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In our world we talk a lot about open rates, and why it’s so important to track them (you can read more about the importance of tracking open rates here). Generally speaking, inbox providers and ISPs like to see a consistent 20% or better open rate in order to keep putting the email that you send into the inbox, and to avoid landing in the spam folder. But what is less talked about is what causes failure to opens (FTOs) and how to prevent them.

Before we go any further we should also mention that tracking open rates is just as important as always, despite what some may say about the impact of iOS 15 on open rates. (You can read more about this in our article about the impact of iOS 15 on open rate tracking.)

While there are several factors that can cause failure to opens with your mailing list, these are the top three, by which we mean the most common ones.

Email Fatigue

Not just any email fatigue, not general email fatigue. Email fatigue brought on by too much email from you. If you are sending email to your mailing list more than a couple of times a week, and especially if you have not adequately set your list’s expectations by telling them as they are signing up, and then reminding them with your first email, that they will be hearing from you so frequently, you can bet that a lot of your list isn’t opening your email (and some of them may even be reporting it as spam).

Overusing Personalization in the Subject Line

Personalization needs to be used very carefully, and it’s important to not overdo it. Back when personalization first became widely available you could put someone’s first name in the subject line and they’d be thrilled to see it (everybody likes to see their name in ‘lights’), and they would open it because on some level seeing their name like that suggested that it was a personal email.

But times have changed, and now when people see their name in the subject line they equate it with “trying to sell me something” or, at best, “commercial email”. In other words, their first name in the subject line tells them that they can safely skip over that email, and not open it.

Plus, a very large amount of actual spam uses subject line personalization, making users even less likely to open an email with their name in the subject line.

For a more detailed article including survey results about the effect of subject line personalization, see our article How Do People respond to Personalization in Email Subject Lines.

And while we’re talking about subject lines, of course your subject line has to do nearly all of the heavy lifting in terms of getting people to open your email, so regardless of personalization be sure that your subject lines are compelling.

They Aren’t Seeing Your Email at All

One of the first indicators that the email you are sending may be landing in the spam folder is a downward trend in open rates (which is one of the reasons that it’s so important to be tracking them). This can become a vicious cycle, because one of the things that will cause an inbox provider to start putting you in the spam folder is inadequate open rates, and one of the reasons you may have inadequate open rates is because people aren’t seeing your email because it’s going to the spam folder. And the problem compounds, causing more and more of your email to go to the spam folder, and fewer and fewer people seeing it so they can’t open it.

These are the top reasons that your mailing list may be experiencing a high level of FTOs, and why it’s so important to be tracking your open rates and to stay on top of them. It’s also why it’s important to remove email addresses that have not opened recently (a good rule of thumb is that if they haven’t opened the last 4 emails from you then you should remove them from your mailing list and add them to a reengagement campaign).

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