Jun, 13th, 2012
When it comes to email marketing, one of the best ways to increase Open Rates is to come up with a winning subject line; and with good cause. An email’s subject line is its most important part. Good subject lines encourage the reader to engage – a bad subject line can get the email rejected or ignored at best, or get caught in spam filters or mass un-subscribes at worst.
While there is much debate from many sides of the industry regarding the ideal subject line (language, character, personalisation, incentives), the fact of the matter is that there are no hard-and-fast ways to create a perfect subject line. Like much of online marketing, the best results arise through testing, observation, and implementation – in other words, the optimisation process.
Thus the best ‘best practice’ is to undertake subject-line testing in order to determine what works well for your particular situation. Testing and experimentation with subject lines allows organisations to determine their own tailored best practices , over adopting a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
But where to start with this testing and finding out what works best?
The following are a few significant ways in which you can start experimenting with subject lines to find out what works best.
Experiment 1 - Utilise calls to action: Google recommends including calls to action in AdWords ads to increase click-through rates, so why not try this with an email’s subject line? Calls to action give the email an active feel, and help the email to stand out from other emails in the inbox. For example “Download our new app to book on the go”
Experiment 2 – Try using relevant Keywords: If your organisation has done a lot of SEM, here’s another chance to use some of those valuable keywords. The right keywords have the potential to jump out at the right person. For example “Rare Jazz CDs, direct to your door”.
Experiment 3 – Relevant copy: Subject lines only have a few seconds to catch the reader’s attention and convince the reader to click through. That’s a big ask for such a small amount of time! Obviously there must have been a reason for the reader to sign up in the first place, or a reason that this person is in the relevant market – so it’s worth experimenting whether including a consumer-benefit in the subject title is beneficial. In some situations, the reader might appreciate the cut-to-the-chase. For example “This week’s restaurant deal, Bordeaux French Restaurant”
Experiment 4 - Stick to letters, leave out numbers and symbols: An abundance of punctuation, numbers, and symbols can trigger spam filters – particularly when users set their spam filters tightly. Even if mail does make it to the inbox, the spam filter in peoples’ minds can similarly filter out numbers and symbols. It would be good to consider whether your subject line needs them, and if they add anything necessary to the message. For example, “July Newsletter from your friends at Internet Company” as opposed to “Internet Company™ | Newsletter, July 2012.”
Experiment 5 - Try different subject line lengths: A longer subject line can set a tone of seriousness and stability. A shorter subject line can set a fun and easy tone. Which of these would work best for your organisation? Remember that subject lines get truncated after so many characters (around 54), so it’s at least best to keep a subject line within this limit. For example “Have you considered setting up a trust? Now might be the time” versus “Is now the time to set up a trust?”
Experiment 6 – Mirror the opening paragraph with the subject line: Most email clients will only show so much of the email’s body copy as a preview before a reader has even opened the email. Having the subject line act as an enticement, that the first couple of sentences can support and vaguely develop would communicate an idea and have it supported before the email is even opened. For example, a subject line that says “Tropical Getaways on sale now” with introduction text in the inbox-preview saying “Discounted holidays to Fiji, Samoa, Hawai’i, are now on sale…”
Experiment 7 – Personalisation and use of Dynamic Content: If your email list has the ability to insert information such as people’s names or titles, it is worth experimenting whether these have any impact on open rates. For some organisations, it’s an easy way to soften and humanise an email that could otherwise appear stark, formal, and off-putting to the reader. For example “Hey Sarah, we’ve found some fashion deals you’ll love!”
Experiment 8 – Add character: In an effort to stand out and to entice the reader, experiment with subject lines to add different styles or personalities, depending on the nature of the organisation, product, and target market. Use of: action, humour, and even controversy have led to improved open rates in the right contexts. For example “Pimeval Bash are coming to Auckland. Warning, not for your Mums!”
Experiment 9 – Utilising wins from other media: If there has been a strong performing campaign in another medium (such as AdWords, or even print media), it’s worth seeing whether the style can be replicated for an email subject line. Consumers in a given target market may be responding well to a writing style, and it’s worth seeing if it works in email too. Likewise, if a given email subject line works too, it could be worth seeing if it works well in other media, like AdWords and print. For example, if an AdWords ad with the text “Alex’s Gym are specialty weight-loss professionals” has been proven to be the most popular version of the ad, then alter this for subject line use: “Alex’s Gym are specialty weight-loss professionals. Find out more”
Though the subject line is not the only factor that affects email open rates (other factors include: target market, time of send), it is often the most dominant or influential factor.
Considering subject lines needn’t be something to dread, but an opportunity to try something new, to engage with subscribers in a new and interesting and dynamic way.
Constant subject line testing and experimentation enables you to keep an up-to-date set of best practises that evolve with the developing and changeable nature of internet marketing.
What are some other experiments that are worth trying when optimising subject lines?