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Email marketing and newsletter subject line tips

It's quite a challenge grabbing the attention of the average inbox owner these days as so many newsletters and offers inundate folks. Effective subject lines play an important part in having your communication stand out among the crowd and urging people to open your communications. 

Two basic principles to bear in mind with different types of email communications - one is meant as more of a hard sell (general campaigns), the other is a soft sell through information (newsletters). Your newsletter subject lines should more more informational than hypey and general campaign subject lines should be to the point without overselling. It's a fine balance.

The following are some email marketing subject line tips based on my own experience and from other research; experiment to find what suits your target group the best!

General email subject line guidelines

- Should be a maximum of 51 characters long to take into account the varying subject line display lengths of different email software and services.

- Be careful of words that will trigger spam filters such as free and discount - selling words tend to score higher when being evaluated during spam filtering processes. Even punctuation and symbols in a subject line such as ! and $ can play a role in your email being filtered. It doesn't mean you can't use them, just don't go overboard. 

- Don't SHOUT (caps lock); again, it's widely seen as a spammer/scammer trick, can trigger spam filters and isn't considered to be good email etiquette.

- Given subject lines do play an important role in spam scoring,  test your mailouts by sending samples to a few different services before running the campaign out to your list. To do this sort of testing, simply set up accounts with Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail etc. Some mailing list services and software already have built in spam scoring facilities - it's a very handy feature.

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Email marketing subject lines

- The use of [COMPANYNAME] as the first word seems to help achieve high open rates. If you don't want to take up valuable subject line real estate by doing so, stick the company name in the from line, along with a human name. 

Example:
Michael Bloch [TamingTheBeast.net]

- Use the person's first name in a subject line if you have that information, followed by a question. 

Example:
Fred, looking for discount flombles?

- Try to stir up curiosity. 

Example:
Fred, a quick question for you.

- Describe what the email contains, the reason it should be opened and the reward the reader will receive for doing so.

Example:
Flomble discount - details inside

- Create a sense of urgency without going overboard. 

Example:
Fred, flomble offer - today only

Newsletter subject lines

I've experimented with several subject line formats for my newsletters, using variations such as:

- the name of the newsletter followed by the date
- a nonsensical subject line made up of terms in the newsletter
- focusing on an article in the newsletter
- several highlights from the newsletter

Based on open rates, I've found the latter to be the most successful. Just having a newsletter title and date is rather boring, using "artistic" subject lines confuses busy people and a single item highlighted can miss the mark (more on this below).

It can be a bit tricky mentioning multiple newsletter highlights as there's a limited number of characters you can cram into a subject line, but I feel there's a better chance of grabbing more people's attention by doing so. 

A newsletter I get from another marketing resources site uses the single item approach - and it's stopped me from opening many of their newsletters, purely because I didn't think the contents would be of interest to me. I've kept a series of these emails and just gone through them all out of curiosity:

- I received 20 newsletters 
- I opened only 5 of them shortly after receipt
- After having gone through them all, I found that 14 had content not mentioned in the subject line I was interested in.

I suggest mentioning at least two items in an email newsletter subject line. In the case of my newsletter, a from and subject line might read something like:

From: Michael Bloch [TamingTheBeast.net] 

Subject: Page peel ads, ecommerce survey results & more

In the above example, the from line is for recognition and to introduce a human aspect. The subject line covers two very different topics to appeal to different groups and lets the person know that there's additional items in the newsletter.

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If it can't be measured..

The old saying goes "if it can't be measured, it can't be managed". Honing a subject line format takes time and without some way of tracking results, you're working blind.  If you're not able to track opens to some degree, you won't know if it's the subject line or the body content that's causing what appears to be poor/good results. 

For example, you might have a crummy subject line that causes many people to ignore your communication, but excellent copy so that those who do open it take the action you want. Conversely, you might have a great subject line which generates good open rates, but the body content is lacking. By having a baseline open rate figure, it helps to narrow down where the challenges are.

If you're not able to gauge email open rates, most good quality mailing list management software packages and services these days provide open count features along with a wide variety of other tools to help you make your campaigns and newsletters more successful.

Related:

Gauging email open rates

Click tracking software

Autoresponder and mailing list software

Email etiquette

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
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In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.

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