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How to Increase Email Engagement: Top 5 Tactics

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Finding a way to increase email engagement (or at least maintain it) is an ongoing struggle for all sorts of email marketers.  The good news is, declining email engagement doesn’t have to be inevitable. You just have to find a way to keep things interesting.

But we hear you… easier said than done, right?

In a romantic relationship, people are often the most engaged right after they literally get engaged. There’s a shiny diamond ring, the excitement of planning a wedding, and a bright future together. But eventually, reality sets in, and couples need ways to keep the romance alive.

Your relationship with subscribers isn’t much different. We’re not suggesting you need to start personalizing messages with cute pet names or schedule candlelight dinners. But there are dozens of other brands filling up your subscribers’ inboxes. What keeps people interested in your emails?

Let’s explore what contributes to a better email engagement strategy that keeps people opening and clicking.

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cover image for path to email engagement report

Global Email Engagement

Find out about email habits around the world in Pathwire’s free report, The Path to Email Engagement.

What is email engagement?

Email engagement is a term used to describe methods for measuring how subscribers interact with your emails. An engaged subscriber opens, reads, clicks, replies, converts, and becomes a loyal customer. An unengaged contact ignores your subject lines, deletes your emails, and eventually, they unsubscribe.

And let’s be clear, an unengaged subscriber may as well unsubscribe. You don’t need that kind of negativity on your list. However, maybe you could have done something more to earn their attention and gain their trust.

Measuring email engagement

There are quite a few different ways to measure email engagement. The most common engagement metrics are the usual suspects: open rate, click-to-open rate (CTOR), and clickthrough rate (CTR), as well as total and unique clicks. These answer the basic question, “Are people opening our emails and clicking on links?”

However, open rates have never been a very reliable metric for measuring email engagement. With the onset of changes from Apple Mail Privacy Protection, that’s become even more of the case. Measuring clicks is more important than ever.

The delete/glance, skim, and read rates of your campaigns are also useful email engagement metrics. They help you understand what’s going on in between an open and a click. These metrics are measured by the length of time spent dwelling on your email. 

With email analytics from Email on Acid by Sinch, you can set specific thresholds for each metric. The default settings are:

  • Glance/Delete Rate = Email open for 2 seconds or less
  • Skim Rate = Email open for 3 to 7 seconds
  • Read Rate = Email open for 8 seconds or more

Survey results on email engagement

When you start asking email marketers about their goals and challenges, increasing email engagement is almost always at the top of the list. 

Mailjet by Sinch and Ascend2 surveyed successful marketers for the exclusive report, Inbox Insights 2022. Results show their greatest concern is “increasing email engagement”, which topped the list with 46% citing it as a top 3 challenge.

An earlier Email on Acid Survey featured in our report, Success in the Inbox, found only increasing sales and leads surpassed increased email engagement as a top goal.

So, how can we overcome the challenges and achieve the goal of better email engagement? The Inbox Insights 2022 survey asked marketers to select the top three ways to improve.

bar chart on critical elements to increase email engagement
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Of course, a comprehensive email engagement strategy could include every one of the elements in the chart above. Let’s take a closer look at how each of them impacts engagement.

5 ways to support an email engagement strategy

While these five methods may seem like no-brainers, it’s fair to say that there are many brands with plenty of room for improvement. 

It’s easy to assume your email content is good enough, that you’re using basic personalization, and that the design works for most clients and devices. But the bare minimum isn’t going to help you stand out in the inbox and increase email engagement.

1. Content quality

Nearly two-thirds of best-in-class marketers in Mailjet’s survey (64%) chose content quality as a critical element for increasing email engagement. When it comes to email marketing, there are really two types of content:

  1. Web content: The articles, landing pages, videos, and other content featured in emails that subscribers can get to with a click.
  2. Email content: The design, copy, media, etc. that is inside the email itself. It could even include an expert column that’s exclusive to subscribers because it isn’t available on the website.

Both types of content will impact how much people do or do not engage with your emails.

Web Content

With web content, email marketers are usually curating things that others have created. You’re adding blog posts to newsletters, finding how-to articles for onboarding, and using thought leadership content in nurture emails.

How do you know if that content is any good? Take a few minutes to review it. Read the articles, watch the videos, experience the landing page for yourself. It’s so simple, but too many marketers skip this step. Reading a headline doesn’t give you the full story.

Even if the headline matches the intent of your email you need to ask a few questions: 

Beyond that, ask content marketers for recommendations or get some stats that help you find the most popular and highest converting web content for your emails.

Email content

With email content, the power and responsibility are in your hands. Sometimes, you’ll be summarizing web content or writing about promotions with the goal of getting subscribers to click. But don’t underestimate the effectiveness of content that’s exclusive to the email channel.

When you write to encourage a click, think about how a TV news program would tease what’s “coming up next” following a commercial break. The TV producer’s job is to get viewers to stay tuned by generating curiosity in the content. You’re doing the same when you make subscribers want to find out more.

The most important thing about quality email content is the overall experience you create with text, media, and code. In a world full of copycats and best practices, quality content and original content go hand-in-hand. So, find ways to be authentic and unique in your emails.

Dynamic email content is one of the best ways to create a unique inbox experience. The Inbox Insights 2022 survey found that 84% of best-in-class email marketers are adding dynamic content to emails, and one-third say they use it extensively.

Whether you have the capabilities to add dynamic email content or not, Mailjet’s Julia Ritter says it’s all about setting expectations for quality.

Julia Ritter, email marketing manager

“People get thousands of emails a day. They’re going to pass yours up unless you prove to them that your content has something beneficial. Once they recognize that your brand’s emails come with quality content, opens and clicks are much easier to get.”

~ Julia Ritter, Email Marketing Manager, Mailjet by Sinch

2. Personalization

According to research from SmarterHQ, brand loyalty among millennials improves by 28% when they receive personalized marketing. Successful email marketers also see advantages. 59% of respondents in Mailjet’s survey selected personalization as a top tactic to increase email engagement

There are a few different levels of email personalization:

  1. Including subscribers’ names in subject lines and copy.
  2. Segmenting your list and producing emails for groups of subscribers.
  3. Creating a truly personalized experience that’s unique to the subscriber.

Email personalization: Level 1

Seeing your name in the subject line isn’t as special as it once was. It may increase opens, but no one’s going to feel as if the email was truly created for them. We’re not fooling anyone with that trick and it doesn’t really help brands stand out anymore. Still, at least it’s a start.

Email personalization: Level 2

Strategic segmentation is a great way to make emails more relevant to subscribers. Certain groups of contacts are more interested in certain topics, products, and services than others. 

Different types of buyer personas have their own pain points and preferences. Adjusting email content and design for various email segments can certainly boost engagement. Just keep in mind, it can also create a lot of extra work if you have to design and write for tons of segments. Sometimes small adjustments to your campaigns are enough to move the needle.

Email personalization: Level 3

A dynamic, personalized email experience creates something very unique to the subscriber. It may reflect their personal shopping preferences and purchases history. You can also use the subscriber’s location, content consumption, and other data to dynamically personalize emails.

When I wrote about Seth Godin’s book, Permission Marketing, he reached out to correct me on the difference between personalization and being personal in email marketing. Making the email feel personal is the goal of personalization. But adding personalization doesn’t always make the email feel personal. How does your email engagement strategy evoke that kind of feeling?

According to Gavin Sherry of Bloomreach, email personalization not only increases engagement but may also boost sales.

Gavin Sherry of Bloomreach

“Personalization within email is an absolute win-win. It delivers a much-enhanced customer experience. Great. But for business, it drives both higher email engagement and revenues. Test it for yourself to see.”

~ Gavin Sherry, Head of Deliverability, Bloomreach

3. Responsive email design

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the digital environment in which emails are being read over the years, you’ve surely noticed a steady increase in mobile over desktop. Check out Jordie van Rijn’s list of mobile email stats for further proof of this trend.

The point is, if you don’t prioritize responsive email design it’s going to have a negative impact on your results. That’s no doubt why this factor made the top three on the list of critical elements for supporting email engagement. 

Mailjet’s Inbox Insights 2022 report includes some quick tips for coding responsive emails:

  1. Use a single-column layout: Sidebars and multiple columns may result in confusing or unsightly content stacking.
  2. Keep it simple: Too many design elements and fancy layouts may cause rendering inconsistencies.
  3. Use media queries: Developers use the expressions min-width and max-width to target specific screen sizes.
  4. Try “spongy” email design: Fluid hybrid design involves the use of ghost tables and emails with a 600px width so they are ideal for mobile and centered on desktop.
  5. Add appropriately-sized tap targets: It can be harder to tap on a touchscreen than click with a mouse. People can’t click through if your CTAs are too small.
  6. Code responsively: Consider using MJML, an open-source, responsive email framework that helps save time and uses less code.
  7. Test your templates: Make sure your email previews display as expected on mobile. Better yet – test every campaign before you hit send.

4. Subject lines and CTAs

They are two of the most basic elements of a marketing email. Yet, they are also the most important to get right if you want to increase email engagement. Plain and simple – good subject lines get subscribers to open emails, and strong calls-to-action (CTAs) get them to click.

The key to success is the right combination of clarity and curiosity. You want subscribers to wonder what’s inside your emails and what will happen if they click a button. But you don’t want to be so vague that the prospect isn’t even interesting.

Engaging email subject lines

We discussed CTAs and subject lines in our 2021 webinar, Engaging Email Content: How to Earn Attention and Drive Action. In it, our hosts explained some subject line writing strategies:

  • Fear of Missing Out: (FOMO)
    • SL: Don’t be the only one who misses this!
  • Hitting a pain point: Present a problem with the promise of a solution
    • SL: Stop wasting time on mindless work
  • Urgency: Use time limits to your advantage
    • SL: Last day for our holiday deals
  • Questions: Make them curious to know the answer.
    • SL: What’s the one thing every mom hates?

Using humor in subject lines is another good way to boost engagement. Check out our article on funny email marketing examples for more ideas. And don’t forget to optimize inbox display by including preheader text in your emails too.

Engaging calls-to-action in emails

An effective CTA depends on the action you want subscribers to take. There are, however, some useful words to consider when you want to compel people to click. Here are several of them:

  • Get
  • Start
  • Find
  • Join
  • Try
  • Discover
  • Buy
  • Subscribe

Notice something about these words? They are all verbs or action words. Makes sense for calls-to-action doesn’t it?

In addition to wordsmithing your CTAs, don’t forget about design. Buttons and links should stand out and be easy to click – or tap on mobile devices. Try using contrasting or complementary colors for buttons, and think about flow when you place them in the design. To really stand out, check out our email coding tutorial on how to make a pulsating CTA button.

5. Social media and email engagement

Social sharing and social proof landed at the bottom of the list in Mailjet’s survey. But these elements still play a role in increasing email engagement. 

Even though it’s not always easy to see a direct connection between email marketing and social media, it’s there. Most email templates include social links that prompt subscribers to follow the brand. But we can do better than that.

Social sharing buttons are a great idea for content-rich email newsletters and not just for amplification alone. Sharing on social media gives subscribers the chance to participate in the email experience rather than just passively consume what you send them. You’re also giving them the opportunity to look smart, cool, funny, or helpful on social media in front of their friends and followers.

Social proof plays on psychology a bit. It’s the feeling that everybody is doing it and so should I. Or, to be more accurate, people like me do this, buy this, believe this, and so should I. Testimonials, ratings and reviews, customer counts, and recognizable logos of your clients and customers can all serve as social proof in emails. 

Social proof is also an effective tactic for acquiring new subscribers. And new subscribers are likely to be more engaged with your emails.

How testing helps increase email engagement

There’s one final way to improve email engagement. You guessed it! You’ve got to test it.

Email testing can include both pre-send optimization and previews as well as running A/B tests on email elements that impact subscriber engagement.

The best way to find out which of your subject lines is the most engaging is to run a split test. It’s also the best way to know which CTA gets more clicks, which article people find more interesting, and which product images convince people to start shopping.

Our sister brand (is that thing?) Mailjet gives marketing teams an intuitive email builder as well as an easy way to split test multiple versions of campaigns so you can compare and uncover the most engaging option.

Of course, people can’t engage with your emails if they don’t render correctly in every mailbox provider. Low engagement could be a sign that your campaigns look messed up on email clients like Outlook, Gmail, and Apple Mail.

Campaign Precheck from Email on Acid by Sinch is an automated pre-send checklist that helps you catch mistakes and provides email previews on all major clients and devices. That means you can also use it to see how things look on popular smartphones like Google Pixels and iPhones. Plus, unlike other options, Email on Acid offers unlimited testing with every plan. You’ll never hit a ceiling or face overage charges for optimizing your emails.

Get the Inbox Insights 2022 Report from Mailjet by Sinch

Man sits on suspension bridge near mountains. Illustraton points to inbox insights

Explore survey results from best-in-class marketers who say their email strategy is “very successful.” Plus, hear from email marketing veterans and influencers on how to improve your program in 2022.


Even Great Emails Need to Be Tested

It’s true: Even well-designed emails can break from time to time. That’s why email testing is an important part of sending a successful campaign. Email on Acid tests your email code quickly and accurately, allowing you to preview your design across dozens of the most popular email clients and devices. Try us free and start delivering email perfection!

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Author: Kasey Steinbrinck

Kasey Steinbrinck is a Sr. Content Marketing Manager for Pathwire (a Sinch Company). He understands how email and content work hand-in-hand to create a strong strategy. Kasey has also spent time working in traditional media, e-commerce marketing, and for a digital agency.

Author: Kasey Steinbrinck

Kasey Steinbrinck is a Sr. Content Marketing Manager for Pathwire (a Sinch Company). He understands how email and content work hand-in-hand to create a strong strategy. Kasey has also spent time working in traditional media, e-commerce marketing, and for a digital agency.

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