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How to Train Your Subscribers to Open Your Emails Every Time You Send

How to Train Your Subscribers to Open Your Emails Every Time You Send

By Pat Flynn on

So you’re building an email list. Great!

(If not, then you are absolutely missing out on huge opportunities to grow your business. And you’re putting yourself in danger! It took me two years to finally get smart and start building a list, and I’m kicking myself for that. Click here to learn more about why you need to start building your list now and how to quickly get setup.)

But here’s the thing…

You could write the best content in the world, but it’s all for nothing if no one opens your emails.

There are two variables that can mean the difference between your subscribers reading your emails and completely ignoring them.

Let’s talk about each of these one by one, because they are extremely important…

The 2nd Most Important Factor—Your Email Subject Line

We’ll get to the most important variable next, but the subject line of your email definitely plays a major role in how many people open the emails you carefully craft.

I typically spend an extra five to ten minutes on the subject line while writing emails. Even though they are only a few words long, it’s the first thing people see before they read or click on anything else in your email.

There are tons of formulas online for writing winning subject lines, but I’m going to narrow down what makes a great subject line:

Using FOMO.

FOMO = Fear of Missing Out.

It’s a real thing.

We all have this fear. When you consider it when writing your email copy, you’re more likely to get people to click through, primarily because of this thing called the “information gap.”

Here’s what the “information gap” is—explained by Derek Halpern over at

When you create a gap between what people know, and what people want to know, they feel compelled to fill that gap.”

This is why curiosity-driven headlines work so well: People want to know what’s on the other end, so they click through to find out.

Here are some examples of headlines I’ve used in the past that employ this strategy and have some of the highest open rates:

  • The Top 3 Reasons Online Businesses Fail…
  • If I Had to Start From Scratch, This Is What I’d Do
  • This Is Why I Gave Up On It

As you can see, each of the above headlines makes you wonder what exactly it is that I’m talking about.

Average open rates vary from industry to industry, but typically they range between 15% to 30%, based on several studies I’ve found.

That’s only two or three people out of every ten! It’s kind of deflating to see, especially when we work so hard to grow our lists in the first place.

My email open rates range from 40% to 85% because I’m constantly tweaking and testing headlines to increase those numbers. I’ve experienced up to a 35% jump in open rates simply by changing the subject line on existing emails—it’s crazy.

Conversely, I’ve also seen massive drops in open rates while testing, too.

Subject lines are important, but they only work for opening your email. If the content inside doesn’t match the headline, or if you seem to be bait-and-switching people along the way, you’re not going to get any clicks in your emails, and you’re going to have some angry subscribers, too. They won’t be subscribers for long.

Be creative with your headlines, but make sure you’re delivering value and giving people what they want at the same time.

Now, there’s one more variable I’d like to talk about that will not only increase your open rates, but will help you earn more clicks and engagement in your emails, as well.

It’s the most underrated variable in the email marketing arena: expectation.

The #1 Most Important Factor—Expectation

When your subscribers expect great things from your emails, the headline doesn’t even matter anymore—they will open every single email and will always look forward to the next.

When you think about it, there are certain cases where you are almost always going to open an email that is being sent to you.

Some examples include when you subscribe to a new service and your username and login are enclosed, or when you get a reply from a customer support person you reached out to because of an issue you had, or even an automated service that sends you updates that you use every day, like Google Alerts or a daily SEO rank tracking update.

The common factors here are that these emails are expected by the subscribers, and people know that important information is inside.

Those emails contain stuff people asked for and need.

Most of us, however, are not providing important SEO daily rank tracking emails or replying to customer service inquiries. We ask people to subscribe to our newsletters and our information, so it’s a lot more challenging for us to have the same kind of direct expectation when it comes to the emails we send.

Challenging, but not impossible.

You can train your audience to hold expectation for your emails, and it’s done by providing massive value in the very first set of emails you send to your new subscribers.

Let’s Talk About “Providing Massive Value” Real Quick

“Provide massive value” is probably some of the most important—but also overused and non-specific—advice we hear online.

Of course we need to provide massive value, but how?!

With your emails, it’s actually fairly simple.

As soon as someone subscribes to your list, share your best, most actionable tip—something people can get a result from within five minutes of implementation.

It might seem counterintuitive, but providing small wins upfront is actually a huge deal.

In 1984, a Cornell professor wrote this when discussing the science of small wins:

“Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage… once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.”

Charles Duhigg wrote about it in this Lifehacker article on habits:

“Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.”

Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, has an entire chapter dedicated to the power of small wins in his book. He says that small wins form a habit and our minds go back continually to where we were rewarded, and what better habit is there to establish for your new subscriber than to open your emails?

If you want people to open your emails down the road, start by rewarding them with small victories.

Train your audience to make a connection between your emails and making progress, and you’re in for much larger open rates in all of your future emails.

Call to Action: Make the first two emails of your auto-responder series each result in a small win for your new subscriber. Make sure it takes less than five minutes to achieve the desired result.

Try it out, and you’ll find amazing results. You’ll likely see an increase in the number of people who reply to you and say thanks.

Here are some specific examples:

Smart Passive Income Newsletter 2010 to mid-2015

For a while, the very first email that new Smart Passive Income newsletter subscribers would receive was this one, which I’ve recently pulled from the series because I use it as an example so often here on the blog. Plus, I’ve recently overhauled my entire auto-responder series. But notice how quickly one can go through this example and see results. You can even try it yourself.

Hi [Name]! 

So as I mentioned before, I have a lot of tips and tricks to share with you that will not be posted on the blog, and this is one of them.

If you’re struggling with figuring out what to write about, whether it’s for your next blog post, or that e-book you’re working on, try this method out.

  1. Go to and type in keywords that are related to your niche. For example, if your site or e-book was about flyfishing, you’d type in flyfishing in the search field.
  2. Locate the top books in the search results, and click on one of them. This will open up the page that shows you what it’s about, how much it costs, etc.
  3. Look inside the cover. The cool thing that Amazon does is that it previews first few and the last few pages of most of their books. And what page is always shown when you “look inside”?

The Table Of Contents

The table of contents will show you exactly what kinds of things people are talking about within that niche. So, for our flyfishing example, in one of the top books, I see the following:

Part 1: Flyfishing

  1. Introduction
  2. Understanding Fly Tackle
  3. How to Fly Cast
  4. Fly-Fishing Tactics
  5. The Biology of Fish

…and so on and so forth.

Now, you don’t want to just copy each of these parts of the table of contents verbatim and use them yourself. They are too general! They should, however, give you ideas on what you can write about.

So for example, here are some blog post titles or chapters of e-books that I’ve derived just from this part of the table of contents:

  • 5 Types of Fly Fishing Tackle and the One That Works Best
  • What Exactly Triggers a Fish to Eat Your Artificial Lure
  • Why That Fish Won’t Even Look at Your Fly
  • The Beginner’s Guide to Casting a Fly Rod
  • How to Practice Fly Casting
  • 8 Fly-Fishing Tips to Give Yourself the Best Chance to Catch Fish
  • Advanced Fly Tackle—For Serious Fisherman Only

You get the idea.

We’re basically getting a boost of inspiration from looking inside the covers of these books. If you think about it, a lot of money went into helping the authors figure out how to organize and determine what they were going to write about, so now you can use that as your own starting point to make even better content for your e-book or blog.

So try it out. Go to Amazon, enter a keyword, look inside the covers, find the table of contents, and get inspired.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tip. There are definitely more to come.

Thanks, and best of luck to you! Cheers!

Pat with

And here are some of the responses from brand new subscribers as a result of this email:

Subscriber email response-1

Suscriber email response-2

Subscriber email response-3

If you’re interested in learning more about how to win with your email list, I’d love to share my free guide, Email the Smart Way: Email Archetypes So You Never Run Out of Great Emails to Send Your List. It’s 100% free. Just sign up below, and it will be automatically and instantly sent to you:

Still hungry for more information about email marketing? Check out some of the other content here on the Smart Passive Income blog.

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