Why nobody opens your emails and how to fix it

What if I told you there is an optimal number of characters for your headline you can start using today to increase open rates with MORE than 50%?


I’ll tell you what. Then I’d be a liar. A liar who knew that’s exactly what you want to hear. I’m sorry but I can’t give you that number. Neither can anyone else. But I can give you something better. I can give you a system.


You know how you get some questions over and over again?


  • “Should my emails always be shorter than 100 words?”
  • “Should I send the email at on Tuesday at 2 PM or Wednesday at 3PM??”
  • “How tall are you??”
The answers are: No, it does not matter and 6.5” thank you very much.

These are not great questions. Not if you want to become better at email marketing. Better questions would be:

  • How do I get to know my subscribers?
  • How do I give them value?
  • How do I write a great headline?

These are the questions I will be answering in this post. I’ll give you detailed steps you can follow to answer each one of these questions. Then I’ll show you how I’ve used them to CONSISTENTLY get +50% open rates on my lists.

1) Know your audience

I’ll walk you through three methods to get to know your audience better. Once you have a profile of the reader we’re going to dig in to how to make them tell their friends to SHUT THE F** UP because they want to salvage the moment of opening your email. But first things first…


1.a) Who are your subscribers?

It’s possible to segment the subscribers in an infinite number of ways, which is a subject for another post. The point is to start thinking about who you are writing to. Then you can get INSIDE THEIR MINDS and make them open your email.


However, there’s no need to get fancy just yet. I’m sure you already know some things about your subscribers. Maybe you have customer data from your business or you can make a good guess based on your industry/content of your website.


Estimate the following parameters for your subscribers, a simple profile will do fine for now.


  •      Age
  •      Occupation
  •      Nationality
I’ll do it for two businesses I’m involved in right now:


Example 1
Job board for university students
  • Age: 18-29 – Because most students are that age
  • Occupation: Students – Reasonable assumption considering our service
  • Nationality: 80-90% Swedes – Typical rate at the school.
Example 2
Rating system for the Swedish housing market
  • Age: 25-45 – The age of people who are researching buying an apartment in Sweden
  • Occupation: Diversified, full-time employees – The kind of people who can get a mortgage.
  • Nationality: 100% Swedes – The opt-in is in Swedish.
You don’t have to write it down. But it helps.


We will use this simple data to get more specific later. Then I will show you how to read minds.


I know you want to learn that so for god sake please continue reading.


1.b) What are the subscribers thinking about? 

It’s easy to know what your reader is thinking. All you have to do is to read her mind.

I know what you are thinking, “I don’t know how to read minds!”. (See what I did there?)

Do not worry my dear aspiring email-writer. I will teach you how to do it. There are three methods you can use to systematically read minds.

I)Personas + thinking (yes, thinking)

A persona is a generic example person from your subscribers. We’ll create our persona from the previous step. All you have to do is elaborate on each data point and you got it.

Here is an example:

Hanna is 23 years old and is studying her third year on the program Industrial engineering. She is from a small town in Sweden and moved to the capital Stockholm to start her studies.

Once we have established a persona for the subscribers it’s easier to GET INSIDE THEIR MINDS. Simply ask “What is Hanna thinking about?”. Then try to think about the answer. Thinking is a rare and underrated quality.

If you feel stuck, try to think about what is going on in the persons life form different perspectives of time.

For our persona Hanna it might look like this:

At this point in life: Did I choose the right education? When will I get rid of my student debt? What career will I go into?
This year: Where should I go to vacation? What master program should I choose? Which internships should I apply to?
This month: What food should I make for Easter? When do I need to do my taxes? How will I get this small salary to last all month?


Now we have a solid base to work from in the next step, giving your readers value.


If you need more help with ideas about what your readers are thinking about, read the two paragraphs below.


II) Ask

A really fast way to get inside the minds of your subscribers is to pick up the phone and call them. Just call someone who fits the profile and read this:

Hi! Do you have a minute?…

I’m writing an article and if you can answer one question that would help me a lot. “Tell me three things you are worried about this month and/or this year”.

If you want to avoid direct integration with humans, send out the following email.

Example email:


I want to write an amazing article and need your help. If you could reply to this email with an answer to the following question that would help me a ton. Of course I’ll send you the article when it’s done.

“What are you worried about this month?”

Thank you!

Have a great day

What if you don’t have any friends, family or email subscribers?

First, stop reading this and go do something with yourself. Get a daily practice. Then comeback and continue reading.

III) Read what they read & Go where they go

Maybe you are just starting out and don’t have access to anyone. Then think about where your targeted audience hangs out. Both online and offline. Online can be forums such as reddit, news-sites and blogs. Take a look at the popular threads and stories. Those topics will be things your future readers are thinking about.

Find offline sources too. Go to meetups. Go to fairs. Go to seminars. Go where your audience are.

1.c) What are they expecting from you?

If you have a list with subscribers you have expectations from those subscribers. The readers might be or might not be aware of these expectations. To get an idea of what your subscribers are expecting, answer the following three questions.

I) What does your Opt-in say?

If your opt-in says “Monthly updates”. Don’t send emails every week. If your opt-in says you are going to send them an amazing guide of something, make sure you send it. And make sure it is amazing.

II) What style are they expecting?

If the content on your blog/website is dense and long-form. Your emails should be too. Or refer to texts of that nature. If you run a B2B site and your articles are formally written and very technical, follow that pattern in the emails.

III) What topics are they expecting?

You probably ask different friends for different things. I do. I have one friend who knows everything about sneakers. I ask him about sneakers. Not about programming.

If your site is about dog training, your emails should be about dog training. Or how other topics relate to dog training.

If you want to create things in a large set of categories you can do two things.

I)Use a broad definition for your site. Like Tim Ferriss “Lifestyle design” (Travel, health, business, investing, writing etc.) or Ramit Sethis “Rich life” (Getting a dream job, negotiation, starting an online business, generating passive income, being more social etc.)

II) Set up multiple sites for the different themes you want to address. One site for creating a business, one site for learning spanish and one for travel.


Now you are a fully trained jedi-mind-reader. Let me show you how to put your super powers to good use.

2) Give value to your audience

How often are you eager to open an email?

My guess is, not that often. Maybe 0,5% of the time. Let me show you how to become that 0,5% in the inbox.

Try to remember the last time you kept updating your inbox to see if an email had arrived.

This usually happens when you’re expecting replies that can make your life more than 20% better. For example:

  • Reply from someone you like
  • Reply from a potential customer
  • Reply from a job interview

These emails contains (hopefully) incredible amount of value. Life-changing value. And they are also feedback from an action you have taken. You are CURIOUS to see the reply.

This is basically impossible to match with an email that is not a reply (Since all people care about are themselves and their agenda). However, we can use the extreme cases to learn how to build our emails.

Of the hundreds companies and people who email you every day, how many give you something of value? How many talk about themselves and their new updates?

2.a) Worries

In the previous step we figured out what our subscribers are thinking about. One of the most powerful things to write about is a concern of theirs. I used this with the following email:

Headline: Pointers for your tax declaration (translated from Swedish, it sounds less blow-my-brains-out-boring in the original language.)


This was a short email sharing tips for doing taxes which was due the same month. I new this was a topic all of the subscribers worried about and had TOP OF MIND. These tips was super valuable for the list.


Notice how important the timing is. The same email sent in the middle of the summer would have performed awfully.


2.b) Hopes & Dreams

Look through your mind-reading list and look for something your subscribers are dreaming about. The more concrete the better. I used this for a weekly update from a job-board-site.

Headline: “You have been matched with the following jobs”


Who does not want to see jobs they have been matched with? This appeals to the dream of being found by a dream employer. And also, super valuable.

2.c) Curiosity

I once sent out an email that got 500 people to unsubscribe within fifteen minutes. Want to know what headline I used?

Of course you do! You are just as curious as everyone else.

Use this in your emails. Think about what your subscribers are curious about. What are they gossiping about with their friends? I used the curiosity here:

Headline: The 3 worst courses at [school name], do you agree?


The headline was “The 3 worst courses at [school name], do you agree?”. What student would not be curious about this?


If you are wondering how I came up with that headline, I’ll tell you right now.

3) Write a great headline

Open rates are clicks. Clicks on your headlines. You want to make it IMPOSSIBLE for the reader to not hit that touch pad.

There is a simple system for this. I’ll cover it briefly here and if you want to read more about it I recommend you check out the site Psychotactics. They have some great free content on this topic.

The goal is to integrate as many of the three following points as possible in the headline. Use a question, hide information and problematize. There is research to back this up. But this post is already running too long so you’ll have to take my word for it.

3.1) Use a question Straight forward. A question creates an incentive for the reader to take action.

3.2) Hide information Use words as These. For example. “Do you also do these mistakes?”

3.3) Problematize Instead of “Three tips to do better.” use “Three things 90% people do wrong.”

That’s it!

What’s next?

If you’ve found anything useful in this article, please don’t let it slip away. Use it. Today. Something small and simple. Think about what your readers are thinking about.

Challenge: Use one of the ideas I covered next time you write something. A newsletter, an article, copy for your website or a power point. Then email me at hello@mannelarsson.com with the results. I read and reply to everything.

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