Subject lines and how to get the best open and response rates.

Posted by Spike Email Marketing

blue sky email 600 - Subject lines and how to get the best open and response rates.

Many find subject line ‘rules’ confusing and there’s a wealth of information or schools of thought out there. However, we’ve found some things that unequivocally work.

First though, to dispel a few myths… The length of your subject line doesn’t have anything much to do with whether someone opens an email from you. We do expect a wee bit of caution and the exercise of some common sense here though. Some sources say that beyond 75 characters, when your subject line is likely to cut off, is not a good place to be and that read rates decline by about a third beyond this point. Anything short of that is fair game though in terms of length. It’s what you put in the subject line itself that counts.

Here the age-old adage that you’ve ‘gotta tell to sell’ comes into play. Yes, we’re advocating for descriptive subject lines that tell your readers everything they could possibly want to know about your email, even before they open it. You can’t bullshit people here, or lead them down the garden path, so to speak either. Not that we ever supported this approach but, if that worked in the past, it definitely no longer flies with savvy media consumers.

So, how do you craft a descriptive, any length, subject line that works? There are a few sure-fire things that always win in our testing. Firstly, the word ‘free’ – if you can use this, by all means do. Our friends over at Return Path recently found that campaigns with the word ‘free’ in their subject lines had 12% higher read rates than those without it, which is huge!

Another word winner is ‘Competition’ – Kiwis love this stuff, so if there is an ‘in it to win it’ element to your email, tell them so in the subject line.

The other way to get better results is through the use of brand names near the start of your subject line. If you’re a big retailer, say for appliances, and you said that washing machines were on special, starting tomorrow, as opposed to Fisher & Paykel washing machines, you could be missing out on about 20%.

There’s an interesting point to make about measurement here though. Putting a brand name can narrow down the group who is opening the email to people who like or are affiliated with that brand. What it does mean though is that engagement with the offer or sale is higher, as the click-throughs are already qualified. You want to take this into account as the end game when you’re measuring campaign activity, because just open rates alone would paint a very different picture.

Lastly, we return again to the idea that your email should come from a real person and have a way to initiate replies to drive real engagement. Many companies have been scared to use this approach historically, but this is changing and there are phased ways that emails can be sent so that your system (and the ‘people resource’ behind it) can handle the replies.

Hopefully, this has helped to clear the air around subject lines. You definitely need to put thought into what you’re using there with a strong call to action that is followed up by the preheader. And, of course, if you’d like further advice, just give us a call!