Madron's Marketing Secrets

Write Great Subject Lines — And Increase Your Open Rates

Email marketers know this reality: Your open rates hold the key to success for any promotion.

After all, if your prospects aren’t opening your message, then they aren’t clicking…

And they certainly aren’t ordering.

So what’s the simplest, most effective way to consistently generate great open rates?

Write great subject lines.

Here are three easy-to-follow rules for writing great subject lines — and one thing to avoid at all costs:

Rule #1: Be Relevant and Stay Consistent — Assuming you’ve built a solid list of names — and you’ve established a relationship with your prospects — it’s important that your messages stay relevant to the initial reason the relationship was formed. If you’ve built a list of investment newsletter readers, subject lines about Kim Kardashian, the Indy 500 or Taylor Swift aren’t likely to deliver strong open rates.

This may sound basic, but you’d be surprised how many marketers try to cleverly work humor or pop culture references into their subject lines…only to be sorely disappointed. Your reader doesn’t expect his personal physician to sell him pizza…so he’s also not expecting you to stray from your area of expertise. Stay relevant to your overall business message — and keep your communication consistent.

Rule #2: Urgency is Critical — Much like with a print headline or the outside of a direct mail piece, your subject line is judged within a matter of seconds. In very little time, your prospect evaluates it using some basic questions: Is opening this message worth my time? Do I need to open it? Can this wait until later?

That last question is crucial — because if your prospect feels like your message isn’t important enough to open immediately…you’ve likely lost your chance forever. 

That’s not to say you should bombard your prospect with appeals to “open within 24 hours” each time you send an email. Overuse of deadlines can lead to a loss of credibility.

But if what you’re communicating — or selling — is truly worth your prospect’s time and money…you need to make it clear to him that he must read this message now.

Words like “immediately,” “right now,” “Urgent:,” “today,” and “before (date)” can help increase the urgency associated with each message.

Rule #3: Shorter is Better — Each email client may have different display options, so you have as few as 30 characters — or as many as 80 — for your subject line. Generally speaking, you need to make each character count. So a subject line that saves its most important material for characters 51 through 65 may end up never being fully read.

Here’s another reason to embrace brevity: It’s been proven to work. Regardless of your politics, the $690 million that President Obama raised online — mostly from fundraising emails — is impressive. And according to an examination by Bloomberg business, the campaign “did extensive A-B testing not just on the subject lines…but on the messages and the formatting.”  And shorter subject lines proved to be the most effective, with “I will be outspent” the far-and-away winner.

And Here’s What to Avoid At All Costs: Trickery. Adding mystery or intrigue to your subject line is a proven method for delivering great open rates. But some marketers go too far and actually “trick” their readers into opening email where the subject line is completely disconnected from the actual message.

By confusing, disappointing — or worse, angering — your prospect you’ll instantly negate any potential benefit you might have hoped for with an increased open rate. It might seem tempting to trick your readers “just this once” in order bump up your open rates…but in the long run you’ll do far more harm than good.