Practical Ecommerce

The Secret to Email Subject Lines, for 2015

Email subject lines can make or break a marketing campaign, either generating lots of opens, clicks, and sales or prompting recipients to delete messages and move on to a competitor. For 2015, the secret to subject line success could lie in relevance, content, and testing.

Email marketing remains one of the most effective tools available to online retailers for engaging customers, promoting content, and boosting sales. And subject line writing is an important aspect of success.

When you write email subject lines for your ecommerce marketing campaigns, consider these pointers for 2015.

1. Be Relevant

The most exquisitely composed email subject line probably won’t get a reader’s attention if the topic is irrelevant.

Here is an example. In February of this year, Ginny Soskey, section editor for HubSpot’s Marketing Blog, wrote a list she described as “18 of the Best Email Subject Lines You’ve Ever Read.” Number six on Soskey’s list is a message from Refinery29, “The broke girl’s guide to a luxury vacation.”

“People love to self-identify,” Soskey wrote. “The word ‘broke’ is that self-identifier — people looking for inexpensive vacation tips will see that word and immediately want to click through because it feels like that subject line was written for them. …If you’re segmenting your email lists properly, everyone in that segment should already self-identify with that descriptor.”

The point is that the subject line is relevant, so folks are more apt to click. Conversely, if one is not broke, not a girl, and not interested in a luxury vacation, the Reginery29 subject line would be irrelevant and, probably, not effective.

The point is to segment your email list, so that you can, in fact, write relevant email subject lines based on what you already know about your customers.

As a final encouragement for segmenting your email list and making subject lines as relevant as possible, consider these actual email marketing open rates from a brick-and-click retailer in the United States that sometimes sends to its entire lists and sometimes sends to segments.

All of these messages were sent in May 2015. The May 8 email message was for a new segment, which the retailer was sending to for the first time. On average, email messages sent to the full list had an open rate of 18.3 percent, while email messages sent to a list segment had an average open rate of 53.4 percent. These results are unique to this retailer’s situation. But they show how being relevant can affect open rates.

These were the actual email open rates for a U.S. brick-and-click retailer for messages sent from May 3 to 25, 2015.

These were the actual email open rates for a U.S. brick-and-click retailer for messages sent from May 3 to 25, 2015.

2. Be Brief, Direct, and Informative

Once you know that your email message will be relevant, write a subject line that gets to the point and describes the message content.

Recently, Best Buy sent me an email with the subject line, “The Roggio Family’s Summer To-do List.” I clicked and interacted with the message, which had seven product-related ideas for activities that I could do with my children, including playing with flying drones, using water proof cameras and equipment, and playing video games.

The subject line accurately described what the email had in store for me, and, although commenting on the body of the message is a bit off topic for an article about subject lines, the email message actually delivered suggestions that interest me.

Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger Media, has a good list of email subject line fundamentals to help.

  • Useful: Is the promised message valuable to the reader?
  • Ultra-specific: Does the reader know what’s being promised?
  • Unique: Is the promised message compelling and remarkable?
  • Urgent: Does the reader feel the need to read now?

3. Be Compelling

Whilst your subject line should primarily inform the reader about the message contents, it should also be compelling enough to open.

“You have three-to-four seconds to grab someone’s attention. That’s how long it takes for them to decide whether or not they’ll open your email,” according to a whitepaper from online marketing firm, Outbound Engine. “One of the major factors in that decision [whether or not to open your email] is your subject line. …The best email subject lines tend to be specific, short, and compelling.”

The next obvious question should be what makes a subject line compelling. Unfortunately, the answer is less than specific. A compelling subject line is one that resonates with the reader. So in large part it depends on how well the email list was segmented and how impactful the email’s content is likely to be.

4. Test Your Subject Lines

To help answer the question about what makes a subject line compelling, consider testing your email marketing messages.

Almost every good email service provider has a way to A/B test subject lines. It may take a bit more work to set up, but it is well worth your time.

To make your subject line testing a success, start with a specific goal or question related to email subject lines. Here are some examples questions you might test.

  • Does including a question in the subject line increase opens for this segment?
  • Does addressing the subscriber by name boost open rates?
  • Does the length of the subject line impact open rates?
  • What happens when I start the subject line with the store name?
  • How are open rates affected when I put a price in the subject line?
  • Does including brand names in the subject improve open rates?

Once you know what you want to test, compose subject lines that make answering your question obvious, and A/B test on your next message.

Finally, analyze your test results and apply those results to your future subject lines.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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