links from Credible Websites:
Use links from credible websites. A link from a non-credible website may trigger email as spam.
23. Include Date and Time in Emails:
Including a date and a time in your emails shows that your emails are recent. This can lead to more email open rates.
24. Avoid Attachments in Emails:
Avoid attaching files or images in emails. This helps in avoiding the spam trigger.
25. Avoid Grammatical Errors or Spelling Mistakes:
Casual grammatical errors and spelling mistakes does not create a good impression to the recipients. Moreover, they can trigger spam filters too. Try to avoid them as much as possible.
26. Include Physical Mailing Address in Email:
Adding a physical mailing address gives credibility to the email and thus, there are less chances of such emails triggering spam filters.
27. Avoid Purchased Email List:
Subscribers from a purchased email list have not given their authorization to receive emails from you. As such, they would unsubscribe from your emails and may also opt to report your emails as spam which can deteriorate your reputation. Moreover, a purchased email list might be stale with lots of inactive users.
28. Avoid Using “test” in the Subject Line:
Using “test” anywhere in your subject line renders your emails casual. The recipients will not be prone to open such emails.
29. Avoid frequent change in the “from” name:
Using a constant “from” name lends credibility to your emails and helps your subscribers remember and recognize your emails. Frequent changes in the “from” name loses that credibility factor from the recipient as well as the spam filter perspective.
30. Request Subscribers to Add your Email Address in their Safe List:
Request your subscribers to add your email address in their address book or in their safe list so as to avoid the spam trigger as well as to get the graphics tracker download easily for better traceability of the open emails.
31. Keep Subscribers Engaged:
Keep subscribers engaged through frequent product review requests, order follow ups and general feedback requests, so that they remember you, are interested in you and keep opening your emails.
32. Include Easily Accessible “Unsubscribe” Button:
Provide easily accessible “unsubscribe” button to the subscribers who wants to opt of your emails. This will help clean your email list of uninterested subscribers, satisfies the CAN-SPAM act and lends credibility to your emails and helps avoid spam filters.
33. Avoid Bounced Email Addresses:
Removing email addresses which have bounced multiple times helps in cleaning your email list, increase the email open rate as well as enhance your reputation as an email sender with lower bounce rates.
34. Avoid Links having One Giant Image:
Avoid creating links which contains one single giant image. This can trigger spam filter. Avoid images as much as possible.
35. Avoid Addresses as “[email protected]”:
Try to avoid “reply to” email addresses such as “[email protected]”. Use a genuine “reply to” email address in all your emails so that recipients can interact with you in case they feel so. Moreover, the presence of a genuine “reply to” email address in your emails lends credibility to your campaign and help your emails avoid spam triggers.
36. Respect “unsubscribe” Requests:
Make sure that the “unsubscribe” option works for up to 30 days from the day the email is sent and fulfil all the “unsubscribe” requests. This enhances your credibility as well as satisfies the CAN-SPAM act.
37. Use Recognized “from” Name:
Use a “from” name which your recipients recognize easily. This will help them open your emails and will thus increase your email open rates.
38. Use Double opt-in:
Double opt-in means that the subscriber will confirm that they want to receive emails from you. You would not like to send emails to people who are not interested in your emails. This will lower your email open rate, increases the chances of your emails being reported as spam as well as reduces your reputation as an email sender thus reducing deliverability of your emails.
39. Reference your Domain in Emails via SPF:
SPF (Sender Policy Framework) is a standard for email authentication. It compares the sender’s actual IP Address to a list of IP Addresses authorized to send emails from that domain. If you reference your domain in your emails via SPF, there will be more probability that the emails will be able to avoid the Spam folder and make it to the inbox of the recipient, increasing the open rates.
DKIM record should be also be added properly for verification of from email address, from which email has been sent.
40. Stale List of Subscribers:
If your subscriber’s list is a little old, it is time to clean up the inactive or outdated emails. Email open rates tend to decline gradually, over the years as people tend to switch jobs, their interests and lifestyle changes, etc. It means that the email list gradually becomes invalid. You need to weed out such emails so that the inactive recipients do not bring your email open rate down.
41. Not Attracting New Subscribers:
If you are not attracting new subscribers regularly, the issue in the previous point is enhanced. With time, the old subscribers will become inactive or outdated and the email open rate will go southwards. Gaining new subscribers takes continual effort.
42. Tracking Issues:
As already discussed in the above topics, the tracking mechanism employed for marking an email as opened, is far from being accurate. It depends on the loading of a tiny graphics pixel in the email body. In case the graphics is not loaded in the email body, the email will not be marked as an open email. There can be multiple reasons why the graphic image is not loaded in the email body.
The email client generally blocks the images by default. Also, the email clients in applications like mobile or tablet only receive the text version of the email. The plain text version of the email does not support the tracking image download capabilities. The recipients may choose “not to download image” option.
Always request your subscribers to add your email address in their “address book” or in their “safe sender” list so that the graphic image can be downloaded automatically. Also, use “jpeg” images instead of “png” images as “png” images and not compatible with many email applications.
43. Mobile Optimization:
As the number of people using mobile devices to check their emails continue to grow explosively, a responsive email design becomes all the more critical. A responsive email design means that on whatever device an email is opened, the email will automatically adjust to fit itself based on the dimensions of the mobile device.
As per the statistics, 48% of emails are being checked on a mobile device (mobile, smartphones, tablets, etc). Moreover, 69% of people checking emails on their mobile devices tend to delete emails which does not render well on their devices. If your emails are not looking good on the mobile devices, people won’t bother to open them and you will be missing on the email open rate.
Make sure that the email layout, design and images look good on the mobile device. Also, make sure that the images being used are compact and efficient so that it won’t take forever to load them on a mobile device. Use “jpeg” images as much as possible as “png” images are not compatible in many mobile devices.
44. Time of Delivery:
The time of delivery of the email can influence how many people open your email and thus can impact the email open rate. If you send your emails on a weekend, people are less likely to open them, at least not right away. On a Monday morning, people take time to catch up from the weekends. Also, after business hours, people are less likely to open their emails. So the best bet to send your emails is on a Tuesday after 12 pm.
As per the statistics available, the best day to send an email in order to get best email open rates is on a Tuesday after 12 pm.
Moreover, 23% of all email opens occur during the first hour of delivery. After 24 hours of delivery, the chances of opening an email drops below 1%. Mondays, Fridays and weekends are not the best days to send emails.
45. Seasonal Factors:
Seasonal factors too can have an effect in your email open rates. In the periods when the email volumes are high (like festivals, celebrations, important events), people might get choosy as to what to open in their crowded email inbox. As such, the email open rate might deteriorate. In contrast, when the email volumes are too low (periods like long holiday season, weekends), people do not bother to check their emails. In this case too, the email open rates go down.
46. Enhance Your Sender Score:
If you have a low sender score, this means that your reputation is not good in the ISP domains. A low score sender can be marked as a spammer and their email will get trapped in the spam folder rather than the inbox. As such, there will be no chance for your emails to be read or even opened.
You can increase your reputation and can increase your sender score by adding credibility to your emails. An authenticated domain name, lower bounce rates, presence of an opt-out link, genuine content, credible links, engaged subscribers, lower reported emails, genuine and authenticated “reply to” email address, presence of a valid physical postal address adds credibility to your emails as well as enhance your sender score and reputation as an email sender.
You can check Sender Score from here.
47. Use of Automatically Triggered Emails:
Automatically triggered email are those emails which are triggered by some events or actions taken by the recipient. These emails can be triggered by events or actions such as:
  • A purchase made
  • A download done
  • A recipient joining a community (a welcome email)
  • A recipient becoming inactive (a reactivation email)
  • A recipient leaving their cart with an item in it (a purchase email)
Statistics shows that these types of automatically triggered emails have a 71% higher email open rates and 102% higher click rates than non-triggered emails.
Triggered emails are not only segmented but are also sent at a time when the recipient are interested in such types of emails, making them more relevant to the recipient.
48. Manage Your Email List:
An email list that is not well maintained and managed suffer from lower email open rates, higher inactive users and lower subscriber engagement. When the email list contains bad email addresses and inactive subscribers, email open rates will fall and bounce rates would increase. This can lead to the below mentioned two results:
  • Subscribers receiving emails which is not relevant to them
  • ISPs not delivering your emails because of reputation loss due to higher bounce rates
ISPs look into multiple factors while sending your emails.
  • Whom you are sending the emails
  • How frequently you are sending the emails
  • The bounce rate of your emails
  • The number of complaints for your emails
  • Your email open rate
  • Your email click rate
All these factors determine your reputation with your ISPs and affect whether your emails will be delivered in the recipient’s inbox or spam folder, if it is delivered at all.
49. Introduction of Separate Tab for Promotional Emails:
Gmail has introduced a new feature that which filters promotional emails into a distinct separate tab. The three tabs are titled “Primary”, “Social” and “Promotional” tabs. Gmail tries to filter the emails and put them into the third tab, the “Promotional” tab. This separates the promotional marketing mails from reaching the “Primary” tab, the inbox which the recipient generally checks.
The special feature of this new tab is that this tab is only visible in the browser view. It is not visible in the mobile devices like smartphones, tables and mobiles. Moreover, if a person is checking his or her promotional tab, that means they are genuinely interested in special offers and marketing messages and are more receptive to such emails.


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