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July 1, 2021

9 Reasons Why Customers Aren’t Reading Your Emails


So you’ve planned an email marketing campaign, written the emails, and sent them out to your subscribers. The only problem: Nobody (or very little of your audience) is reading your emails. What gives? Should you just ditch your e-marketing efforts?

Before you throw in the towel, remember that email is still a valuable way for business leaders like you to communicate with customers. It’s just not as urgent for people to read or reply to emails as it used to be, especially when they get so many per day. 

Your email list, content, and sending times may also need some improvement to entice more subscribers to open your emails. (Don’t worry; we’ve all made at least one of these e-marketing mistakes in the past. We’re just here to help you learn from them and send even better emails!)

Here are nine possible reasons why your customers aren’t reading your emails — and a few tips on how to change that.

1. They’re overwhelmed with too many emails.

Most people who have an email address will tell you they simply get too many emails. From subscriptions to appointment reminders to messages from loved ones, it’s easy for business emails to get lost in the clutter. Unread emails just add to the chaos, so customers might delete yours in an inbox-cleaning sweep without even checking to see who sent them all the promotion emails vying for their attention.

And in a survey of 500 people, 56% receive 25 to 49 emails a day, but 74% open and read 10 or fewer emails. That means these folks are getting 15 to 39 emails every day that they don’t even read, simply because of email fatigue.

So how can you entice recipients to read more of your emails?

  • Send emails about once a month, but no more than once a week — which may further overwhelm customers.
  • Use a short, attention-getting subject line (see #7).
  • Make sure you’re sending relevant, helpful content (see #10).

2. Your emails go to a seldom-checked address or folder.

People might only be missing your emails because you’re sending them to the wrong (or an infrequently checked) email address. About 62% of survey respondents have one they only use for promotional emails and sign-ups, which they’re not checking as often as a work or primary personal address. If your sales emails are going to a non-primary account that someone only checks occasionally, it will be more difficult for you to get them to open your email, much less read about the value that your business offers.

To make matters worse, Gmail recently started sorting emails into three categories: Primary, Social, and Promotions. This is helpful for customers who want to see at a glance which emails are more urgent than others, but it can be a struggle for businesses who end up in the Promotions folder; only 19% of Promotions-labeled emails get opened.

How can you avoid the Promotions folder and improve your open rates?

  • Don’t put too many links in your email.
  • Ask subscribers to save your contact.
  • Segment your audience (see #5).
  • Avoid spam trigger words (see #8).

3. Your email list is outdated.

There’s a natural “churn” in email marketing, or people unsubscribing from your list for whatever reason. But letting your email list go stale can lead to high bounce rates (when emails aren’t delivered to their intended recipients).

If your bounce rate gets too high (anything over 2%), your customers’ servers may start marking your emails as spam, or “blacklisting” them. If that blacklisting happens, it’ll make it even harder to reach subscribers.

Here’s how to update an old list (and avoid bounces and blacklists):

  • Regularly remove unsubscribers and bounced email addresses.
  • Make sure your entire list has given you permission to email them with promotions, news, and other information.
  • To get new opt-ins, create a gated e-book and give it to customers in exchange for their email addresses.

4. You’re sending from a personal email.

Customers are more trusting of business and sales emails that are linked to the company’s domain name (or website). For example, if you worked at Treefrog Marketing, you’d want to send a sales email from johndoe@treefrogmarketing.com, not johndoe@gmail.com

Sending from a generic Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook account just makes you look less credible. But using a business email will make your communication appear more professional, improve brand awareness, and make your email stand out among the clutter. That means more people will read your emails — and it just takes minutes to set up a business email!

If you still need a business Gmail account, here’s how to set one up: 

  • Set up your Google Workspace.
  • Choose your business size.
  • Access your Admin console.
  • Set up your business email (and your team’s emails, if applicable).
  • Migrate your emails and data (and your team’s if applicable).
  • Add your business logo.
  • Start sending business communications.

5. The audience isn’t segmented.

If you’re just sending email blasts to a large list, you might send content that’s relevant to one group but not so helpful to another group. But the right segmentation can help you improve open rates, engage readers, and increase revenue while making sure your content is relevant to each segment in your audience.

You can send the same general campaign to different segments while testing variations to see which version gets more opens and click-throughs. For example, your subject line could vary based on the segments’ engagement with your past emails. You could send an email with the subject line “We miss you!” to a less engaged segment, while sending an email with a “Thanks for your support!” subject line to a more engaged group.

Other ways to segment your audience include:

  • By demographics (gender, age, income, job title)
  • By past purchases (one-time or consistent buyers)
  • By the time since their last purchase
  • By their place in the buyer’s journey
  • And more

6. You’re sending at the wrong time.

Trying to figure out when you should send emails is one of the hardest parts of email marketing. It can vary not only by industry, but also by recipient preference, email fatigue, or just randomly clicking (or not clicking) on an email when they’d normally do otherwise.

While it’s not an exact science, general research suggests that the best sending time is during normal weekday business hours (9am to 5pm). That accounts for 53% of email opens. Sending emails over the week or outside of this time range might hurt your open rates, as most people take this time to unplug from work and relax with family and friends — not catch up on their emails.

To optimize your email sending times, you can also: 

  • Try sending emails on Fridays; this day had the highest open and click-through rates as of March 2021. This may be because people often have lighter schedules at the end of the workweek and more time to check emails.
  • Avoid sending emails on Monday; that’s when people clear out their inbox from the weekend and try to get settled for the workweek.
  • Research shows that Tuesdays and Thursdays are still great days for sending marketing emails that subscribers will open.

7. You’re using long, irrelevant subject lines.

If your subject line trails off the page (of a computer or phone, that is), your recipients can’t get the full idea of what your email contains. And if it doesn’t match up with the email’s main content, readers might think you’re manipulating them into clicking on emails with misleading subject lines.

Try to limit your subject line to nine words, or 60 characters. That’s about where desktop inboxes cut off the subject line. For a better mobile experience, you’ll want to cut the subject line down even more — to 30 or 40 characters. And double-check that your subject line is relevant to the rest of the content and adds context to what the recipient can expect if they open the email.

You can also improve your subject lines by:

  • Making sure your subject line grabs the reader’s attention and calls them to action.
  • Adding emojis if that’s appropriate for your brand. 56% of companies that did this saw higher open rates.
  • Making it obvious if a deadline or timely action is required (for example: “Today only: 50% off sale!).

8. Customers think your emails are spam.

About 65% of survey respondents trust other forms of communication more than email, thanks to the prevalence of spam. And even if your business and communications are credible, up to 43% of users will mark emails as spam if they don’t recognize your name or your company’s name.

Not letting people opt out of your emails, having low engagement, and writing misleading subject lines can all land your emails in the spam folder. And if your emails keep going to the junk folder, recipients will either unsubscribe from emails they decide are irrelevant, or they’ll never (or seldom) check that folder in the first place.

Here are a few tips for avoiding the dreaded spam folder:

  • Don’t use spam trigger words like “free trial,” “urgent,” “cheap,” and “no catch” — especially in the subject line.
  • In every email, give people the option to unsubscribe or update their preferences for email content and frequency.
  • Clean your list by removing unsubscribers or those who haven’t engaged with your emails (see #3).

9. Your content needs work.

Are you focusing too much on how great your business is? Or writing emails that sound nothing like your brand’s other content? While you should tell recipients about your business and why working with you is a great decision, you don’t want to send them an email that’s all about you. Instead, you can put the recipient first by thanking them for subscribing, explaining the benefits they’ll enjoy when they work with you, and so on.

Also, make sure the tone of every email is consistent with your website, social media, and blogs. Because you often lead people from your email to a page on your website, the overall feel should be similar between your marketing materials for the best user experience. This is especially true for your welcome email, since it sets the tone for the rest of the campaign (and gets an 86% higher open rate on average than other newsletters).

A few other ways to improve your email content include:

  • Addressing the problem your readers face and offering ways to help them solve that problem — whether that’s free advice or a quality product or service.
  • Automating your welcome email so that it goes out immediately to anyone who subscribes to your list.
  • Sending emails consistently (for example, once a month) with clear messages that are helpful and relevant to your audience.

By following these tips — and avoiding the pitfalls that cause customers to ignore emails — you can start to break through the inbox clutter and get better open rates. And with more engaged subscribers reading your helpful relevant content, they’ll get to know you better and be more likely to turn to your business when they’re ready to buy.

Learn the EXACT marketing strategy we use to help small businesses grow: The Flywheel Marketing Method.

Our proven marketing protocol helps companies make more money, free up time, and plan an effective strategy.
Treefrog Marketing is an agency in Lafayette, Indiana focused on small business. We specialize in strategic marketing and advertising, graphic design, web design, social media, SEO, and more. For more information, please visit our website. You can also connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Leverage Kelly’s marketing experience, insights, and leadership to grow your business.

As the founder and chief marketing strategist at Treefrog Marketing, a co-host of the Priority Pursuit Podcast, a StoryBrand Certified Guide, and fractional chief marketing officer, Kelly Rice has spent more than two decades helping small businesses take their companies to the next level by providing trustworthy leadership and building effective marketing strategies and systems.

She has dedicated her career to helping small businesses succeed because she knows, firsthand, how hard they work to make their communities a better place. 

Still, many people undervalue the strength and ingenuity of small businesses, but not Kelly. She believes they deserve to have a marketing partner and strategy that works as hard as they do.

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