Email insight: subject line, most important conversion factor?

Could it be that the subject line of an email is the most important open factor? I believe it is ranked in the top three, together with the sender name and reply address. Loren McDonald made a post on sender name over at the Silverpop blog, in which he describes that he received an email with ‘Thanks for staying!’ as the sender name. Was it a mistake, done on purpose, just an experiment? Who knows, I agreed with Loren that it was weird to say the least.
Back to subject lines. What would you say if I told you a big Dutch retailer uses several Twitter hashtags with product groups in their subject lines? For instance #camera, #videocamera, #hifi and such? It’s very strange and shouldn’t belong in the subject line. Here’s another one: ++ official message +++. Seriously, I’m not joking. From Gucci: ‘Lighten up’. Last one, from WE Fashion: ‘Spring brings a lot of discounts’. Well great! What’s new?
The trouble with the above examples is that they don’t tell what’s inside. A subject line should be used what it’s meant for: tell the receiver what the email is about. No more, no less. Humor and teasing is allowed of course, word play is fun: but don’t overdo it. How informative should a subject line be? Just last month a Marketingexperiments post noted that longer subject lines increased opens 8,2%. But are big open rates really your target? Might making money be more important than open percentages?

Avoid these words in subject lines: they come from a 100 Junk mailed Mac emails, by Thomas Hawk.

At his presentation at Fusion Marketing Experience in Brussels, Dela Quist noted that one of his company’s clients used a subject line telling people that they’d get very nice discounts in-store the next day. The discounts were only communicated through email, but open rates were actually low. However the stores did see a surge in customers the next day. What happened? People saw the email, saw the subject line, and knew enough. No open or clickthrough necessary: just the mindset that they could go to the store the next day, buy stuff, get discounts. Very effective I’d say.
Is your subject line still something like: ‘ Newsletter 14 – April 2011’ ? Welcome to 2011 and forget that type of subject lines: it tells nothing. You need to inform your audience about what’s inside the email, or what message in its most basic form you are trying to convey. Have an event for which you want people to register? Tell the name, date and location in the subject line, and maybe cost if applicable. The most important message is conveyed to the subscriber, so you have already scored points there.
Don’t get too creative (or too boring – see the Win an iPad subject line post) in subject line creation. Only make the subject line after your email is finished, because only then you’ll know the overall tone of voice of the email, and the total content. If you really want great results, get your subject line thinking in gear: you’ll see the rewards soon enough.
PS: have a great or crappy subject line example? Let us know in the comments.


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