What Goes Into the Best-Performing Subject Lines

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"If Valentine's Day didn't go as planned..."

That was the subject line at this time last year for a special email from SIPA member Spidell Publishing to its large audience of tax preparers. The email offered a special 25% off Flash Sale for their webinar titled, Divorce Tax Planning, Including Tax Reform Changes. And the headline in the email read: Be Prepared When Crazy 4 U Turns Into U R Crazy.

The best subject line I've seen this week came from a company called Three Day Rule. It said, "A Valentine's Day Survival Guide" and offered the chance to "really wipe your slate clean" by throwing a photograph of your ex into their Burning Cauldron of Love. It was sponsored by Urbanstems Flowers.

Connectiv member Omeda analyzed almost 1,000 subject lines of the top 25 senders from their Email Builder platform—most of the emails being newsletter mailings. Their findings in a blogpost hold interesting clues.

Add personality. "Putting in a little personality or providing information that will spark curiosity can help the success of e-promo campaign open rates." The aforementioned Valentines subject lines certainly ooze personality, though a bit on the negative side. More positively, I saw this from Dove Chocolate: "When two hearts race, both win." For curiosity, I just received an email with the subject line, "An invitation from the Freer/Sackler [Museum]." It asked me to fill out a survey—clever way to do that. 

Give details. "Say you had an article written on the benefits of coffee," Omeda writes. "Rather than saying 'Top 10 Benefits of Coffee,' options that may improve engagement could be something like: 'What Beverage Is Linked to a Longer Lifespan?' or 'More Antioxidants, a Memory Booster,' and 'Good for Your Liver and Heart – Coffee Is Much More than a Caffeine Kick.'" They obviously are not finding long subject lines to be a bad thing.

Content remains king. Omeda pointed to one of their biggest clients that sends a newsletter twice a day—morning and afternoon—highlighting local news from that day. These two email campaigns have total open rates of 44% and 45%, both in the top 10 for open rates out of all emails Omeda sends. It's breaking news vs. strategic content, and Omeda says breaking news wins—realtime draws eyeballs.

Be consistent. The SIPAlert Daily has done better since settling into an 11 am Eastern time slot. Writing about the company that sends out the popular twice-a-day emails, Omeda wrote: "Customer recipients have come to expect these emails on a daily basis because of the consistent email schedule. This is an important reminder as marketers that a subject line is only a small part to a successful email campaign... [Also vital is] knowing your audience, catering to their preferences and interests, and delivering the information at the right time."

Test your own "buzzwords." Omeda really didn't find any words that consistently scored high. "There simply weren't buzzwords that guaranteed success [or failure] on email campaigns... Many words and phrases—such as 'tips' and 'best' appeared in both categories... What appeared to be more important was the topic highlighted in the subject line and if that topic was of interest to the audience the email was sent to."

When possible, target smaller audience lists. "While analyzing the data, it was obvious that two of our clients were performing exceptionally well with their email open percentages. Their open rates were hitting anywhere from 37% to 49% percent. Taking a look at their audience size, they were on the lower end of the spectrum." Some of the lowest open rates had the biggest audiences. Of course, this makes sense—a more targeted email should find more opens. Still, good to hear it confirmed.

Tailor your messages to the smaller audience. "One tactic could be to keep the full list of customers, and to split them up into different categories to call out better-tailored content. For example, one way to split would be by job position. Customers in C-level and executive positions are going to be interested in different subjects than new associates." I've even read that executives will read more emails on Sunday night than mid-level associates. So there are a lot of variables for each audience.

Summarizes Omeda in this excellent blogpost: "Rather than trying to get a quick fix for subject lines that will improve e-promo campaigns, take the time to invest in the audiences you are trying to reach. Think about who you're sending the emails to... What will make them interested in reading what you're sending?"

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…