Do people read your emails?

People are busy – and if you’re using an email newsletter as part of your marketing machine then you want to make sure they open it and read it. However on average only 20-40% of people will open any email newsletter. Here I explain how I increased the percentage of people opening the Make Sport Fun email by 40% (from 27% to 38%).


I’ve always focused on trying to create interesting and useful content for the Make Sport Fun email newsletter, but I hadn’t ever thought much about the email subject line. I just called it “Make Sport Fun newsletter”.

I read an article which talked about the importance of subject lines, read other people’s research about their own emails, looked at what journalists do when writing newspapers, and more.

One interesting piece of research tracked the open rates for 40 million emails, found the ones with the highest open rates and the ones with the lowest open rates. Then they pulled 20 from each pile and put their subject lines in a side-by-side comparison.


Source: Mailchimp

This is interesting, because it shows that the most popular email headings are very simple, and just tell people what the email is, not what’s in it, and not using catchy headlines.

I found that it’s agreed everywhere that your subject line is actually hugely important. So I started doing some testing. I’ve used something in Sportmailer called A/B testing (more on that in the future) which sends two versions of the same email with different subject lines to a random selection of your readers. Whichever version is opened by more people gets sent to the rest of the readers.

I quickly found that people are much more likely to open my emails if I put a quick teaser of what’s in there as opposed to just calling it Make Sport Fun newsletter. But even when you describe what the email’s about a simple change can make a huge difference. Look at these two versions of the same subject line:

  • Email marketing made easy and 70 new free netball photos
  • Simple email marketing tool and free photos

One of them was opened by 27% of people within 1 day, and the other was opened by 38% of people in the same time. Can you guess which is which?

It turns out that “Simple email marketing tool and free photos” was the better subject, but I would never have known that without testing it.

The moral of the story? Test. To try out Sportmailer’s A/B test just click on A/B split campaign in step 1.

5 Responses to “Do people read your emails?”

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  1. Julian Pratt says:

    Hmm – have always made bespoke subject lines for each weekly email just for fun like “Welcome to the West Yorkshire Sport Weekly Bulletin – Bringing sport into the future” or “Welcome to the West Yorkshire Sport Weekly Bulletin – Courses and events calendars updated!.

    But its obvious now that that buries the teaser at the end of a lot of bumf.

    Will make it snappier sooner in future.

  2. Yeah – there’s really not a lot of time to get their attention there. Would be interested to see how much time people spend looking at subject of emails before deciding whether to open them or not. Would bet it’s about 1/10 – 1/2 a second.

  3. Helen Baldry says:

    Thanks – I think I’ll try some more adventurous subject titles for our newsletter. On another website I work on we have click tracking in the CMS so we can tell how many clicks we’ve had from the newsletter which is quite useful.

  4. That’s a great idea Helen. I recently set that up for myself – linking Google Analytics with my email newsletter, which really helps when figuring out what’s working.

    Look forward to hearing what difference it makes to your clicks when you try more adventurous subject lines.

  5. Julian – saw you tried this out in this weeks e-newsletter already. Do let us know how it works for you.