15 Ways to Improve the Open Rate For Your Email Newsletter

15 Ways to Improve the Open Rate For Your Email Newsletter

by Tracy Johnson

Email marketing is still one of the best ways to grow your on-air audience and build deeper relationships with your audience. But even the best content is useless if the email isn’t opened. And if nobody reads your email newsletter, does it really exist?

Your email newsletter can turn secondary listeners into fans and alert your best audience on ways to use your brand more. And that converts to longer TSL.

Many stations have developed a negative view of email marketing because they’ve watched their open rates decline in recent years. Email may not be as sexy as it once was, but it’s still the most effective way to reach a large audience quickly. Notice in this chart from Marketo: audiences interact with brands most by email and their website. That’s impressive. And you thought social media was driving the bus? Not quite yet.


If your open rates are low, or declining, there could be many reasons. Here are some tips that can help you improve immediately.

Chances are your email newsletter open rates already outperform the overall averages. Listeners tend to be more attached to radio stations than many industries.

Email Newsletter Subject Lines

Regardless of your goals, email success starts with the subject line. It’s the first thing your readers see.

These are the essential elements that your subject line should possess:


Communicating urgency and scarcity in an email subject line can help compel readers to respond. How many times do you see an email in your box that looks mildly interesting, and you think, “I’ll save this and come back to it.” And you never do. Or when you do, it’s not as interesting. Your email subject lines should have a sense of importance to prompt immediate action.

A subject line and message that creates FOMO—the fear of missing out is a strong motivator. If you send a message that says, “The deal ends tonight” or “Your last chance to enter is 5pm today”, you’ll get more activity.

Try this and watch the number of subscribers opening emails from each campaign. You’ll see increased response.


If your subject line piques the recipient’s natural curiosity, they’ll be more likely to open the email to get more information. That will lead to higher open rates. How can you improve your chances for curiosity? For one thing, make sure each newsletter is focused on the user’s interest. That should go without saying, but many subject lines are something like, “Where to have fun this weekend with (station)”. That doesn’t make me curious. It’s easy to ignore and delete.

An offer

At the end of the day, people love new things and experiences. They want something! Open with that by including it in your subject line. This could be a contest or promotion, but an offer to actually get something for responding is far more powerful than a “chance to win”. Maybe you can offer free music downloads of a new song by a hit artist. Or a coupon for BOGO (Buy One, Get One) at an ice cream store. Or even a behind-the-scenes video of an event they’d find interesting.


There are so many ways to gather information on your audience’s individual preferences, and tastes. So when you send them content, target it to the individual. Why would you send an email about a new song by a pop/rock band to a listener who prefers hip hop? Gathering that information is easy, if you’re building a smart database.

If you have a personalized subject line, your email has a 22% greater chance of being opened than the one without it. However, only 70% of businesses are personalizing their messages.

It could be that they don’t know how, or that they aren’t checking email marketing statistics on a weekly basis.

Learning valuable information like this can help you increase your open rates, which can ultimately lead to more listeners.

Relevance and Timeliness

Crafting email subject lines that incorporate trending topics or timely headlines can help establish your brand as being in touch with what’s happening right now in pop culture. Find ways to tap into what’s most top of mind.

How to Improve Email Newsletter Subject Lines

There are a couple of keys to writing a great subject line for your email newsletters. First, keep it short.

Email subject lines will get cut off if they’re too long, particularly on mobile devices. And with about 2/3 of email opens taking place on mobile, it makes sense to write subject lines with fewer than 50 characters.
To keep it short, think about which words matter less and where you can remove detail.

Do you really have to include the word “update” or “newsletter” in there? A study from Adestra found that emails including the word “newsletter” in the subject line saw an 18.7% decrease in open rates.)

Secondly, toss in a touch of personalization. Adding the recipient’s first name to the subject line adds a friendly, personal feeling to the email. Everyone loves the sound of their own name. Research proves that emails including the first name of the recipient in the subject line had higher click-through rates than emails that did not.

But, be careful not to go overboard with personalization. That can be a little creepy. But used at specific times for specific purposes, it can help!

Send From a Personality

An email from one of your most familiar air personalities will get far more opens than from your station. Why? Simple. It’s personal, and listeners form relationships with people, not brand names. That can be the difference in being perceived a spam or a valuable communication.

According to Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hacker:

If the “from” name doesn’t sound like it’s from someone you want to hear from, it doesn’t matter what the subject line is,

Be sure your email copy reflects the personality of the air talent, and doesn’t sound like Linda from Accounting wrote it (sorry, Linda from Accounting).

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It’s pretty easy to personalize the “From” name and email address in the software from most email service providers. Take advantage of those features.

Segment Your Lists

Blasting your entire database might make you feel good, but it won’t help your open rates. And you could damage your brand image in the long-term. In a subtle way, irrelevant messages condition the recipient to ignore you in th future.

With information gathered from forms and compiled in your smart database,  target those messages to those most likely to respond. Segmenting lists can be simple, as in the example above about music preferences. Or it can be much more sophisticated. For example, if you know your recipient doesn’t own a car, and uses public transportation, don’t send them the offer for auto service and the tire sale.

How you segment your lists depends on your capabilities internally and your station goals, but you can read this blog post for 27 ideas for how to slice and dice your email lists for better segmentation.

Deliver What You Promise

Starting with the email subject line and continuing into the text of the email, you’re making a promise to your reader about what you will deliver. Make sure that you make good on that commitment.

Getting an open or a click to your website or Facebook page may spike traffic today, but it’ll hurt you if you don’t deliver the promise you’ve made.

This is one of the leading reasons for unsubscribes.

Of course, you can better deliver what you promise if you know your goal before designing the newsletter. Each email newsletter may have a different goal. For example, one week your objective may be to increase the traffic to watch an interview on your website.

Another goal may be to improve social media shares of an on-air segment.

Maybe you’re trying to increase ticket pre-sales to a station concert or event.

Regardless of your goal, it needs to be clearly established before you create and design your message. Now, you can create a perfect call to action (CTA). An effective CTA will improve your click-through rates (CTR).

Timing Is Everything

Sending an email at the right time can make a huge difference in email marketing success. For example, if you are working with a pub and are sending an offer to join your station for happy hour, why would you send it in the morning? Wouldn’t it be better to send it at 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon that invites the reader to, “Be My Guest At Happy Hour Right Now”? Of course it would.

Just as you plan segments on the air, plan the timing of emails. My dentist doesn’t send me a reminder about an appointment three months in advance. They send it a week before, and again the day before. When you time the email right, it’s far more useful.

Write Short

Everyone scans their inboxes very quickly. Long emails with lots of text get ignored. Or, at the least, flagged to come back to later. The more clear and concise your writing, the better.

Avoid complex and flowery language and think about how your content will benefit your audience. Instead of talking about how awesome your new contest is and what times to listen, put it in their terms: “Imagine sitting so close to Ed Sheeran, you can feel his heat!”

Use Action Words

The goal for each email should be to lead the audience deeper into your content. A click-through or a listening occasion are common goals. So write to inspire the audience with a call-to-action.

Using action words tend to be a lot more exciting, and your emails will be far more clickable with more action-oriented writing.

For example, instead of sending a generic message in the headline or subject line like, “Help us pick the music this week”, make it exciting: “Tell Bruno Mars what you think of his new song”.

Or if you’re promoting a contest to meet a celebrity, avoid common words like, “Enter for a chance to win a meet and greet with Taylor Swift”. Dress it up and make it interesting. How about a photo of Taylor backstage. The person next to her has their face whited out. The headline: “This is you backstage with Taylor Swift”.

Emotional Appeals

The Taylor Swift example also shows how you can appeal to the reader’s emotions. It makes them feel special, and that is a powerful thing, especially with millennial listeners.

When people feel like they have an exclusivity, or are hooked up with something on the inside, it gives them a sense of belonging that builds loyalty.

Simple adjustments in phrasing can turn ordinary results into magical responses.

A few ideas:

“An exclusive offer for you”
“My gift to you” (remember, it’s from a high profile personality)
“You’re invited!”
“Join me at…”
“A private invitation for….”

Make it Important

So many station emails read as if the promotion department was just trying to get the message out quickly and check it off their “to-do” list. That leads to copy that isn’t nearly as inspiring as it could be. And it usually leads to way too many messages, too much text and too many photos.

Less will always inspire more. Less text. Fewer pictures. And just a couple of focused messages. This helps the reader immediately see what’s important. A rule of thumb in almost all marketing campaigns is to “ask for less, and you’ll always get more.” That goes for email newsletters too.

Be Inclusive

If you’ve signed up for marketing or business to business newsletters, you may have noticed a technique that works on the reader’s psychological desire to belong to a popular community of others that are like them.

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Using numbers can communicate that your offer is popular. For example, “Join ,250 Others Just Like You As An Insider”. Being part of a hot trend is an motivation.

You an also use numbers for an opposite goal, such as showing how exclusive an offer is. A headline like, “Just You and Your Three Best Friends In a Private Meeting With Aaron Rodgers”.

The goal either way is to make the listener want to feel invited and included.

Make Them Feel Involved and Invited

So many times, we build email newsletters to push content out to our readers. But it makes a lot of sense to get them involved. That can be as simple as asking a question in the subject line or a headline that is answered in the click-through Or you could lead them to a discussion on your Facebook page.

Pose a question you know is relevant to your target audience persona. For example, you might try the following: “Are You Looking For a Better Way To Spend Saturday Night?” or “Have Your Heard The Story Your Friends Are Talking About?”

Add a Little Humor

Just as the best on-air attribute is being funny, a does of fun is highly recommended in email newsletters.

It doesn’t have to be hilarious to get attention. Just make it clever and consistent with your personality.

A simple quirky “Abre-cord-abra! Yeah, we said it. Chilli Peppers Live in Our Lounge”

Avoid Hype

Some marketers think sending an email with all caps or a bunch of exclamation points makes the email more important. It doesn’t. It makes it annoying and easy to ignore.

A message that says, “CLICK NOW AND RECEIVE A FREE TRIAL” or, “50% off today only!!!!!!!!” isn’t going to get an open. In fact,

Nobody likes being yelled at, and using all caps and/or a lot of exclamation points can rub people the wrong way. It feels like hype.

Use The Preview Text Field

Your software provider probably has a Preview Text option. Use it.

Preview Text is like an extension of your subject line. It’s kind of a sub-header that appears near the subject line.

The purpose is to provide a sneak peek at the content inside your email, which email clients like the iPhone Mail app, Gmail, and Outlook will display alongside the subject line.

The exact amount of text shown depends on the email client and user settings. Usually you can make the Preview Text a little longer than the subject line, but it’s still a good idea to be concise.

But here’s the biggest reason to use it: If you don’t set it up, the email provider will automatically pull from the body of your email. That can look sloppy, especially if it pulls copy from about your weekend remote at a pawn shop.

Most importantly, it’s a wasted opportunity to engage your audience.

A/B Test Your Email Newsletter

On the air, you never really know how much action you inspire. But in email, you can know for sure. What’s more, you can measure exactly what is causing that action.

A/B testing will allow you to fine-tune your email newsletters and build your own set of best practices for maximum engagement. Do it right and you’ll quickly find out what works best for your specific audience. T

There are many ways to A/B test. You could send the identical email with a different subject line. Which gets the most opens?

Or send the same email with different headlines. Which gets more clicks? You can also substitute some stories or the position of content to measure response.

You could even send an A/B test email to a small subset of your database one day, measure the results and use the best-testing version for the full email the next day.

Consistently testing over time can increase open and click rates by 20% or even more.

Read this blog post for an A/B testing checklist you can bookmark the next time you want to run one on your emails.


At the end of the day, if your emails aren’t getting opened, you’re wasting your time. Even worse, you’re missing out on an inexpensive and effective means of marketing.

Use these engagement statistics to your advantage, and structure your campaigns.

Keep it short.
Make sure your CTA is clear and visible.
Stimulating curiosity is a great psychological hack to dominate your content strategy.
Don’t give all your information away in the subject line or message.

The only way to know whether you’re growing your email engagement is to track it. Even if your message gets delivered, it’s useless if the subscriber doesn’t open it. Watch those open rates and find your own keys to improvement.

Once it’s opened, you’ll need to make sure the recipient clicks on your call to action, leading to deeper listener engagement.

You have great content to share. Make sure they get it!


Photo Credit: Freepik.com

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