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Subject Line Testing in Email: Just Do It!

An important key to email marketing success is testing. One of the most important components of a campaign to test is the subject line. The subject line is the teaser copy that entices the recipient to open your Email.
Keep in mind:
- Best-in-breed email programs consistently test their subject lines.
- It is important to verify your past findings and current theories about subject lines instead of making assumptions.
-If you can increase your open rates even slightly by optimizing your subject lines, the potential to increase click and transaction rates increases.

Here are some Subject Line Do’s and Don’ts.

  • Be clear and direct.
  • Be short – keep subject lines to 50 characters or less.
  • Do tell subscribers what’s new.
  • Remind subscribers when sales/events are ending.
  • Try wistful and fun subject lines. (But test on sale emails)
  • Test personalization, symbols (%, $) and capital letters. Also, I have seen pipes used successfully.
  • set your subscribers' expectations during the opt-in process about what kinds of emails they'll be receiving.
  • Be deceptive.
  • Be too long.
  • Deviate from your brand voice too much.
  • Scream (use words in all CAPITAL LETTERS).
  • Test once and then make long term decisions.
  • Be afraid to have fun!
  • Don't confuse newsletters with promotions. If your email is a newsletter, put the name and issue of the newsletter in your subject line. If your email is a special promotion, tell the subscriber what's inside. Either way, don't write your subject lines like advertisements.
Here are some Subject Line Testing – Test Scenarios
-Short versus Long.
-Mention a product type (shoes, shorts, cars, candy).
-Mention of Brand or style type advertised (Nike, Cargo Pants, Lexus, Jolly Ranchers).
-Use and placement of Free Shipping, % or $ Offer.
-Use of language indicating urgency (limited time sale, 3 days only, etc.).
-Use of language evoking curiosity or inspiration.
-Use First name personalization
-Include the company name.
-Use capitalization appropriately.

Here is a sample Subject Line test scena
A 10-10-80 split was used in this test.
  1. - 10% of the subscriber list received Subject Line 1.
  2. - 10% of the subscriber list received Subject Line 2.
  3. - 80% of the subscriber list received the winning Subject Line. In this case the winner was Subject Line 2.
Subject Line 1 - Free Shipping this Easter - Offer Code Inside (13% open rate)
Subject Line 2 - Free Shipping - Happy Easter (16.6% open rate)

The website and email marketing provider MailChimp looked at some of its clients highest performing and lowest performing subject lines.

MailChimp said that people who are new to email marketing often ask them, "How should I write my subject lines so that more recipients will open my emails?"

In order to answer that question, MailChimp recently analyzed over 40 million emails sent from customers through MailChimp. They found the subject lines with the highest open rates and the ones with the lowest open rates. Then they pulled 20 from each pile and put their subject lines in a side-by-side comparison. The wining or highest open rates were in the range of 60%-87%, while the losing or lowest performers fell in the dismal 1%-14% range.

Here are the results:

Do you see a pattern in the results?

On the winning side, you'll notice the subject lines are pretty straightforward. They're not very salesy or pushy. On the losing side however, notice how the subject lines read like headlines from advertisements you would see in the Sunday paper. They might look more creative but their open rates are horrible. It's as if those email marketers assumed that subject lines have to jump off the screen and GRAB THE READER'S ATTENTION! Unfortunately, most people get so much junk mail in their inbox, anything that even hints of spam gets removed immediately.

In this test case it looks like the best subject lines simply described the content of the email. It is that simple.

If you are having a difficult time deciding what subject lines to create look at the content of the email. Also, use your websites web analytic data. You might be able to use keywords searched on your site and keywords used to send visitors to your site.

When it comes to email marketing, the best subject lines tell what's inside, and the worst subject lines sell what's inside. But don’t take my word for it – You need to Test, Test, Test this for yourself.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really useful article. The Mailchimp results are particularly interesting.

    Testing should be a no-brainer, but I think that a lot of people avoid it because of the difficulty in setting up and designing tests.