‘The Subject Line’ – the new ‘dark art’ of email marketing!

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Small enough to trick you into thinking they’re not important. Important enough to bring you face-to-face with your own limitations!

Subject lines have become the ‘next big thing’, the new marketing KPI that you have no control over. A world full of powerful and challenging statistics – for example 73% will click on report spam/junk based on the content of the ‘from’ field. OR 69% decide whether to junk email based on the subject line.

Almost by default these awkward, obvious phrases have assumed an importance beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. And because we spend so much time generating emails, to most people, a subject line is just another ‘thing to do’. But at a business communications level it’s a completely different condition. Subject lines are being fated as the fundamental reason why unique email campaigns succeed or fail! No pressure then…

So where’s the science? Who are the experts? How do we know that what we’re being told or what we’ve read is actually based on hard facts and not self-perpetuating mythology?

Let’s begin with a recurring theme – a good one is less than 50 characters, including spaces. At this juncture we should point out that we spend a considerable amount of time on e-marketing for our clients. But we’re no subject line experts – in this constantly changing world, who can really make that claim? We’re just trying to identify a few ‘best practices’ for something that just might be the most important part of any email campaign.

So what’s the big deal? Why have subject lines become things that we place on a pedestal? Well, very simply, it’s the very first thing that your customers will see, and it could just be all that they see. When you’re going through emails in the morning, on your phone, tablet or laptop, you don’t see very much of anything. On the other hand, maybe, just maybe you see the first ten words of body copy. More often than not the subject line itself will get cut off, which is why it’s important to keep it as short as possible. Creating catchy subject lines has become even harder in recent times as more and more people turn to mobile devices for email, with their small screens in an orientation that is usually the opposite of a computer screen (portrait vs. landscape).

So, I think we can all agree that, set in context, subject lines can be a pretty big deal. As to the right approach, well here are some different perspectives. Not created by us, but referenced by us. They are not uniform. There are precious few overlaps. But there are some good thoughts.

When you bring together your next e-campaign, consider just some of these pointers, and good luck. There are no guarantees here. No silver bullets. Just some clues that might have an impact on the opening rates you know full well you are going to get measured on.

The short list

  1. Keep it Short – believe it or not, people read more day-to-day than they ever have. Short and sharp does it every time.
  2. Make it Crystal Clear – don’t try to be clever
  3. Make it reflect the content accurately – it’s a promise, don’t disappoint!

The safe list

  • Put the most important information at the beginning – if it’s NEW, FREE etc.
  • Keep the subject line short, but convey the message – high skill involved here…
  • Use longer subject lines only if you have to – when information is critical make sure you use it well.
  • When in doubt, test – it’s too important. Send to a test list.

The last list

  • Tell it as it is  – don’t fluff it!
  • Create Curiosity – life won’t be the same if I don’t open it.
  • Gain trust – it’s your brand
  • Be relevant – in a competitive inbox environment
  • Togetherness – Subject Lines and From Lines Must Work Together
  • Avoid the Generic – remove the inclination to move to Trash

The Idealogy list

  • Use clear descriptive subject lines.
  • Less than 50 characters in length.
  • Investigate using localised content e.g. Laser printing in the Boston area (if feasible).
  • Look at personal content, although this might not fit the market/subject.
  • Test all options

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