How to Improve Your Email Open Rates

Presented live on Tuesday, June 23, 2020

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Email is performing better than ever and we have good reason to believe that there’s more in the well.

As advanced conversion copywriters, we just need to do a better job of it.

Why do we keep sending emails when we know open rates have dropped?

They’re not opening them. So why do we keep sending them?

We need to be more strategic when planning our email sequences.

This means knowing the product, knowing the customer, and knowing what should come next in their journey.

In this episode of Tutorial Tuesdays, we’re going to discuss all of this and more – to help you better plan your emails going forward.


Joanna Wiebe: We are talking about triggered emails today. Triggered versus sequences, and as a lot of our advanced tutorials are, this is really designed in the hopes that we can have a discussion and to prompt the way that you think about planning emails going forward. 

What to Expect in This Tutorial [00:26]

More emails. Shorter sequences. So the idea here, what we’re talking about, and what you saw when you signed up for this, or you didn’t see it. You just put this in your calendar and you come to these no matter what. Cool. Love it.

Is that we’re talking really about this idea of triggering more emails. So, at our agency we write a lot of emails. I mean, a lot of emails and we’re often brought in for sequences. We get hired to work on a sequence or a funnel, where there are multiple sequences inside of it, etc. And that can typically look like, oh, here are 10 emails. Here’s the cadence for them. 

And we talked about this in 10x Emails, The Fibonacci Sequence where you have like day zero, day one. You send two emails on day one. Day two, is one email then day three, and then day five day eight and so on. And that’s how you kind of plot them.

It’s just based on The Fibonacci Sequence. It doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it is front-loading things, and we’re going to talk about why that’s important. But the real takeaway is more that we are brought in to plan and create these big sequences, that are typically designed to nurture a person to the sale. Where at the end of the sequence, that’s when you start to see more sales emails and this has just become, I think it’s become habit, more than anything. 

Oh, we should match where they’re at for the first few emails and then move them to where you want them to be, and then ask for the sale? So nine emails later, you know, the final three of those nine are like selling and you had six whole emails that were really soft.

And we’re going to talk about why that’s largely problematic. But if you’re in this tutorial because you do more advanced copywriting you may already be thinking these sorts of things. Like, do we need to keep coming up with really long sequences? Is that actually beneficial? 

Should You Still Send Emails? [02:44]

Joanna Wiebe: Email is performing better than ever. So for everybody who might be like should we even email anymore? If we don’t need long sequences, maybe we don’t even email. Hold up. Email is performing better than ever. And this is 2020 data from Campaign Monitor. There are other sources out there too, that are also showing that email is not hurting in 2020. 

So it’s performing better than ever, we have good reason to believe that there’s more in the well. There’s more where this came from. We just need to do a better job of it. 

How Can Conversion Copywriters Do a Better Job With Email? [03:21]

So how do we, as advanced conversion copywriters, do a better job with email? So some of the things that have come in, that Campaign Monitor shared, when you think about when, given that we’re talking about timing sequences here. And how many emails you need to send in a quote unquote sequence. 

Email Sequences [03:36]

We need to also think about the fact that emails are sent on days of a week. That might be day zero, you might call it. Sometimes you might actually say that this email only goes out on Tuesdays, or whatever. So, it depends on the tool you use. 

Get response, for example, lets you do sequences, where you can say don’t send on Saturday. Don’t send on Sunday. Don’t send on Wednesday, if for some reason you don’t want to. But a lot of other tools don’t let you do that. Nonetheless, we know that typically when we’re planning sequences, we have that. Okay, here’s what we send on day zero. That’s typically a welcome email. Day one, day two, day three, day five, day eight, etc.

And we’re not often thinking about the fact that certain days of the week lead to worse opens. Certain days of the week are terrible days to send emails in these ongoing, typically evergreen sequences. 

So lowest click through rates happen on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Highest open rates happen on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So we probably want to prioritize sending emails on Tuesdays and on Thursdays. Now as soon as everybody sends emails on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can say, like, well, well, will that negatively impact open rates? 

Let’s start sending and then let’s see. Lowest open rates are on Saturdays and highest bounce rates on Fridays and Saturdays. Are we seeing a problem day in this data? Anybody noticing a day that might not be the best day to send an email?

Yes, right, everybody’s saying, well, there’s a lot that are just going to us. But yes, you’re right. Feel free to send it to everybody, because you’re right. Saturday, right. We can see that Saturdays are the worst day to send an email, based on the data. Yet lengthy email sequences are often scheduled so that emails do fall on a Saturday.

So that’s problematic, right? So, that’s one reason for us to question, having lengthy sequences for days that we cannot control. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever send on a Saturday. But if it’s your money on the line, not just your clients but your money on the line, would you feel good about sending on a Saturday? Given that it’s difficult to get good results on Saturdays, we need to use that, not that alone, that’s one data point, we need to use it to help us better plan sequences. 

Triggered Emails [06:12]

Furthermore, and meanwhile Triggered emails. On the other hand, are sent only after the user or prospect has actually done something. So sequences, just go out days zero, one, two, five, eight. Triggered emails go out the moment a user does something. So if I’m doing something on your website on a Saturday, or for SaaS, in your app or anything else. Having that triggered email go out if they’re working on a Saturday, if they’re engaging with your content on a Saturday, is fine.

But they’re also going to engage on other days of the week, and it’s a triggered email that we really want to think about and talk about more and more, as we’re planning sequences. Tech is getting so much better at being able to allow us, as advanced conversion copywriters, to start using tech to send the most relevant emails. 

Now, everybody here knows that relevance is the gold standard in email. It’s the gold standard in really everything. And that’s why personalization is so important. Segmentation is so important. Because of this need to increase relevance. 

Triggered emails happen based on a user’s action which means I did X, and then I got an email about it, or about what I should do next. Whatever the case, it’s relevant to me because I did it. It’s not just some random email that’s been dripped out to me and has nothing to do with the thing that I’m doing. 

Open Rates [07:41]

Furthermore, open rates plummet, and this is against email sequences, open rates plummet, almost universally, on day three or four of any sequence. Day three or four from that point on, open rates drop, engagement drops, everything drops from that point on. So, every single email that we send out after day four, has the scrawniest chance of being open. So why are we sending emails on day five?

Why are we sending nurturing emails on day eight, and on day thirteen going forward? Why are we doing that? It’s because it’s habit. It’s because we’re told, we should and sometimes, there are some cases where perhaps that’s the right way to go.

But for most of us, most of the things we’re working on. If we know that day three and four are really the cutoff days, and after that people don’t care at all anymore. And to be fair, their engagement is already going down by day three and four. Days zero, day one, those are the top. Those are the points we should be focusing on all the time. 

Open rates are high for people on day zero, on day one because of what? Because I just signed up, the message you’re sending me is actually relevant to what I’m looking for in that moment. And then we just keep emailing them with no real reason why. We’re just hoping that something we send, something we throw at them will click and they’ll do something that we want them to do. 

So we know this is problematic. And if you work in email at all, you already know that this is how it goes. This is a screenshot from a Google image that shows a funnel. But because that’s because we can’t share the data from our clients, time after time our clients see the same thing. 

Wistia, Prezi, Canva, these companies that are out there doing a lot of great testing. They see that drop off. It’s normal. When does drop off pickup? When you send a relevant email. You send an email based on something they just did and whatever follows after what they just did.

Because the day, rather, the moment a person needs something, is the best moment to sell them that something. So why are you waiting until day eight to start sending those sales emails? Because you heard once you should. Is it because you took a course and that’s the only takeaway that you had is, oh, I should use the Fibonacci Sequence?

Now we’re ready to move beyond that. We have to get more advanced than that. If a person is more likely to buy when something’s relevant, and they are more likely to open when something’s relevant, we should be sending triggered emails that say, hey, you just did this thing. Well done! Or you just look like you wanted this thing, here it is. Rather than waiting forever because we think we’re supposed to be really, really quiet, passive marketers.

Why do we keep sending emails when we know open rates have dropped? Do you know how much work you’re putting on your subject line? Do you know how rare it is for the email you spent all that time writing, to get read?

Do You Even Need Nurturing Sequences? [11:09]

They’re not opening them. So why do we keep doing it? And my bigger question for us, as advanced conversion copywriters, is do we even need what we call nurturing sequences? Do you need to put together a sequence of thirteen emails, sent across however many days? Or do you need thirteen emails, each of which is triggered when something happens with your user? 

Not some big sequence, but individual triggers and small, short follow ups after that. So that’s what we’re starting to see more when it comes to the work that we’re doing at the agency. 

Can you believe the things we’re saying around here? Um so Chris said, so triggered not sequence emails are better? Because we know that email engagement drops off after day three or four, we can make shorter sequences that only last day zero to day three. That’s it. They’re triggered originally, by something that someone did. So increasing relevance there and then they’re quickly nurturing you to get the sale. 

Behavior-Based Triggers [12:15]

Okay, so we want to start planning our email sequences using behavior- based triggers and this is the part that you need to document. I was going to put a map together for you, however, I’m leaning further and further away, with advanced training, from doing the work for you, to teaching you how to do the work for yourself. 

So if you’re like, Joanna, I just want a map. You can make the map. Make the map. You’ve got this. You can do the map. So here are the things that we need to think about. 

Triggers include:

  • Action started
  • Action completed
  • Time since action started, without completion
  • Time since action completed, without conversion or next action

So this is the kind of thing you need to talk to your client or your team about. Say these are the key triggers that we’re going to need to send emails based on. Can we give them, based on the tech that you have, can we actually go ahead and use these triggers, or does your tech not allow? And what which of these triggers does your tech allow? 

Action Started [13:10] 

So, Action started as trigger one. So they did something, but we don’t have reason to believe they completed that something. That might have been, they’ve downloaded something that we don’t have reason to believe that they’ve read. 

Or they’ve signed up for a webinar but we don’t have reason to believe they’ve actually watched that webinar yet. Or they’ve clicked a feature in your app but we don’t have reason to believe they’ve completed it. Then if we can do that action started trigger, we can send emails that will encourage that behavior.

Action Completed [13:39]

Then comes the next action completed. So this is an email where if I downloaded the thing and then I completed the reading of the thing. Somehow you know that, that’s very difficult to know

Then there’s an action completed trigger as well. 

So should you send something that rewards them for that and promotes them to move on and take another action. Whatever your call to action was in that download or in that thing that they just did. This is the trigger, you’re worried about here.

Time Since Action Started Without Completion [14:12]

Time since action started without completion. This is a tricky one. But if I started, I did an action on day zero, because that’s the day that you triggered that email. So we call it day zero. Okay action started, got that, but three days have passed and we still have not sent action completed email. That means they’ve taken an action, that email to encourage that behavior did not work. 

So we’re going to want to send out another email that will sell them on returning to complete the action, that again goes back and encourages the behavior, possibly in a different way. And of course in another trigger that you have to think about is, did they open that other email? But this is the kind of stuff that we need to start thinking about if we’re going to provide real value to our clients, not just sequences that sit there and do nothing.

Time Since Action Completed, Without Conversion or Next Action [14:58]

And a fourth one. This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s basically what tech can do today in our experience. So know that there’s more to it. But the fourth one is time since action completed without conversion or next action. 

So, action completed happened on, again, a new day zero because that’s a new trigger, so you sent that email for action completed, you rewarded their behavior. You promoted the next step, which could be go do this now, or go for the sale, buy this now. And they haven’t done anything. So just like on the previous one with action started, but they didn’t do anything. 

Now it’s action completed, but they still haven’t done anything more. This shows that they’re probably not engaged anymore. They might be busy. That’s allowed, that’s okay, but they haven’t done anything. So this is where you want to nurture. This is where you want to bring them back and get moving on the next logical action, whatever that is. 

Maybe they just don’t know that you’ve got this cool other feature that could be helping them. They just completed X, and Y builds on X, but they haven’t used Y yet. So let’s get them to use Y, send that email, send a follow up email there. Build the sequences around these triggers and don’t make them bigger than they have to be. You want to collect these triggers from your team or client at the start of an email engagement and then you create a map using them. 

So first you need to know, what are those key actions that they should be taking? And then what’s the action that builds on that, or what’s the thing they should do after they complete that action? Those are the biggest questions to ask. 

And then you write individual emails for each one of those and only create sequences where a sequence is needed. And you’re doing your best to keep that sequence shorter than three days, knowing that three days is basically the max. People don’t keep opening after that. 

Emails in Each Shorter Triggered “Sequence” are Based on the Trigger [17:11]

So the emails in each shorter triggered sequence are based on the trigger. So you want to let the trigger tell you what emails need to follow, if any. So again, based on what they did, what should happen next? And that’s you, knowing the product, knowing the customer, knowing what should come next in their journey.

You want to create more sequences, with fewer emails in each, so you may still end up writing a lot of emails for a client. But you don’t hand over a sequence of 15 emails. And do not believe that you have to have a certain number of emails in each one of those sequences. A triggered sequence may be one email and that’s allowed, if you’re doing it strategically. 

So that’s what I want to leave you with today in this final Tutorial Tuesdays before we’re back in September. Have a great summer. Everybody, stay safe. Please wear a mask, there’s nothing political about it. Put your mask on! I have a mask, Ange has a mask, Mike’s wearing his mask. Put your mask on and wash your hands! Okay? And we’ll all get through this together. Have a great summer and we’ll see you in September. Bye, y’all.

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