What subject lines persuade people to open and act on email? Everybody has a pet theory, but now we are
beginning to apply data and science instead of instinct and guesswork to find the answers.
Mostly, marketers still rely on old, manual habits: Create the message, then come up with a basic subject line. Some do simple A/B split tests on their subject
lines every time, while others use a repeatable style that generates the results they want more often than not.
Four Factors Shaping the New Email
The email environment has changed since the days when marketers were told
(incorrectly) they had to limit subject lines to 50 characters to avoid having them cut off in the inbox. What has changed?
1. The inbox experience is
If you haven't changed your subject line strategy in five years -- maybe even
in three years -- you're out of step because mobile email access changed everything:
- Shrinking attention spans
- Different devices, different engagement rates
- Multiple viewing environments: desktop, webmail and mobile, whose smartphones and tablets include various
operating systems and dozens of screen sizes
- More visual content: including emojis, once a whim
but now becoming a common practice
- Environmental context: what's happening around the reader at
the time as mobile readers are often literally “on the go”
2. We know more about
subject line use and success.
Below are short summations of a few recent studies. Your
mileage might vary from the researchers' results, but each one gives you something to think about:
- Alchemy Worx: Shorter subject lines generate higher open rates, while
longer subject lines have higher click-to-open rates, which reflect higher relevance.
- Phrasee: 63% of retail subject lines are generic, which hurts both brand value and
- Persado: Emotional language in Mother's Day subject lines generated a 10.3% open rate, 21.5% higher than those without emotional language.
Path: Subject lines with 61 to 70 characters had a 17% higher average read rate than shorter lines, especially the most common 41- to-50-word format.
have new tools.
These use left-brain science, data and analytics to bring sophistication and precision to the historically right-brain creative practice of
writing attention-getting subject lines.
They move away from manual creation, guesswork and simple A/B testing to incorporate cognitive (machine) learning platforms as
well as real-time and multivariate testing. These tools use extensive content databases and predict outcomes based on human behavior types or linguistic patterns.
4. We expect subject lines to do more than drive opens and conversion.
As I mentioned in a previous Email Insider
, when you know that roughly 85% of your
emails get less than 2 seconds of attention -- assuming they even get opened -- your subject line has to deliver a different kind of value. That takes different styles and word choices. Can you win
back an inactive customer or build brand value even when an email remains unopened?
The tools I mentioned above bring us closer to 1:1 personalization driven by deep
data integrations. Thus, a subject line can reflect both the overall message goal as well as each recipient's situation: psychographics, buying cycle stage or stage in the customer journey, engagement
level, buying history or value.
Next step: Audit your subject-line generation process
1. Is it the last thing you do before
you hit "send?"
2. Do you follow a standard “template” without including variables that relate to the message's content and goals?
3. Do you preview and analyze
subject line and pre-header text across device types and clients?
4. Do you use pre-header text and testing to support or enhance subject lines?
5. Do you personalize subject lines
according to engagement level or customer value?
6. Have you explored the various technologies available now to optimize content and subject lines?
A "yes" on Questions 1 or 2 and a "no" on any of Questions 3-6 means it's time to update your subject line strategy and approach.
Until next time, take it up a notch.