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What Do You Mean My Email Subject Line Sucks?
Posted on January 22nd 2013
You've spent all that time building an email list, crafting the perfect email, creating great content, and sending it out using all the proper email deliverability hoo-ha and all that.
Your anticipation of a high email open and click through rate is there. That will mean you'll make more sales, right!? After launch, you wait. And then...... nothing. Your open/click through rate sucks and your sales are as stale as that box of Cheerios you left opened last Tuesday.
You spent all that time and for what? For a 2.5% open rate, about ten click throughs, and no sales? Your once-high inspiration wanes and you wonder why this whole business of yours just isn't working.
This isn't what you envisioned. This isn't how it's supposed to be.
Well, it doesn't have to be this way. So lean in, close out the rest of the distractions for a few minutes, and let me tell you what you're doing wrong and how to fix it.
The problem you're having is all too common for small business marketers. You are missing one key ingredient. That key ingredient is a killer email subject line.
Without the perfect email subject line, no one cares what's in your email.
Think about it. How many emails do you get per day? I get at least six, and sometimes even eight! I'm kidding. Try not to be so gullible. I subscribed to every single marketing email that comes to me. I wanted to receive those emails. And yet I don't have time to read them all. But, there's always one that grabs my attention. And as it turns out, it's always the same few marketers that nail the email subject line every time. And I keep on opening their emails. And sometimes, I even buy some crap from them.
The only way you are going to grab my attention in my inbox is if your subject line is killer
Your content might be great, but frankly, I'll never know it unless your subject line is anything but killer.
The root cause of why your email subject line sucks
So why do your email subject lines suck so bad? "It's not you, it's me." Not really. Listen, if she breaks up with you saying "It's not you, it's me.", believe me, it's not her, it's you. Not that I have any personal experience with that. But anyway, your subject lines don't actually suck. It's just that your subject lines don't pop. They aren't killer. And again, without a killer subject line, no one is going to open your email.
There are two reasons you aren't writing email subject lines that pop
- After creating all that great email content, frankly, you are out of steam and out of time. You just want to write a subject line and schedule the stupid email to go out. After all, it's 5 pm, the factory whistle has just sounded, you want to go home, and you are dying to get out into traffic because you love traffic so much.
- You are missing the technical mechanics of exactly how to write a killer email subject line
The solution to the time crunch
What you need to do instead is schedule time devoted towards creating your subject line. In fact, if you had to skimp on some of your efforts creating the email body just to have time left over to craft a great subject line, then do it. Take the time. You will never be successful without it.
Some people say to write the email subject line first, then craft your email content around that. If that's what you like to do, great. Here in our office, Loraine is the person who works on our emails. Since she's in her early 20's, she's the kind of person that's not exactly dying to hang around here until the wee hours of the morning working on her email subject line. Instead she wants to get out of here, and go out into the world and do whatever it is people in their early 20's do. So, she crafts the body of the email, then crafts the subject line based off of that. She schedules time for the creation of the subject line as part of her overall email creation schedule. That way she's not going to have to hang around here late into the evening and thus miss out on going out with her cool friends to hear some cool new band playing songs where you can't understand the lyrics. But, at least that place they go to has it's own craft beer, so it can't be that bad.
How to write a killer email subject line
Litmus put together a great infographic that will help you understand what works in email subject lines and what doesn't. Here's a recap:
- Be sure the subject line is relevant and clear. Be ultra-specific about what this email contains.
- Be very clear on who this email is from. Identify yourself. Include your most recognizable
brand. Prefix the subject line with a consistent identifier.
- Stand out visually. Use brackets, variations in capitalization, or quotes in order to look different in the inbox.
- Use urgency. Pull items in the news, or anything that is current and top of mind to your subscribers. Just make sure it's a real deadline and not something you made up.
- Use a call to action. What do you want the subscriber to do?
- Does location matter in your business? Use localization data to personalize the subject line to the subscriber's locale.
- Ask a question in the subject line. Subject lines framed as questions perform well.
- Keep is short. Write and rewrite your subject line until you are under 50 characters. Even less is better. Emails with 28-39 characters in the subject perform well.
What isn't good in email subject lines?
- Subject line is too long (over 50 characters)
- Symbols and special characters. These might work for open rate, but it's difficult to tell if your higher open rates will actually drive higher click through rates, and hopefully higher sales.
- Using "Re" or "Fwd" in the subject line. It looks like you're responding to the recipient, but you're not. Since you are trying to spoof them, they get pissed and mark your email as coming from "Ivan McSpammyPants."
- Asking for any kind of help. Even somthing like "Help us create the ideal college experience" is asking for help. This usually does not work.
- Big sale discounts. Stating large discounts in your subject line makes people distrust you. Smaller percentage sales work (e.g. - use "20% off" instead of "50% off)."
- Personalization sometimes doesn't help. Adding first name to the subject line does not always increase opens.
What actually does work that you think would be flagged as spam?
Using all caps, using the word "sale", and even using an exclamation point in an email subject line will likely NOT trigger a spam filter. Spam filters rarely make a big deal of these items. It's more about your overall spam score instead of just the use of any one or two words that make any difference.
Still overwhelmed? Don't be. Justin Jordan, marketing director at Litmus states it well.
"...there’s really no such thing as the perfect subject line—or, if there is, it must be hiding with Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster."
Wiser words have never been said. You just need to test and retest to see what subject lines resonate with your audience. So in conclusion, state exactly what's in the email. Don't try to sell what's inside the email. If the subject line looks like an ad, it will be treated like an ad.
The original Litmus article and infographic are here.
Enter your favorite subject line in the comments.