7 Reasons Your Open Rates Are Declining


It’s a known fact that, over time, a subscriber will typically become less and less engaged with your brand’s emails, and your list will suffer from list fatigue.  There are many reasons that this can occur, ranging from subscribers not recognizing your emails in their inboxes, to your subject lines and content not exciting them anymore, to subscribers no longer trusting your brand.  Below, I’ve listed seven of these reasons, and what you can do to turn things around and increase your open rates.
1. Unrecognizable From Name
The From line is one of the first things a subscriber will see when your email appears in their inbox.  It’s important to keep your From line consistent and recognizable to subscribers.  I’ve seen brands use different From lines for each type of email, which may make sense to the brand, but not to the subscriber.  For example, maybe you are using “Jane Doe, CEO” (info@acme.com) for your welcome emails, newsletters come from “Acme Brand XYZ” (marketing@xyz.com), and transactional emails come from “Acme Alert” (do-not-reply@trx.acme.com).  Do you see how that might be confusing to a subscriber?  Sticking with a consistent From line, whether it be a company or brand name, will help subscribers to identify your emails in their inboxes and understand immediately who each is from, which will make subscribers feel much more comfortable opening your emails.
2. Uninspired Subject Lines
The subject line is your first chance to really grab your subscriber’s attention and draw them in, and you have just a few seconds to do so.  Your subject line should grab that attention immediately and entice subscribers to open, read, and act upon your emails.  If you have a boring, non-actionable subject line, subscribers are more likely to pass your email by and move on to the next email in their inbox.  Make sure you are getting the opens you deserve by making your subject lines actionable and enticing.  Move the keywords to the front of your subject lines so those words aren’t truncated in mobile devices.  Test different subject line lengths and also test using your brand/company name in the subject line to see what resonates best with your subscribers.
3. Deliverability Issues
If you’ve noticed a drop in your open or click rates, a deliverability issue could be to blame.  If your emails are being delivered to your subscribers’ junk folders, it becomes much more likely that they won’t even see your emails, let alone open and read them, since many people never check their junk folders.  In order to ensure your emails are being delivered to the inbox, it’s important that you keep your IP and domain reputation squeaky clean, send to a list of active, engaged subscribers, and keep your complaint rate, unknown user rate, and spam trap hits low.  To check the health of your IP, use Return Path’s free Sender Score tool.  Not sure if your emails are being delivered to the inbox or junk folder?  Return Path’s Inbox Monitor tool can help with that – learn more here.
4. Sending Too Many or Too Few Emails
List fatigue can occur when you send too many emails to your subscribers, thus over-saturating their mailboxes.  It’s important that each email delights your subscribers, and it’s hard to keep that up when you’re sending too frequently.  Plan out a realistic schedule with your team and find that sweet spot where you are delivering interesting content with each email and still staying in the forefront of your subscribers’ minds (hint: you’ll need to do some testing here).  For example, is it really necessary to send a daily email, or could a weekly digest be just as effective?  Also consider using a preferences center to allow subscribers to choose their own frequency.  When you give subscribers a bit of a break and make sure that every email is valuable, they will look forward to receiving the next and will open each with heightened anticipation.
Conversely, sending too few emails can also affect your open rate.  If you don’t send on a regular schedule, your subscribers may forget that they signed up for your emails and not recognize you as a trusted sender when they do receive an email from you.  It’s important to stay in touch with your subscribers in a consistent fashion so that the relationship can continue to develop and stay strong.  Of course, you want to make sure that you are emailing relevant, valuable content, but you should be able to do this at least once a month.  Sending on a regular schedule, say every first Monday or every other Wednesday, will allow your brand to stay on your subscriber’s mind, meaning that they will remember who you are when they receive an email from you, and that your brand will come to mind when they are looking for your service or product of specialty.
5. Content Doesn’t Resonate
It’s important to send your subscribers emails that are targeted and relevant to them, or else you will lose their interest.  Go back to your subscription form – what were subscribers promised when they first signed up for your emails?  What are the benefits of being a part of your subscriber list?  Ensure you are making good on these promises and giving them exclusive content in each email campaign.  Remind them with each email why they should continue to be a part of your list and be engaged with your emails.  And know that each subscriber is different in terms of their interests and reasons for subscribing.  A preference center will allow you to ask subscribers what they are most interested in and what they want from your emails.  Use this information to ensure each subscriber is receiving emails that speak to them, and make them look forward to your next.
6. Lack of Brand Trust
If your brand has been spoofed or phished, subscribers may have lost trust in your brand and not feel comfortable opening your emails anymore.  It’s your responsibility to gain their trust back and tell them what you are doing to make sure their information is protected.  Make subscribers aware of any certificates or personalized images they can look for in legit emails, assure them your brand will never ask for personal information in an email, educate them on how they can identify a spoofed email, and consider providing them with a dedicated phone number they can call if they suspect a fraudulent email.  To help identify and protect against future spoofing and phishing attacks, consider using a tool like Return Path’s Email Brand Monitor to keep track of all emails, both good and bad, being sent across your domains.
7. Unengaged List of Subscribers
If you are sending to a list of inactive subscribers, i.e. those who are no longer using the email addresses that you have on file, then you can bet your open rates will suffer.  After all, if there’s nobody using that email address anymore, how can you expect them to open your emails?  It’s important to continually run re-engagement campaigns or routine list cleanings on your subscriber lists to ensure you are sending only to the active portion of your list – those that want to receive your emails and will take time to open, read and act upon them.  This will also help to keep your list free of spam traps, as old addresses can often be taken back by ISPs to be used as recycled spam traps.  As a first step, run a query on your list to see how many subscribers haven’t opened, clicked, or converted in the past six months.  Then, develop a strategy to reach out to these subscribers and try to win them back.  If you need help with this, Return Path’s Professional Services team offers a great Win-Back project that can help you get dormant subscribers engaged again, and clean the dead wood from your list.
Have you experienced any other reasons for open rate declines?  Please share in the comments below, and tell me what steps you took to improve your open rates.  Are you struggling with other email metrics and don’t know what to do?  Download our Email Metrics Troubleshooter to learn possible causes and next steps.
By Joanna Roberts
Account Manager, Client Services