Subject Line Drives Email Marketing Success

by | Feb 22, 2017

In today’s market, online advertising is an integral part of your business plan. You need a user-friendly website for your customer to find you, and an email marketing strategy to promote yourself directly to your customer. Included in that strategy is coming up with a compelling subject line that would get your customers to actually open your emails. 

A recently published study of email marketing subject lines points out the importance of using email analytics like open and click rates to optimize emails.  The study illuminates some very counter-intuitive email marketing tips.  Without analysis of email analytics, there’s no way most people could pick up on these tactics, except possibly by blind luck.

Why Subject Lines Matter in Email Marketing

Before we highlight some of these tactics, it’s important to know why the subject line is such an important factor in your email campaign success.  After all, most spend far more time agonizing over the actual copy (text) in the emails and their design.  The subject line is often treated as an afterthought.  That’s a mistake.

Email marketing can be tricky. Think of your own inbox. How many emails are there? 80? 600? More? Many of them are even unopened. Junk emails flood your inbox every day, so you are selective about which messages deserve your attention. You depend on the subject line to filter out what information you decide to take in.

Your consumer is also selective

Many marketing emails go ignored, so you need a super subject line to reel in your reader.

The next time you check your email, pay attention to how you decide which emails to read.  Most people scan the “From” column in their email inbox to find emails from people they know.  Those emails are read first.  Then secondly, most of us will scan the subject lines.  Emails from people we do not recognize with subjects that sound like a sales pitch or just don’t sound interesting get deleted, often before we even open them and look at what’s inside.

So, a poor subject line can doom your entire campaign.  The subject of your email correlates to the open rate.   If your email is opened a lot, you’ve got a subject line that is doing its job.  The Click Rate of your email campaign tells you how compelling the copy and call to action are, within the actual email.

Quick Tip: It’s natural to focus on the click rate because ultimately, it’s how many people responded to the call to action that matters to your business.  You may see a low click rate and decide that your email copy, design, or call to action didn’t work.  But, if your open rate was also low, then very few people ever even saw the email itself.  Compute the click rate as a percentage of those that opened the email to more accurately assess the success of the actual email.

Set Email Marketing Expectations

Always set subscribers’ expectations about what kind of emails they will be receiving when they opt-in to your email marketing.  If they sign-up for a monthly newsletter, don’t send them promotions. If they sign-up for special discounts and incentives, don’t send them a newsletter. Managing expectations will help your emails get opened!

Counter-Intuitive Email Subject Line Tips

  1. Use Immediacy:  “Today’s Call” performed much better vs “This Week’s Call”.  Make your subject line immediate.  Compel action NOW.
  2. Don’t say Chat:  The phrase “Check-in” performed 50% better than “Chat”
  3. Similarly “Catch Up” performed 40% better than “Trying to Connect” – what is the result of the conversation, talk about the prospect, not you.  “Next Steps” also increased open rates by 40%
  4. Oddly, “Follow-up” performed 18% better than “Following up” or “Follow up”
  5. Brevity:  Subject lines with more than 5 words begin to have rapidly deteriorating open rates.  2 or 3 words are ideal.

Clearly, any human could easily get some of these subject line decisions wrong.  This is why using your email marketing analytics to analyze the open rate is crucial.

One important tactic that the research shows is the power of speaking from the customer’s point of view rather than your own.  “Trying to Connect” is what the salesperson is trying to do.  The prospect doesn’t care.  “Catch Up” or “Next Steps” are more about what will be accomplished during the call.  That’s a crucial difference when you’re trying to get a business executive’s time.  Of course, salespeople that do a good job of identifying the specific challenge the customer is dealing with can leverage that in all their subsequent emails and conversations.  “Next Steps: Reducing <Company>’s Shipping Costs” conveys what will be accomplished in the meeting and why it’s important.  It’s also slightly long… There is no perfect subject line!

Testing Your Email Marketing Subject Lines
a-b test email marketing subject lines

Of course, one of the most crucial types of emails is a sales follow-up email.  When a salesperson is following up after a presentation to a potential client or trying to reconnect with the prospect after some time has passed, using the wrong phrase in the subject line can doom the effort and the sale.

Depending on your email marketing services and system, you may have easy access to the open rates of emails.  If most emails are sent one at a time by salespeople, open rates may be more difficult to measure.  Most CRM software solutions offer email template sending capabilities.  Ensure that the most frequent and most important emails are sent through a system that allows you to pull a list of subject lines, open rates, and click rates.

Test Your Subject Lines

A/B Testing is the simplest way to continually optimize your subject lines and your email marketing campaigns overall.  Measure the open rate for the subject line you’ve been using, then create a new subject line and use the new one to send 25 or 50% of the time going forward, while continuing to use the old subject line for the remaining sends.  This allows you to compare your new subject line against a baseline.

Even subject lines that seem to perform well can be improved with A/B testing.  Trying changing punctuation, capitalization, and removing prepositions and other non-essential words.  This type of testing can uncover breakthrough changes that point the way to entirely new campaigns.

The more you know about the specific things that your customers respond to, the more you can get their attention and compel their action.