Which Email Subject Lines are the Best?

The Presidents Cup golf trophyThe subject line of your email is your entry (or quick exit) to someone’s time and attention.  After the list, it’s the most important part of the email.

A good subject line will get your email opened.  A poor one will send it straight to the trash bin (or worse, the spam folder).

Which subject line is the best?

There are quite a few factors to consider when crafting your subject line. How long should it be?  Is shorter better?  Should you personalize it by putting the recipient’s name in each email? Should you be formal? Or write more casually?

Best subject line length

Conventional wisdom says that shorter subject lines are better since they don’t get cut off in phones and tablets. However, Marketing Sherpa recently reported on a Return Path study that analyzed the length of subject lines and compared the subject length to the rate at which the emails were read.

It turned out that longer subject lines had a higher read rate (meaning more people marked it read in their email clients)

Even so, the difference wasn’t big enough to be statistically significant. The takeaway here is not so much to count letters as it is to try to tweak your subject line to get the best response from your own list.

To personalize or not?

As you can see in this more recent Marketing Sherpa article, some industries, such as consumer products, showed a marked increase in both open rates and transactions. For others, such as entertainment, the impact was negligible. Personalization used to work well overall, then it dropped off, now it seems to work well again (at least in some cases). The best approach is to try it and see whether it works for you.

Best email subject lines

As a general rule, show your readers a clear benefit in the first two words. Stay away from hard sales pitches, and include something that invites action or curiosity:

  • Simple Email Change Boosts Sales 55%
  • Text or HTML:  Which Gets More Clicks?
  • Your Copy of Email Open Rate Study Enclosed
  • A simple email marketing formula
  • The Google slap is coming

Try a casual approach

With the latest political season in full swing in the U.S., candidates from both parties are frantically trying to raise money. One side is doing much better than the other.  They test and retest everything, and often find that a simple, “[candidate/celebrity] wants to meet you” or invitation asking readers to join them for an event outperforms more conventional subject lines.

Use emotions and hot button issues

Try a subject line that reacts or references recent news or events, or expresses outrage at something they’ll also find objectionable, “media says I’m to blame.”  Use a call to action to encourage your readers to do something (take advantage of a special offer, buy a new product, pass along something to a friend).

Keep it short (generally)

Top performers are usually short (30-40 characters) and this is usually seen as the ideal length for an email subject line.  However, longer subject lines can work better with a download, such as an ebook or a report.

Worst performing email subject lines

Anything that sounds too pushy, talks about the sender (rather than the recipient), or asks for an action before gaining trust

  • Uh oh
  • Forward this to your friends
  • Big Riches, Small Investment
  • ENDS TONIGHT! Training expires AT MIDNIGHT

The first one is negative and so vague that it’s discouraging. The second one asks you to spam your friends (no thanks).  The third is just plain spammy. The last one looks like it’s shouting at you.

Compare performance

Look at your own data. See which subject lines got the most opens and click-throughs to your sales page.  Also check to see which emails had the highest conversion rate (signups or sales).

If your list is large enough, try a sample of a few thousand names.  Test two subject lines against each other and see which one performs better. Then roll out the winner to everyone else.

Is Your Email Marketing Personal?

Seth Godin had a post yesterday about sending personal email. His post lists 14 ways to do that. I want to focus on the last one: “Just because you have someone’s email address doesn’t mean you have the right to email them.”

As Seth often says, people want personal, relevant email (and messages) not spam. I was talking to someone recently who said, “I’ve got several hundred email addresses and I’d like to send messages to those people. I got the email addresses because I was bcc’d on messages they received from other people. Can I email to them?”

In a word, NO.

They don’t know you, they haven’t given you permission and you will be seen as a spammer. Same thing applies to email lists you “inherit” from a company that went out of business. They are not your customers, and they are not your subscribers, unless you bought the company, and its list. In that case, the readers ought to be informed of what happened in advance.

Without permission, you’re a spammer. Plain and simple.

The penalties are severe too; up to $11,000 per violation.

Similarly, you cannot email people whose names you scrape from web sites, or from a list you bought, unless that list includes specific permission to be emailed. Even then, it’s probably dodgy; few people want email from businesses they’ve never heard of. While the CAN-SPAM act sadly doesn’t include penalties for unwanted mass emails, it’s still not a good idea. You may end up labeled a spammer by your email provider or web host, and lose your site and your emailing privileges.

Conversation, not shouting

Permission is only part of it.  Treat your readers as if you’re having a conversation.  Talk to them personally (try inserting their names in your newsletter salutation, as a friend or colleague would).  Ask them questions.  Find out what topics they’re most interested in reading about.

Don’t just talk, listen

Invite feedback on how well you’re serving their needs.  Ask them if there’s something you haven’t covered that they’d like to hear more about (or something that they would prefer you cut back on discussing).  It’s not just good manners, it’s fodder for more emails, blog posts, or even new products.

Email Marketing Mistakes That Can Cost You Money

email marketing In email marketing, there are mistakes, little flubs and errors that we wish we hadn’t made (like spelling errors), and there are MISTAKES. These can cost you customers and cost you money. Some may even trigger lawsuits or complaints. Here are some of the biggest, and how to fix them.

Failure to comply with CAN-SPAM

CAN-SPAM requires that you put a physical address at the bottom of every commercial email: whether or not it’s for a direct sale. This applies to follow-ups, customer service queries, everything. It doesn’t have to be a street address; a P.O. box is OK. Add an opt-out link to every e-mail. Only one click to a single site should be required. You can, however (and this is recommended, see yesterday’s post) allow subscribers to opt-out selectively (keep one newsletter but not another). You may not charge a fee for this. If you don’t include this, and get reported, there are large fines for not complying.

Lack of a privacy policy

Tell your customers what you will (and will not) do with the information they are giving you. Will you share it with affiliates? Sell or rent it to other companies? Spell it out in clear language. People do more business with companies they find trustworthy; a privacy policy is one way of building trust, and attracting more customers.

Deleting landing pages after a campaign

Keep them up for several months. Most of your orders will come in the first six weeks or so, but some may find your offer months later. If a particular promotion has expired, redirect visitors to the current one. That way, you may still get a sale.  Taking the page down right away can cost you future sales.

Too many bounces

Check to see how many of your emails are not being delivered.. Emails can bounce (fail to be delivered for a number of reasons, including challenge-responses (e-mail systems that require a personal note back before accepting delivery), dead e-mail addresses, or a busy server. Have a system in place to manage bounces and clean up dead addresses.

Higher email marketing charges

If your email vendor charges by list size, bad addresses will add to your email marketing bill without adding anything to your revenues.

They’ll also decrease your response rate, as fewer people will receive your message.

If there are enough bounces and bad addresses, it can even overload your host’s servers.