Thursday, April 9, 2009

E-Mail Subject Lines, Getting the Click

EPISODE67 -This show was originally broadcast at on March 16, 2009 and can be heard archived at: or on its unique Radio Channel at

Hey, when you are going through your e-mail, do some jump out at you because you know the person or you need to know what they have to say and others just fall by the wayside as you spill your morning coffee all over your nightgown? So some demand your immediate attention and others go into the old fashioned File 13 which means the trash?

A compelling subject line can make all the difference whether you are the sender or the recipient. It has been said, you are either the steamroller or the road. Personally I would rather be the steamroller. So let’s figure out what gets peoples attention. There is a two second, two word rule for e-mails and that is all you get.

There was a time when I read every e-mail that everyone sent me because inquiring minds want to know. Then all of a sudden I had two businesses, four talkcasts, four blogs and an on line community magazine and I was forced into the real world. We all play the same game of managing our inboxes and flagging emails that we’ll “get to later.” This is the battle of priorities. We all play it, and as a marketeer, you can and must win that battle.

Here are the hard facts: Open rate have slipped, slightly, from 19.8% during the second half of 2005 to 19.1%. And they’ve taken a somewhat more substantial slip from 20.77% in the first half of 2005. Click-through rates dropped in a similar pattern, from 3.6% in first-half 2005, to 3.3% in second half of that year, to 3.28% during the first six months of 2006

MailerMailer, E-mail managaement company

When someone first gets your email, you have on average three seconds to get them to open it. The first second is spent on the From line, recognizing who sent the message. From there, you have just two more seconds to compel them to open your message with your subject line.
So how do you get past this hurtle?

Tips for Dynamic, Dazzling Subject Lines
Create interest with your first few words
Cole Porter wrote a song in the forties, called Begin the Begine, sounded with a long I for you teenagers who don’t know who Cole Porter is. The subject line is perhaps the most critical aspect of your message. Think about it: The subject line is often what readers use to decide whether to open an email at all. It’s just like your English teacher told you in High School, you have to have a snappy title to get the reader’ attention. This is no different, print or digital, it usually it takes three seconds or less to make the decision to read or delete. If your subject line isn’t compelling enough, your message could end up unread or in the trash folder.

1. Intrigue: Your email is competing with 50 to 100 or more other emails for the recipients' attention. To increase the chance of having YOUR email be opened it must intrigue the recipient, the same way a well written headline does. It must stimulate some part of the recipient’s brain, prompting them to open the email immediately.
2. Action: Subject lines are a major driver of click-through rates, as they “direct” recipients to pay attention to specific articles, products and information. Every email you send should have an overt or implied strategy behind it. You hope that specific products are purchased over others or that recipients read a specific article and then visit your Web site seeking additional information. Subject lines should reflect your goals and help direct recipients to take the desired action
3. . Think Context – “Google Apologizes”: Put yourself in the mind of your subscribers. What are they thinking about, what's in the news, what events and holidays are coming up? One of the best subject lines I’ve seen in years was one that was appeared in the December 2003 newsletter from WebProNews. The subject line was simply “Google Apologizes.” The newsletter had been covering developments in search engine marketing and optimization, particularly the changes in Google’s search ranking algorithm that sent many Webmasters and search engine optimizers into anywhere from a tizzy to panic or outrage. In that context, the subject line “Google Apologizes” was brilliant. It was clearly at the top of readers’ minds at that moment, it was intriguing and it portended the answer to a key question – what happened with Google’s search rankings?
4. Focus – Avoid The Generic and Boring: Don’t be afraid to be very specific in subject lines. Many marketers use broad and generic subject lines, such as “May 2004 Newsletter” because they fear that a specific subject line may not resonate with all readers. First, remember that generally only 25 to 50 percent of your recipients are opening your emails to begin with. Secondly, your subject line should be targeted to each segment (if you are segmenting your list) or be relevant to the vast majority of recipients. It's your job to figure out what topics, offers or products are of most interest to majority of your recipients and then deliver that information on an on-going basis. As such, your subject line should be as narrow as possible to generate interest and action from a majority of recipients.
5. Push the Envelope (or Inbox as the case may be): Don’t be afraid to try subject lines that are more aggressive, creative, tantalizing or specific than you're currently using. Try some new styles and test them via split tests. Monitor the results across all metrics open rates, click-through rates, spam complaints, bounce rates and unsubscribes to make sure that a bump in your open rate didn’t lead to an increase in unsubscribes, bounces and spam complaints
6. Use numbers to get attention. For example, "20 Seats Left for Friday," "Top 10 Tax Tips," "5 Green Things to Do Today," "3 Reasons Your Jeans Don't Fit," etc. When used to support your content and call to action, numbers can add greatly to your open rate
7. Create a sense of time sensitivity with terms such as "RSVP," "Today," "This Weekend Only," and words like "few" and "limited" -- but stay away from the word "free" in your subject line. (See sidebar)
8. If you're using email marketing to stay in touch with your customer base but do not have a time sensitive message, try tying your subject to a current event to give your message a relevant angle. "Tax Time, the Stimulus Package, and You" or "Everyone Is Going Green -- You Can Too" work better than "Joe's Pet Store Newsletter," for example.
9. Spam Filter Triggers to Avoid in Subject LinesDeliverability is the first step to getting noticed. Find alternatives for the Subject Line No-Nos below to make sure your communications aren't swept into spam filters. Sale, Free, Advertisement, $$$$$, ALL CAPS, Excessive Punctuation
10. Studies show shorter subject lines create better open rates, longer lines create better click thru rates.
11. Less is more: Testing proves that shorter subject lines provide more credibility. Keep it short and simple--less than five words whenever possible.
12. Establish objectives first

You know we have talked before about the research on understanding target audiences, test marketing offers and other “think outside the box” tactics. Many factors can affect the determination of “killer” subject lines but the best way to start is by determining what your objectives are.
 Do you want to increase open rates?
 Do you want to improve conversion rates?
 Do you want to acquire new customers?
 Do you simply want to build awareness of a new product or service.
 When you define your goals right from the start, it helps to set the tone of your subject line.
13. Segment your lists to start and that way you can target the subject line to your segmented list. I almost never use the person’s name in the subject line unless I have told them ahead of time to watch for my e-mail and I want to track it later. Proper segmentation of your list will lead you to offers, topics and products that will be of interest to your varying lists. Once you get that together just Make sure that you have a regular time for these e-mails or better yet, put them into a newsletter which your list will begin to expect on a certain date.
14. First impressions and first words Count. Make your first word important and chock full of information. Start with the name of your company, brand or product that is referenced in the message
15. Put yourself in the recipents place. Even though you are sending this out in bulk, it is going to individuals who eat, sleep, breathe and have needs. They will want to know what’s in it for them, how will this benefit me, is this important to me.
16. A good way to get attention is to be clever and witty but please avoid cute or corny and make sure that the wit has mass appeal.
17. An economy of words is important, make every word count, so never start your subject line with articles, like “a”, or “the.”
18. Be daring, innovative and aggressive and creative, keep thinking always because you know as soon as you come up with something wonderful someone else will copy it and you will have to start all over again, so keep those creative juices flowing.
19. How long your subject line is, depends on your goals. If you are looking for a sale and you know your audience, you can be more specific and therefore more relevant to a smaller segment of your audience. As a result, fewer people open the email, but those that do are more interested in your offer, and therefore more likely to convert.
20. Think outside the box, doing the same thing and expecting different results, as we all know is just madness.
This blog post can be reproduced in its entirety with the following information:
© Joanne Quinn-Smith, Monday Morning Marketeer™ 412-628-5048
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Joanne Quinn-Smith is the Creative Energy Officer of Dreamweaver Marketing Associates in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and an expert on Web 2.0 Branding.
Joanne has also been designated by the 2009 U.S. Small Business Administration as the Small Business Journalist of the Year for her work with information relevant to small business.

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