At a recent networking event, I was talking to John from Ashfield Personnel about email and he said that one of the most frustrating things he finds on a daily basis is that when people send their CV to him they generally put their name and ‘My CV’ in the subject line. Without a date the subject lines are relevant but when he is scanning emails to see if he has had a suitable CV for a recent job this means nothing.  Firstly their name is in the From field anyway so it’s pointless to include it in the subject as well. Much more useful is to put in what you are or what type of role you are looking for so he can see at a glance when scanning his inbox that’s bursting with ‘John Smith – My CV’.

The same is true of your marketing emails. Sometimes you need to something to stand out. Yes X% off will generally work for a number of subscribers but to really stand out every time, look at doing something more interesting.

I read somewhere (I forget where, sorry) about an email to people who lost a competition. The subject line read “You lost! will 15% off help?”.  I did a post recently about the upside down subject line from Firebrand which was also great!

The majority of people take just a couple of seconds looking at your subject line and name to decide whether to open, keep or delete.   If those that ‘keep’ many will never get around to actually reading your email. You need to give them a reason to open the email.  Here are a few quick tips:

  • Test usage of special characters – these are becoming more popular as they now tend to get through the spam filters after many years of being blocked. Expedia sent me one recently with the simple subject line ‘U☆S☆A☆’ and cleverly had ‘save 50%’ before the ‘see this in your browser’ message so it was also highlighted as I scanned my in box.
  • Get personal – MailChimp did a study recently which found that “though the use of both first and last names in a subject is less common, it has the largest positive impact on open rates.”
  • Give discounts – BlueHornets 2013 Consumer Views of Email Marketing found that 45.4% of consumers report opening and reading an email from a retail brand because the subject link mentioned a discount or special offer.
  • Be topical with a twist –  I got a recent email  ‘Hey Mum – you need to let your children know about this offer.’ in preparation for mothers day.
  • Short and Sweet – subject lines may get truncated on mobiles (though less so than they used to) but consider this when creating the copy especially if your audience reads on mobiles.  Subject lines with less than 10 characters had the highest open rate at 51% according to the  Informz 2013 Association Email Marketing Benchmark Report, Part I: Key Metrics
  • Give scheduled updates – according to the Adestra Subject Line Analysis Report (2013), communications with subject lines including keywords “Daily” (+27.8%, +100.3%) and “Weekly” (+27.1%, +50.6%) perform strongly. At the other end of the spectrum, “Monthly” (-26.6%, -37.0%) is probably too infrequent.

But the secret to great subject lines……TEST! Do a split test a day before the main send with 2 or 3 subject lines to a segment of your database then select the best performing one.  Things to test include branding vs no branding; short vs long subject lines, one vs multiple offers/interest options, personalisation, % vs money off. There are many more of course!

The subject line really needs to be given a lot of consideration if you want people to open your email and the rest of your hard work is to pay off. And it all comes back to the example at the beginning – are you relevant and interesting in those few seconds people give you when they scan their inbox?