Subject line tests can help you get a better understanding of how to capture attention and cut through inbox clutter, but the “rules” around what separates a winning subject line from a loser aren’t so cut and dry.
Read on to learn some of the subject line insights recently offered up by own Senior Email Marketing Manager, Jaina Mistry, on Constant Contact’s “Get More Opens With Great Subject Lines” webinar.
Don’t underestimate your “From” line
Your subject line helps convince your audience to open your email, but your focus should be broader than that single line of text. According to Constant Contact, 45% of email subscribers will open an email simply based on who they think it’s from.
Make sure your “From” line is clearly recognized and trusted by your subscribers. In some cases, that may mean you need to include both a sender first name and your company name; in others, the company name might suffice. (A/B testing approaches in your “From” line is always an option, too!)
Make your preview text and subject line partners
This bit of copy should be thought of as an extension of your subject line–and the two elements should work together symbiotically. Avoid using repetitive messages or phrases in your subject line (shown in bold below), and preview text, which follows it. Think of how they’ll look in the inbox and write them to support one another.
Know your audience
Constant Contact recommends sticking to subject lines that are seven words or less when emails are opened on a mobile device, but there isn’t a universally ideal length. Start by digging into where your audience is opening their emails, and conduct subject line tests to see what length gets the most engagement.
Prioritize the “why”
When brainstorming subject lines, think about why the reader should open your email. For example, the subject line “March newsletter” addresses the what, but says nothing about why they should read it.
Experiment with subject line tests to hone in on creative approaches that work best for your audience, but remember an effective subject line doesn’t have to be outrageous or clever. “We have very straightforward subject lines in our weekly newsletter, Litmus Weekly. In the entire subject line, we summarize the key pieces of content in the newsletter, and it works very well. Our audience knows exactly what they are going to get when they open it,” says Mistry.
Update subject lines for non-openers
If you are resending the same email to try to engage subscribers that didn’t open the first time, write a new subject line and update the preview text. They may have simply overlooked your email, but something about your message didn’t capture their attention the first time around. Try a new tactic with your copy (whether tone, length or message) that might make them want to read the second time around.
Brainstorm fresh subject line ideas
Subject line tests can help you continuously learn what gets the most response from your audience. But remember that any findings you arrive at apply to your specific subscriber list, at a specific point in time. Don’t be afraid to test a variety of approaches and remain open to constantly learning more about what works.To kickstart your creative juices, try some of these approaches:
- Write down five or 10 subject line ideas that could work, and play with how those ideas might be supported by preview text.
- Experiment with power words that trigger emotion you want your subscriber to feel, that will help encourage conversion. (But don’t be misleading!)
- Focus on the pain points you can solve for your audience
- Play with alliteration (every word using the same letter)
- Experiment with humor
- Try pop culture references (but only if they are relevant to your audience)
Play with email personalization
Email personalization can make subscribers feel “seen.” In your subject line, that can include using their name, pulling in contact details related to a past purchase or interaction, or referencing an item they’ve clicked on in the past.
Try different personalization subject line tests to see what works for your audience–and delivers on the goals of your campaign. If they’re opening your message because they see their name, but your click-to-open rate is actually going down–you may want to try other approaches that encourage them to engage.
If your emails tout a sale or similar promotional message used by your competitors, experiment with personalized subject line tests to get specific about what you know they like. Instead of simply letting your audience know there’s a sale today, let them know the sweaters they’ve been eyeing are on sale today.
Try numbers and emojis
Telling people exactly what they’ll see in your email by using a number in your subject line can ease uncertainty and grab attention–but your message must deliver on your promise. If you’re telling subscribers to open your email to see three fabulous looks for spring, make sure your message shows them exactly that.
Using emojis in your inbox can also be a fun subject line test, even if you’re talking to business customers. “Our B2B audience loves them. We use more commonly used emojis, but they’re such an ingrained piece of language now. Even B2B marketers are still talking to humans,” says Mistry.
To experiment with emojis in a subject line, take the emoji out of the copy to make sure it still makes sense if it were removed. From an accessibility standpoint, subscribers who use screen readers will not have the emoji read out loud. Think of the emoji as support for your copy, not replacement text.
Never stop testing
Subject lines are critical to your email marketing performance, but they are not an exact science. Experiment with subject line tests often and make sure you collect your results. There are so many things that can impact why someone does or doesn’t open –including seasonality, or audience changes. Whether it’s once every quarter or every month, test over time and keep learning.
If you do conduct an A/B subject line test, be careful of sending the “winner” to the group who first received the other subject line. (If you don’t plan to change your message; you don’t want them to feel they’re being spammed). At the very least, consider only sending the winner to those who didn’t open your message the first time around.
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