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Tips for Immediately Boosting Subject Line Performance


By Daniel Flamberg

Subject lines initiate successful email marketing. The right subject line opens up a conversation or a relationship as quickly as “abracadabra.” The wrong line condemns your brand to die alone in the dark. Great subject lines are like great billboards or great headlines; they telegraph easily understood information to drive immediate comprehension and action.

Marketers are sending more email than ever. They stack up in an inbox, which may or may not be fully opened. Multiple adjacent subject lines compete for fleeting attention. Faced with huge numbers of emails lined up one after the other, a SUBJ line must signal instant value.

An open Inbox displaying sequential emails is email marketing’s “moment of truth.”

It’s just as easy to click as to delete. Your 50 characters are competing in real time against genuine friends, family, personal messages and other brands making claims or offers. An open is life. A deletion is death.

Adestra, a UK-based email service provider, looked at 2.2 billion emails representing 90,000 campaigns in an attempt to benchmark the words and phrases that work best. Defined using conventional email metrics, a best SUBJ line contains those words or phrases that drive more opens and clicks, improves the open to click ratio and/or reduces the opt-out or unsubscribe rate compared to industry benchmarks. Get the complete report here.

Consider four topline results.

Skip the Expected. While everyone sends monthly newsletters by e-mail, using the word “newsletter in the subject line has just a marginal impact on open rates (+0.7 percent) but really hurts your click-thru-rate (CTR) which plummets -18 percent. Maybe it’s too pat and too expected. Other expected terms like “report,” “learn” and “book” and “monthly” trend downward in terms of driving opens and clicks. Evidently people don’t want to see themselves as scheduled or predictable. They discount standard message cadences.

Aim for Immediacy. The implied urgency and immediacy of the word “alert” prompts a 38 percent bump in opens and a 61.7 percent spike in clicks. People are hooked on knowing what’s going on right now. Words like “daily” get 27.8 percent more opens and 100 percent more clicks than the norm. “New” yields +17.2 percent clicks and 38.2 percent more opens while “News” drives +34.8 percent opens and +47.7 percent clicks. “Breaking” gets +35.4 percent opens and +77.6 percent clicks.

Present your message as new, exciting and of the moment.

Present a Deal. Predictably “free delivery” drives 50.7 percent more opens and 135 percent more clicks. “Sale” has +23.2 opens and +60.7 percent clicks. “X percent Off” has a similar impact. Everybody wants to save money or get more for less. Watch out for generic terms like “save” or “cheap” or “free” and avoid aggressive terms like “buy.” These classic retail words depress opens and clicks.

Try Multi-Word Headlines. Multiple key words separated by a straight vertical line drive +27.5 percent opens and 90.7 percent clicks. The same kind of alignment separated by commas drive +17.8 percent opens and 67 percent more clicks. This newspaper/news ticker approach probably signals the same kind of immediacy and urgency as the immediacy phrases.

The beautiful thing about email is that consumers vote with their cursors so marketers and copywriters don’t have to rely entirely on intuition or imagination. Research like this helps us engage customers and prospects faster and better.

Daniel Flamberg is executive vice president, managing director digital & CRM, Publicis Kaplan Thaler. He is also a long-time email marketing veteran.


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