How To Increase Email Open Rates And Get Subscribers To Read Your Emails

As a freelancer, email marketing can help you stay top of mind with prospective clients but only if email subscribers actually open and read your emails.

Painted Mailboxes for Email Open Rates

If you’re a freelancer, you know you’re exceptional at what you do. You have knowledge and skills and the desire to use both to help other people.

When I decided to quit my full-time job and start a freelance business back in 2005, I was confident in my brand design and graphic design skills, and I was doing everything I could to learn and improve my web design skills. I had a design degree, a killer portfolio, and several years of experience, which included working with some pretty high-profile brands.

What I didn’t have was any training on how to find, sell to, and land new clients, which is sort of problematic when you’re a freelancer.

Step into any group for freelancers and browse through the posts and conversations and you’ll immediately discover that finding and landing new clients is the hardest part of freelancing — and that’s what makes email marketing such a valuable tactic for freelancers.

Email marketing is how you cultivate a list of people who want to hear about your work, see what you’re up to, and eventually hire you.

Building an email list for your freelance business gives people who aren’t quite ready to work with you the ability to stay in touch with you. Starting an email newsletter helps you strengthen your relationship, establish trust, and deepen loyalty with those subscribers.

Email marketing is the fastest way to fill your new client pipeline with perfect-fit ideal clients who can’t wait to work with you.

But email marketing doesn’t work if subscribers don’t open and read your emails.

That means you must do everything in your power to encourage subscribers to open your emails, which means keeping them engaged, capturing their attention, training them to look for your emails, and providing value each and every time you send an email.

Getting Subscribers To Open Your Emails

If you’re like most freelancers, you started an email newsletter to generate leads, which means your email content focuses on helping your target market and ideal clients accomplish tasks and move closer to their goals. At the same time, it demonstrates your expertise, reminds subscribers of what you do and how you can help them, and encourages them to reach out about working with you. For all of that to work, again, subscribers must open your emails.

If you’re reading this article, you likely typed something like “how to get customers to open my emails” into a search bar. You may have found all sorts of articles from email marketing providers and marketing pros telling you to do things like:

  • Segment your email list for you can create tailored messaging for each segment and leverage personalization to improve results.
  • A/B test your subject lines and email content with different segments of your email list to see which one performs better.
  • Use a re-engagement campaign to get subscribers who aren’t opening your emails to pay attention or to remove them from your list.

All of these tactics work like a charm if you already have an email list. But what about when you’re just getting started? What if you’re new to freelancing and you don’t have an email list yet or your email list is very small?

The good news is that there are simple things you can do to increase your email open rates and get subscribers to open your emails. What’s even better is that you don’t even have to have mad technical skills. I’m going to walk you through three things you can do right away:

  1. Write subject lines that spark curiosity.
  2. Remind subscribers why they’re receiving an email.
  3. Send often enough to set expectations and stay top of mind.

Let’s get started!

Write Subject Lines That Spark Curiosity

The subject line is the most important part of a marketing email. It’s the promise you make to subscribers about what the email is about and the gatekeeper for the rest of the content.

Email subject lines have one purpose: Getting subscribers to open your emails.

The subject line is what will prompt an email subscriber to ignore, delete, or open and read your email. Get it wrong and all of your efforts go to waste. Get it right and watch your open rates, clicks, and conversions skyrocket.

Follow Email Subject Line Best Practices

Just as the HTML title and meta description for a web page provide opportunities to persuade searchers to click your link, the email subject line and the supporting preview text for an email provide opportunities to pitch your email content to subscribers and convince them to open your email.

The best email subject lines highlight the subject of an email in a way that captures attention and sparks interest.

Good subject lines are clear, concise, and enticing. They garner interest, persuade subscribers to open emails, and make people feel like they must see what’s inside.

When writing a subject line, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Keep subject lines relevant to your subscribers and aligned with what they subscribed for and why they subscribed in the first place.
  • Spark emotion by making the subject line personal and relatable. Try using humor, horror, shock, embarrassment, celebration, and vulnerability.
  • Keep subject lines short and sweet. Be specific and aim for 40-50ish characters or about seven words.
  • Front-load the most important words so subscribers can still understand what the email is about if their email client hides the full subject line.
  • Set the subject line in “sentence case” — meaning only the first letter of the first word is capitalized.
  • Make the benefit of the email — the “what’s in it for me” return — clear and obvious.
  • Communicate urgency or scarcity and help subscribers understand that what’s in the email is time-sensitive and will only be available for a limited time.
  • Start with an action verb. Writing a subject line is like writing a call to action. You’re trying to convince someone to click and open your email and action verbs inspire action.
  • Track your open rates, keep a list of your best-performing subject lines, and look for commonalities or trends that clearly resonate with your email list to help you write more effective subject lines.

And whatever you do, skip the email marketing mistakes new marketers fall victim to, like not gaining permission, using bait and switch tactics, and writing spammy subject lines and email content.

Skip Bait And Switch Tactics

If you’re a business using email marketing, the CAN-SPAM Act applies to you.

Most people equate CAN-SPAM with rules like including your mailing address in your emails, including an unsubscribe link, and processing unsubscribe requests promptly. But it also states that you can not use email for deceptive practices like spreading false information, misrepresenting information, and misleading or tricking people into action.

  • Don’t spread misinformation and don’t trick people into action.
  • Do not get so cute or clever that you misrepresent what the email is about.

Always match the subject line to the content. Bait and switch tactics anger recipients and get your emails reported as spam — and the more times your messages are reported as spam, the worse your sender reputation will be and the less deliverable your emails will be.

And speaking of spam…

Avoid Spam Words To Avoid Spam Filters

Spam filters check for sender reputation, specific words, poor-quality links, deceptive practices, missing unsubscribe links, broken HTML code, and more. If you want your emails to make it to subscribers’ inboxes, take these tips to heart:

  • Do not set your subject line in all caps. It’s not just bad email etiquette (digital shouting), it’s also bad for ensuring accessibility.
  • Do not use unique typefaces and special characters like $, #, @, and &.
  • Do not over-promise or over-sensationalize your claims.
  • Do not use excessive punctuation, like too many exclamation points!!!!!
  • Do not use profanity.
  • Do not legalese, slang, jargon, and marketing buzzwords.

More importantly, do not use trigger words associated with spam emails and suspicious words that trigger spam filters in your email subject lines.

Spam trigger words — words associated with scams, gimmicks, misinformation, false promises, trickery, schemes, and unethical behavior — send up bright red flags with email service providers. Any emails using spammy words associated with email fraud and malicious actions get flagged as spam and routed away from inboxes, which means your emails may never make it to subscribers and never get read.

Avoid these spam words in your email subject lines:

But wait, don’t swear off these words just yet!

Before you copy this list and swear to never use any of these words again, understand that any list of spam words to avoid is a list of suggestions. As with anything, context matters. As technology has advanced, so have spam filters. Judging whether or not an email is spam is more nuanced than simply identifying the existence of a single word.

If you write a quality email, you have a good reputation as an email sender, and your bounce rate is low, using one or two of these words and phrases in your subject line or email content isn’t going to sabotage your results. You’ll only get into trouble if you fail to follow best practices.

Phew! Cue a back of hand swipe across your sweaty forehead.

That’s a lot of information about something that’s only about 50 characters long, which tells you just how important it is to the success of your email marketing efforts. Luckily, the subject line isn’t the only way to increase open rates and get your emails read.

Remind Subscribers Why You’re Emailing Them

If email marketing is part of your lead generation strategy, you’re likely sending different types of emails to subscribers. You may also be sending emails for client management, client support and education, and maybe even member communications, course updates, or event reminders. That can add up to a lot of emails — and if subscribers receive too many emails and they all feel the same, it can lead to subscriber burnout, unsubscribes, and low open rates.

Help subscribers recognize the different types of emails you send and remember why they receive them by labeling certain messages and providing helpful reminders.

Use A Familiar “From” Name

I don’t know what your inbox looks like, but my inbox is FULL and in my inbox, the name of the sender — the from name — is much more prominent and noticeable than the subject line. The sender’s name is not only larger than the subject line but also bold. This means the name of the sender matters far more than you might think.

Think about the last time you checked your email. When you looked at the new messages in your inbox, how did you decide which emails to open?

Let me guess:

  • You opened and read the emails from the people you know and the emails from names you recognized.
  • You ignored or deleted the emails from strangers and the emails from big brands that were clearly selling you something.

The people on your email list are real people who want to communicate with, connect with, and build a relationship with a real person. This is why, when writing your email newsletter content, it’s best to write as if you are writing directly to one person.

Subscribers are far more likely to open an email from you than they are to open an email from your business because they know you and they want to hear from you. Don’t shut them down by using an impersonal business name as the sender’s name, or even worse, using a NoReply@ email address. NoReply@ tells subscribers that you don’t care about connecting with them and only want to sell to them and collect their money.

Make The Case For Your Email In The Preview Text

As hinted at earlier in this post, the preview text of an email is the 35-90 character descriptive text that directly supports the subject line. Email preview text appears in subscribers’ inboxes right next to or below an email’s subject line — so the two work together to get someone to open your email.

  • Preview text is an opportunity to further describe what’s in an email.
  • It’s where you can explain or provide context for a cute/clever subject line.
  • It’s another chance to convince someone to read an email and boost your open rates.

Most email marketing service providers provide a field to set your preview text. Don’t skip this step when setting up your email. If you don’t set the preview text, the first bit of your email may get used instead and that can appear messy and unprofessional.

Add A Reminder Within Your Email Template

Include a short reminder for why someone is receiving your email in your template. In a single sentence, communicate: where they signed up, why they signed up, or what the email is for. Place this reminder at the top of your email or add it to the email footer.

Email subscription reminder examples:

  • You’re receiving this message because you dropped your business card in our subscription box at [Event Name].
  • You’re receiving this message because you purchased [Product Name].
  • This email was written for you because you’re a member of [Program Name].

Placing a reminder of why an email is relevant just above the options to manage preferences or unsubscribe can help retain subscribers and keep them engaged.

Add A Reminder Label In The Email Subject Line

Every email doesn’t need a label. But for specific types of emails, a short reminder in the email subject line can mean the difference between an email getting opened, deleted, or saved for later (and you know later may never come).

Email subject line examples that include a label:

  • [New Episode] How Sara Turned 1 Email Into 7 New Clients
  • Course Name: How To Craft A Proposal That Closes The Deal
  • [New Training] Stop Stressing About Getting Clients
  • Project Update: What’s Done And What’s Happening Next
  • [Affiliates] Earn $647 For Every Referral

If you use a label in a subject line, remember to keep it as short as possible to ensure as much of your subject line as possible is readable in subscribers’ inboxes.

Test Your Emails

Email marketing experts will tell you to A/B test your subject lines, test your topics and ideas on social media, and test your content with different segments of your email list. All of that is great advice but it’s advanced advice. The truth is that many freelancers don’t even remember to send themselves a test email before they send their email newsletter out to their entire list.

For every email you send, send yourself a test and see what it looks like in your inbox on your desktop and mobile devices.

Evaluate how it appears in your inbox along with all of your other unread emails:

  1. Is the subject, message, and benefit clear?
  2. Does the subject line and preview text grab your attention?
  3. Would you open it?

Then open the email and evaluate the design, content, and formatting:

  • Make sure all of the visual elements are displaying as intended.
  • Make sure the content is easy to read and styled well.
  • Proofread the email one more time to catch any stray typos or errors.
  • Confirm the call to action is clear and compelling.
  • Click all of the links.

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, or you find any issues with the content or design, go back to your draft, make the necessary edits, and send another test. Repeat the process until the email is ready to send.

Remember, as a freelancer, you are your brand, and sending an email that fails to represent you at your best can damage people’s perception of your skills, abilities, and quality of work.

Email Subscribers Regularly

There is one email marketing tactic that is even more important for freelancers than writing a great subject line and ensuring subscribers remember why they subscribed. It’s the most important part of finding success with your email newsletter. Without doing this one thing, you’ll never see the results you want from growing your freelance business email list.

The one thing that is more important than anything else is actually sending emails to your list!

Through my small business training courses, freelance business coaching, and business mentoring programs, I speak with a lot of freelancers about the challenges in their businesses and what’s holding them back — and nearly every freelancer is frustrated with the same thing: not having enough good clients who value their services and are willing to pay their full rates.

Before getting into their business models, packaging and pricing, branding and positioning, and client attraction strategy, I have a set of questions I ask that allow me to uncover the areas we’ll focus on during our work together. Two of those questions are:

  1. Do you have an email list?
  2. Are you emailing your list?

I usually get a yes answer for the first question and a no answer for the second. So, if you have an email list of any size and don’t email your list, you’re not alone.

But let’s change that okay?!

You KNOW email marketing works. That’s why you’re reading this article. You likely have an opt-in or sign-up form on your website so people can subscribe and stay in touch with you. Now is the time to start communicating with your email list or to recommit to communicating with them regularly because by subscribing they literally told you to email them.

Send Consistently And Send Often

If you want people to open your emails, fall in love with you, click your links, and reach out about working with you, you have to send emails.

If you don’t send emails, you only email your list sporadically, or you don’t email often enough and leave big gaps between communications, you put your email list and your sender reputation at risk.

  • Subscribers might forget that they subscribed and report your email as spam.
  • They may not connect the dots between a free lead magnet they signed up for and your email marketing and report you for spam.
  • Subscribers might realize that they didn’t miss hearing from you and unsubscribe.
  • They may forget who you are and how they know you, and delete your emails or unsubscribe.
  • Subscribers might view you as flaky or unreliable, or as someone who doesn’t deliver on their promises, which can damage your brand reputation.

Bottom Line: No one will hire you, buy from you, or learn from you if they don’t know you, trust you, and like you — and building strong relationships with the people on your email list who want to hear from you is the fastest way to make that happen.

  • Send consistently and send often to stay relevant and stay top of mind.
  • Set clear expectations and deliver on those expectations. Do what you say you will do.
  • Train subscribers to look for your emails and look forward to your emails.

And no matter what, make sure every email you send contributes value — that it’s worth the space in a subscriber’s inbox.

Yes, share your knowledge, experience, and expertise, demonstrate authority, and provide proof that your work creates a meaningful impact. But also, be authentically you. When someone signs up for your email list it’s because of YOU. They want to connect with you, hear from you, learn from you, and eventually engage with you through your programs, courses, and services. So give them you. Be human and vulnerable and honest and candid, and relatable, and you’ll be surprised just how quickly you start seeing results.

Plus, if you write subject lines that spark curiosity, provide more context with convincing preview text, avoid spam filters and spam folders, and remind people why, when, and where they subscribed, you’ll already have a massive leg up on all of the other freelancers that do what you do and what the same amazing clients you want.

And hey, if you ever want help building your freelance business, reach out. It’s what I do.

I’ve been at this since 2005. I know how to get clients, grow revenue, build systems, and establish a successful, sustainable, profitable business that supports the life you want. It’s all about defining and building to YOUR definition of success without burnout and sacrifice. If that sounds good to you, let’s talk.