Newsletter subject lines make or break campaigns


 — February 1st, 2019

Newsletter subject lines make or break campaigns

Ask yourself this question… why spend hours lovingly crafting a newsletter full of great articles, only to let it founder on the rocks of inbox obscurity? Sadly quite a few newsletters seem to do just that if the volume of messages that never get clicked in a typical inbox is anything to go by.

To be clear, this is not to suggest that a subject line is more important than the entire package, but if your email newsletter is the Wizard of Oz, then your subject line is the yellow brick road that’s going to get them there.

Don’t disregard your duty to the subject line

At least in part, the problem stems from the classic mistake of putting all one’s energy into great material and then overlooking (or at the very least, putting off to the last moment) the thing that everyone sees when they check their inbox. Subject lines matter. Do not make this mistake.

Say what it does on the tin

So what’s a hard-working digital marketer/copywriter to do? Just as a headline ought to, let’s get right to the point.

Don’t reach for flowery phrases and linguistic gymnastics that prove how great your grasp of the language is. Frankly, no one cares. Everyone is inundated with competing ‘calls to action’ at every turn. So, for your subject line to have half a chance of resonating with your intended reader, it has to make its point as clearly and succinctly as possible.

Good subject lines should be active

You may have come across the term ‘active’ or ‘passive’ voice. The argument goes that an active voice is far more engaging than a passive one. Let’s see how that might play out with a subject line.

  1. New features have been added to the next-generation whizzbang widget (Passive)
  2. Whizzbang widget introduces next-generation features (Active)

Pay attention to the ‘subject’ in your subject line. Is it performing the action? If it is you’ll likely have a clear sentence, written in an active voice. By contrast, a subject line with a passive voice can be unclear on what the actual subject is about, often falling to the end rather than the beginning.

Avoid marketing/selling speak… it sounds spammy

It’s often a temptation to start dropping in terms and phrases which would appeal to the marketer seeking to sell something in a print or poster campaign. If it sounds anything like this kill it immediately. Do you open newsletters with spammy sounding subject lines? No? Then don’t use a similar tactic to tempt your own intended audience.

Here are a few examples (we’ll keep the senders anonymous)

  • 2019 just keeps on giving… 30% OFF EVERYTHING
  • Ride the Wave of Bitcoin and Earn a Guaranteed $13,000 in Exactly 24 Hours
  • 12% Guaranteed Returns from the Future of Renewable Energy
  • Cure High Blood Pressure In Just 9 Minutes

Do these sound spammy? Would you be tempted to click such subject lines? Perhaps more critically, do you think you’d actually see these? The examples above all of these were scooped up by Google’s Gmail spam filters and never even had the opportunity to tempt their target to click.

Know who you are talking to

A subject line is, by its nature, intended to express in a few words why someone should click. This is why knowing your audience’s motivations BEFORE you send the email is critical. If you are a seller of widgets and already know your mailing list is a comprehensive combination of opted-in collectors of fine widgets, half the battle has been won. You are speaking to your people.

This is perhaps a wider argument than the subject line, but it emphasizes just how important it is to know that the content and subject are aimed at an audience which is already more likely to be receptive to what you have to say or sell.

You wouldn’t, after all, send an email newsletter on spider photography to an arachnophobe unless your objective was to achieve a zero open or click rate and quickly consign your future posts to the spam folder.

Make one point and make it clear

To an extent, the dark art of subject line writing is, by its nature, somewhat subjective. However, through analytics research of what gets opened, we do know that overly-long subject lines with lots of information can rapidly backfire. As a rule of thumb subject lines in the range of 61 to 70 characters in length had the greatest chance of being read. However, that was still just 17% success based on a sample size of over 2 million emails across 70% of email platforms.

A few final thoughts...

  • Consider A/B analysis of competing subject lines. It may help hone your skills.
  • Think about the time of day you send an email. People may read the subject line, plan to read it later and promptly forget as their attention moves on to more pressing matters.
  • If you are doing a resend to non-opens of the original email, take the opportunity to change the subject line. Those that read the subject line the first time, and did not respond, will not feel they are being spammed. As a side benefit, it will enhance your ultimate open and click rates.

Like so many pieces of advice around subject lines – and there are many – there really are no definitive and foolproof solutions. However, follow these guidelines and you will be well on the way to better performing newsletters, whatever sector you’re in.

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