E-Mail Applied: Change the Subject
Subject lines carry a lot of weight. They drive open rates and results. After e-mail recipients look at your “from” line and recognize your company or service, the next thing they do is look at the subject line to see what might interest them.
Let’s examine some of the latest techniques for getting customers past the e-mail client and into your site.
Free to Use ‘Free’
In the past, marketers were warned not to use the word “free” in a subject line. The concern was that it triggered spam filters and reduced chances of delivery. Since “free” is the most powerful four-letter word in a marketer’s arsenal, however, many have continued to experiment and use it.
Here are two pieces of good news. First, the ISPs aren't putting as much weight behind filtering the word “free.” And second, “free” increases open rates. So if it makes sense for your offer or promotion, try testing “free.”
Many catalogers offer free shipping from time to time. This is a guaranteed winner; highlight it in subject lines.
Short and Direct
Long subject lines can be truncated in some e-mail clients. Keep your subject lines between 45 to 50 characters, including spaces. If you do use a longer subject, put the most important information first.
EmailLabs has an easy-to-use tool on its Web site that allows you to preview how your from and subject lines appear in various e-mail clients. It’s worthwhile to check it out at www.emaillabs.com/tools/from_subject_line_tool_popup.html.
You may want to keep subject lines even shorter. MailerMailer released a study in late 2007 (see chart below) that examined open and clickthrough rates for subject lines less than 35 characters vs. subject lines longer than 35 characters.
Craft Your Subject Lines
Too many companies put all their focus on creating their e-mails, leaving the subject lines as last-minute inclusions to the message.
I like the way the cataloger Wine Enthusiast approaches this. Its marketing head likens a subject line to a catalog cover. Catalogers know the cover makes a big difference to sales — a subject line performs the same function.
Wine Enthusiast’s e-mail copywriter comes up with 10 suggested subject lines. The marketing team reviews them and sometimes comes up with additional ideas. Once marketing pares the list down to a few winners, the team takes a quarter of the file to do an A/B or A/B/C test.
Tests can include small tweaks. Wine Enthusiast tested “Wine Enthusiast Wine Refrigerators” vs. “Our Wine Refrigerators.” The use of the word “our” provided better results, perhaps because it made a
stronger connection between the company and the e-mail recipients.
Speak to Me
Think about personalizing your subject lines. Your recipients’ eyes are naturally drawn to their own names, which focuses attention. Be judicious about this. Although it works, that doesn’t mean every subject line should be personalized.
MailerMailer reported the impact on results for personalization in subject lines. The difference turns out to be substantial.
Many catalogers use urgency in their subject lines. It’s a good tactic to get recipients to act now, rather than letting the e-mail languish in the inbox. Here are some examples of from line and subject line combinations that might stimulate ideas.
• Norm Thompson — 24 hrs left to SAVE 20% on everything!
• Orvis News — Maximum Savings-Special 1 Week Online Sale
• Hello Direct — 72 Hour Headset Sale extended to Monday!
• FootSmart — Hurry! Last day for Free Shipping on Spring shoes
• Williams-Sonoma — Today Only: Free Upgrade to Rush Shipping
• Staples — $20 coupon + FREE Delivery this week only
• J.Crew — Final sale: last chance (going once …)
• Dell Small Business — One day only. Exclusive e-mail sale
Subject Line Mistakes
Here are some subject lines that aren’t as effective as they could be:
“What do Madonna and Guy Ritchie talk about in bed?”
It’s an intriguing headline, but the effect is ruined with HTML coding. The mailer attempted to italicize the word “do” with the coding, but it didn’t work.
The cataloger previously used “March exclusives” and “February exclusives,” both of which are too vague. It would be better to highlight one or two items or categories when using this tactic.
If you clearly include your brand in the from line, don’t include it in your subject line. It takes up too much space and leaves you less room to motivate your readers.
Subject lines have the greatest impact on your e-mail’s success. It pays to get them right.
Reggie Brady is president of Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions, a direct and e-mail marketing consultancy in Norwalk, Conn. You can reach her at (203) 838-8138 or email@example.com.