Practical Ecommerce

Writing Excellent Email Subject Lines

A well written email subject line can increase open rates and, potentially, increase conversions. An email with a poorly written subject will probably get deleted.

Subject line composition is as important to an email-marketing program as earning subscribers and providing great content or offers. In fact, you might want to think about an email’s subject line as a proposal of sorts. When you ask someone out for coffee or to a movie, you put some thought into how you ask. So, when you ask a customer to consider an offer or read your content, put some effort into how you ask.

A good subject line is even more important in peak email times like the holiday shopping season that runs from now until just about December 24.

In this article, you’ll find three suggestions that should help you write excellent email subject lines.

Subject Lines Should State The Facts

Email marketing service provider MailChimp analyzed open rates for some of the email campaigns sent using its service. While the results of this analysis are not perfectly applicable to ecommerce — since non-sales-related newsletters, as an example, generally have better open rates than sales or offer oriented emails — it is worth noting that the best performing emails had simple, matter of fact subject lines that described the email message’s purpose or offer in a succinct and straightforward way.

Top subject lines earned better than a 60-percent open rate, according to MailChimp, and followed a pattern like “Company X, October Specials” or “Company X, October Update.”

In my own experience with sending ecommerce-related emails to relatively large lists, I have found that “Company Name October Specials, ” “Company Name October Flyer,” or “Company Name Free Shipping Offer Expires Today” can garner open rates above 30 percent.

In addition to sending emails, I also receive them as a consumer. Here are a few subject line examples that got me to click.

  • “Amazon.com: Bestselling Portable Recorders”
  • “A gift for you from Dell”
  • “Armando E. Roggio FREE Shipping on everything, really” (eBay)
  • “2012 Deville Longboard Showcase”
  • “Regular Priced Wrestling Shoes 25% Off”
  • “Enjoy FREE SHIPPING (today only)”

If you want more guidance, consider taking some advice from Brian Clark, who is the founder of Copyblogger Media. Clark suggests trying to get four fundamentals into your simple and direct subject line.

  • 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?

“When you’re trying to get someone to take valuable time and invest it in your message, a subject line that properly incorporates all four of these elements can’t miss,” wrote Clark.

Subject Lines Should Be Tested

“The surest way to increase the success of subject lines is through testing,” said Mary Kathleen Sullivan, who is a senior strategy consultant at Responsys, a marketing software and services company, in her company’s Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season 2011.

Testing subject lines takes time and commitment. To do it, come up with two or three subject lines for each email that you send. Divide your email list into a corresponding number of segments, and send each segment the same email content, but with a different subject line. Compare the open rates and conversions for each group.

On your next campaign, try to write subject lines that are similar to the best performing subject from your prior campaigns. Continue to test variants, always striving to improve opens and conversions.

It is important to monitor both opens and conversions, since there are some subject lines that may produce a better open rate, but for any number of reasons, a lower conversion rate. For example, if the subject line over promises, it might get readers to open the message, but then disappoints them with what they actually find.

Subject Lines May Use “Free”

The word “Free” in a subject line conveys a lot of meaning and can help to increase open rates. It does, of course, require that you are actually giving something away in the content of the email, but, this point aside, don’t be afraid to use the term.

A few years ago, many marketing service providers warned against using words like “free” since there was widespread concern that Internet service providers would consider emails that used the term to be spam and filter them out. But in a recent episode of the Marketing Over Coffee podcast, email-marketing experts John Wall and Christopher Penn argued that most spam filters are actually more concerned with the reputation of the sender and not the words in the subject line. In fact, Wall said that he gets better results when he takes risks in the subject line, even using “free.”

Summing Up

Writing email subject lines is, in my opinion, more of an art than a science, but there are methods or approaches that can improve the quality of the art. Aim to write a simple, concise subject line that describe what the message or offer is about. When possible use Clark’s useful, ultra-specific, unique, and urgent approach, but in all cases test and learn from those tests.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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Comment ( 1 )

  1. Rolv Heggenhougen October 20, 2011 Reply

    There’s no doubt that email marketing works BUT in addition to the traditional email marketing (mass email) one should look at another marketing opportunity and that is the emails we all send from our corporate email addresses every day. I represent a company that has developed a solution for just those emails and thus this post.
    The basic idea behind WRAPmail is to utilize the facts that all businesses have websites and employees that send emails every day. These emails can become complete marketing tools and help promote, brand, sell and cross-sell in addition to drive traffic to the website and conduct research. WRAPmail is available for free at http://www.wrapmail.com.
    WRAPmail also helps search for missing children with every email sent by incorporating an optional RSS feed from the Center for Missing and Exploited Children