Subject lines initiate successful email exchanges, whether you are initiating a job search or a marketing campaign. The right subject line opens up a conversation or a relationship as quickly as “abracadabra.” The wrong line condemns your brand to die alone in the dark. Great subject lines are like great billboards or great headlines; they telegraph easily understood information to drive immediate comprehension and action.
We are all sending more email than ever. They stack up in an inbox that may or may not be fully opened. Multiple adjacent subject lines compete for fleeting attention. Faced with huge numbers of emails lined up one after the other, a SUBJ line must signal instant value.
An open inbox displaying sequential emails offers up that “moment of truth.”
It’s just as easy to click as to delete. Your 50 characters are competing in real time against genuine friends, family, personal messages, and other brands making claims or offers. An open is life. A deletion is death.
Adestra, a UK-based email service provider, looked at 2.2 billion emails representing 90,000 campaigns in an attempt to benchmark the words and phrases that work best. Defined using conventional email metrics, a best SUBJ line contains those words or phrases that drive more opens and clicks, improves the open to click ratio, and/or reduces the opt-out or unsubscribe rate compared to industry benchmarks. Get the complete report here.
Consider four topline results.
Skip the Expected. While everyone sends monthly newsletters by e-mail, using the word “newsletter” in the subject line has just a marginal impact on open rates (+0.7%) but really hurts your click-thru-rate (CTR), which plummets -18%. Maybe it’s too pat and too expected. Other expected terms like “report,” “learn,” and “book,” and “monthly” trend downward in terms of driving opens and clicks. Evidently people don’t want to see themselves as scheduled or predictable. They discount standard message cadences.
Aim for Immediacy. The implied urgency and immediacy of the word “alert” prompts a 38% bump in opens and a 61.7% spike in clicks. People are hooked on knowing what’s going on right now. Words like “daily” get 27.8% more opens and 100% more clicks than the norm. “New” yields +17.2% clicks and 38.2% more opens while “News” drives +34.8% opens and +47.7% clicks. “Breaking” gets +35.4% opens and +77.6% clicks.
Present your message as new, exciting, and of the moment.
Present a Deal. Predictably “free delivery” drives 50.7% more opens and 135% more clicks. “Sale” has +23.2 opens and +60.7% clicks. “X% Off” has a similar impact. Everybody wants to save money or get more for less. Watch out for generic terms like “save” or “cheap” or “free” and avoid aggressive terms like “buy.” These classic retail words depress opens and clicks.
Try Multi-Word Headlines. Multiple key words separated by a straight vertical line drive +27.5% opens and 90.7% clicks. The same kind of alignment separated by commas drive +17.8% opens and 67% more clicks. This newspaper/news ticker approach probably signals the same kind of immediacy and urgency as the immediacy phrases.
The beautiful thing about email is that consumers vote with their cursors, so marketers and copywriters don’t have to rely entirely on intuition or imagination. Research like this helps us engage customers and prospects faster and better.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.