Tips on best subject lines, send times and subscriber expectations

I recall talking to a friend a few months ago who runs a large social group here in Washington, D.C. called Professionals in the City. His email list is something like 300,000. But he said the majority of people who come to his weekly events are relatively new to the list. So getting new leads is essential for him.

Recent research from Mail Chimp supports my friend’s findings. The open rate for the first month of new people signed up to an email list is 24% and the click-thru rate almost 5%. That decreases to 19%/4% in the second month, 16%/3% in the third month, and 14%/2.5% in the fourth. Funny that in the fifth month, it goes down to about 5%/1% but then the sixth month was back up to 11%/2%.

Here are more of their latest observations.

- Try varying the times you send out email. Their study says the biggest open times are between 2-5 pm. The lowest time was between 5-6 a.m.

- The most email opens occur on Wednesday and Thursday. Tuesday sees a higher volume of emails sent, so it may not be the best day to send. Friday email opens are more than Monday and actually not too far behind the top days.

- Placing a particular link in your content more than once will increase the number of clicks for that link.

- Your subject line should describe the subject of your email.  Sounds simple but it’s easy to overthink.

- Always set your subscribers’ expectations during the opt-in process about what kinds of emails they’re going to receive. Don’t confuse newsletters with promotions. If your email is a newsletter, put the name and issue of the newsletter in your subject line. Because that’s what’s inside. If your email is a special promotion, say so in the subject line. Either way, just don’t write your subject lines like advertisements.

- When it comes to email marketing, the best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst subject lines sell what’s inside. For length of subject line, they recommend 50 characters or less. “The exception was for highly targeted audiences, where the reader apparently appreciated the additional information in the subject line.”

Two more tips from other sources:

- Tell a story. From Bethesda Emedia Marketing: “Whenever possible, approach your subject line as a story. In other words, pique your reader’s curiosity in your email and get their emotions (fear, humor, curiosity, anger, joy, gain, logic) involved; anything that suggests there is more to be read gets readers to open your email…Sometimes a statement-type subject line is necessary, but do try to ping emotions in the subject line when possible.”

- “Click here” works best. According to a HubSpot blog post, your Call to Action in emails will do better with certain words. “Click Here” received the most clicks (32%) followed by “Go” (24%), “Submit” (20%), “Download” (15%) and “Register” (10%). They also found that conversion rates were three percentage points higher without the word “Submit” than with. Perhaps submit, download and register all represent too strong a commitment, whereas click here and go come off a bit more friendly and allow us more time to assess.

Subject lines, headlines and any other lines that help your audience to decide if they want to read something are hugely important—not breaking news. But the point is that if you’re like me, sometimes you take a lot of time to craft the story/profile/marketing copy/renewal plea/ webinar invitation, etc.—and then are anxious to get it out, so you don’t put that same energy into the subject line and headline. Take the extra few minutes.

Drop in Journalism Majors May Open New Doors for Niche Publishers

I heard a wonderful segment on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition last Saturday. Tamara Keith filled in as host for Scott Simon and related letters she wrote almost 20 years ago to Simon and top NPR correspondents Cokie Roberts and Liane Hansen.

“It was 1995 and my family was taking an epic cross-country trip [from California]—to see America from the windows of a minivan. I was hoping the letters would land us a tour of NPR during the few days we were planning to spend in Washington, D.C.”

Keith received letters back from all three. Roberts told her to major in anything but communications. (I received the same advice.) Hansen invited her to write essays about being a teenager that would air on Weekend Edition Sunday. Ultimately, it led to Keith’s first radio job.” And Simon…get this—he invited the family to his home and followed through! His advice: “Consider majoring in philosophy. I did,” said Keith. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it taught me how to break apart arguments, how to ask the right questions.”

There’s a lot there to consider.

I was just sent not a letter but an article from the American Journalism Review reporting that “enrollments in journalism and communication schools nationwide fell two years in a row for the first time in two decades.” In addition, seven out of 10 students in journalism are studying advertising and public relations, as has been the case for more than 20 years.

We have paid interns here at SIIA, and they are huge contributors—and sometimes get hired full-time here. I hope publishers do this or would consider this in the future. You can be sure that most young people don’t know the wonderful opportunities available in niche publishing. Instead of a dwindling newspaper landscape—Lee Becker, the University of Georgia professor who led the study, calls it a “dramatic change”—they might see in niche publishing a thriving place to write, work and learn.

The other advantage today of bringing on young people is that they may bring excellent social media and video skills with them—something we all can use more of. Whereas I still need to consciously think about tweeting, posting and filming each day, it will be much more natural for them.

If you can, establish ties with local journalism programs and community colleges. It’s obvious from Keith’s story what encouragement from successful professionals can bring. I saw an excellent new documentary film last night called Let the Fire Burn about the longtime feud between the city of Philadelphia and the controversial radical urban group MOVE and their deadly climax May 13, 1985. Jason Osder, the director, spoke after; he’s an assistant professor at The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. I can guarantee you that his students are learning how to do video well and could help a publisher.

What about writing? Will the 140-character syndrome bring on a new normal. And what about investigative journalism where our awards entries have been way down in recent years? Lynda Kraxberger, the University of Missouri’s associate dean for undergraduate studies, said that the big concern is in the lessened interest in classical journalism—holding governments accountable, exposing inequities and reporting on world affairs.

One other parallel that struck me is that at Indiana University officials have reacted to a 20% decline in undergraduate journalism enrollment by merging it with related fields in the arts and sciences. When you think about what’s happening in our field—the breaking down of walls between editorial and sales/marketing, and marketing and IT, etc.—what Indiana is doing makes perfect sense. Keith got the advice not to major in communications because it’s considered something you can learn by doing. Why not engage it with other disciplines?

“I know [the merger] has caused some concern,” said Anne Kibbler, the communications and media relations director at Indiana University’s journalism college. “But we have been reassuring our students and our alumni that journalism is still going to be first and foremost for us.”

Sounds like an executive editor defending the new special section that marketing suggested and sales sold. As I quoted Taboola CEO Adam Singolda in Tuesday’s post, content may be king, but it still needs a kingdom.

To subscribe to the SIPAlert Daily, go to the SIIA website.


Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.

5 Things a Major Publisher Learned About Selling to Their Audience

John Gordon, director of business development for Home Depot, and Andrew Waite, president and publisher of NEXZUS Publishing Group, opened last month’s SIPA 2014 Conference talking about the value of strategic partnerships.

Gordon said that he did not want to hear sales talk from publishers. He would rather they get to know his company and recommend ways to get readers to interact with his store. He equated it to people who come into Home Depot. “If you walk in and get customized engagement, about building a deck, remodeling a kitchen or another project from us…we get growth.”

Media partners should “understand your points of pain, talk about how [to] make your business better,” said Gordon. Become a “strategic partner—that’s power.”

A recent Gannett survey of more than 1,000 decision makers at small- to medium-sized businesses across its national markets about what they want from a media company confirmed this thinking. More than 70% said, “Our media partners do not provide us with thought leadership, but we would like them to”; 68% said they would like their media partners to “provide us with innovative opportunities”; and 67% wanted “assistance with creating an integrated marketing strategy.”

Michelle Krans, senior vice president/strategy and development at Gannett, wrote an excellent blog piece on the International News Media Association site about the survey. She listed the top 5 things they learned:

1. “Stop worrying about creating a world-class sales force and instead focus on creating a world-class experience for your customers.”

2. “Review pricing strategies. Pricing must be simple to teach to your staff, simple to sell, and simple to buy across all platforms… If your legacy pricing does not encourage customers to get on the right plans for their needs, change your rate structure.”

3. “Change the way you talk about your media audiences. We should be shouting from the rooftops about the value of an engaged audience.” You have a dedicated following that shops, buys and, most likely, influences on social media. Are you telling potential advertisers or sponsors about that power?

4. “Improve training to give your sales team deep product knowledge and an understanding of your sales process…For example, our digital certification programme via e-learning modules has been a real boost for our sales force.”

5. “Once the sale goes through, be accountable for the customer’s ROI.” Donna Jefferson of ad-driven Jefferson Communications has spoken frequently of this. “Provide results for your advertisers,” she said at another SIPA 2014 session. “Encourage them to build landing pages [for their ads]. Talk to them in advance about how they are going to judge the success of this program?” She pointed to one advertiser whose ad asked for people to sign up their kids for pre-school, but then they complained that nobody signed up for swimming. Yet they didn’t say anything about swimming in the ad.

Jefferson also doesn’t shy away from telling advertisers that their ad isn’t good. Perhaps they simply took a print ad and converted it to digital with no changes. “[A program called] ‘Smart Advertising’ brings “advertisers into our office,” she said, for talk and advice. She’ll ask, “What do you expect this ad to do?” or tell them what they’re doing wrong. “You have to be honest.”

You can see that Jefferson is cultivating the relationships that Krans says are necessary. It does no good for anyone if the ads or sponsorships publishers run are unsuccessful. Publishers know their audiences better than anyone else and have a good idea of what will make a successful pitch to them. What they don’t know is what, say, Home Depot wants to accomplish—is it getting people to the stores, getting them online, signing customers up for some program, selling big-ticket items, etc?

“We just want to understand your business better,” Waite said to Gordon, “and bring you ideas.”

To subscribe to the SIPAlert Daily, go to the SIIA website.


Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.

Content Needs a Kingdom, Taboola Founder Says

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Adam Singolda started Taboola 7 years ago because there was nothing to watch on TV. “I thought people should not be looking for information; information should be looking for people. Most people don’t wake up in the morning and search for that amazing jazz singer they like. They have to discover that person somehow.”Singolda makes those connections with something he calls the Magic 3. Creating experiences/stories that are engaging, reaching an audience at scale, and understanding the data to measure and analyze your ROI. Or, as he likes to say, “Content is no longer king unless there’s a kingdom—audience.”

The young CEO spoke impressively in May during Internet Week NY at MediaPost’s OMMA Native, and he will deliver a keynote titled The New World of Content Marketing at SIIA’s inaugural Business Information & Media Summit, Nov. 10-12 in Miami Beach. (The early-bird registration for this conference expires July 18.)

Taboola has quickly become one of the world’s leading content discovery platforms, reaching 350 million unique visitors. Their tagline is simply, Content You May Like. I watched Singolda speak for the first time this morning (on a video from that May event), and he makes a strong first impression. His ideas are not rocket science—“You have to allow people to participate in the conversation”—but Taboola’s complicated algorithms do perhaps reflect the background of an officer in an elite mathematical unit of the Israeli National Security Agency. After all, as he says, they’re choosing 4 thumbnails out of 5,000 to show you.

“Every 10 years there’s a dramatic and huge behavioral change that affects all of us, and we’re going through one right now—[we call it] the lack of user attention,” he said. “I think it’s gone to playing Candy Crush to games to video to online video to offline apps to syndicated content to native content to distributive content. It’s becoming super complex, and every person in this room can kill 5 minutes on their iPhone very easily.

“What does that all mean? [Audiences] demand engaging experiences to choose to participate in; it’s become very personal. For marketers to be part of my day, they have to create some of those engaging experiences.” Singolda gave examples of companies that have gotten the message.

- Netflix signed up 2 million subscribers by creating original shows like House of Cards. “They’re creating content instead of creating a bigger banner.”
- American Express decided they wanted to help small businesses grow—so they became a publisher. “All Amex wants to do is provide value so you include them in your experiences.”
- Bank of America started producing Better Money Habits, an online TV show. They are now there to help you save money.

“How do people discover content?” he asked. “You used to go to www, look at a homepage and see what the agenda is. Then came searching, then discovering based on our friends. Now it’s how do we discover the best thing we like and never knew existed. It’s the Magic 3.” Singolda filled in more details of this secret elixir:

1. “We have to be able to create engaging experiences and stories so people will choose to engage with [us].”

2. “We have to completely understand the audience. It used to be just about creating the best piece of content. Now we can’t stop there. We have to create the best piece of content that millions of people have the chance to consume—and you have to make this part of your company, part of your workflow. It has to be a recurrent, measurable, tangible, scalable process. It can’t be a one-off—‘I have a budget, I’m spending it.’ Or ‘I heard that we can do it, I’m trying it.’”

3. “Bring [the loop back to] journalism and the people who create the content. What can you tell people who invest so much in content that they must create it in a better way next time? Better title, better thumbnail, better narrative. [Given] audience fragmentation and data, how can you create the Ninja type of editors so that they create now and get better tomorrow in a competitive environment.”

I have never heard the phrase “Ninja type of editors.” But given the things we writers and editors have been called in the past, I’ll take it. It’s kind of exciting actually, in the same way Singolda’s talk in November should be as well.

To subscribe to the SIPAlert Daily, go to the SIIA website.


Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.

Successful Publisher Talks Data, Paywalls and Content

It may be the U.K. and it may be a big publisher, but still, what Rob Grimshaw—the successful managing director of FT.com and architect of the metered subscription model—says about paywalls, data and content should resonate with smaller American publishers as well. In a telling Q&A interview on the Columbia Journalism Review site by Dean Starkman, Grimshaw talks in language we can all comprehend and take note of.

Paywalls: [On getting more aggressive in the positioning of the barriers} “The gain on subscription side has been enormous, because what we found was, as soon as we pushed hard on this, and we turned the dials on the model to the point where many people were coming up to barriers, a lot of people went through, and more than that, they were happy to come through at price points that were far above what any of us had anticipated.”

Data: “…we try to get hold of every customer who cancels [and] not every cancellation is the same. [It may be] simply because of a payment failure [but for us] it’s a prompt reminder that gets people to go, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean to cancel that. I’ll go and fix that’…Other areas [are] simply people not having full understanding of the product. So it’s not unusual for our customer services to have conversation along the lines of ‘Do you know why you’re canceling?’”

Video: [The cost] is coming down…Some of our video now is shot on smartphones. I cannot tell the difference when I’m watching that on the screen…The other important thing is the dynamic in the advertising market…The rates in display are now dropping to levels where it’s hardly worth anyone doing it [while rates for video remain strong]. It’s very good news, because what it means is that publishers are able to turn traffic into revenue.

The question becomes, can all this be a blueprint for smaller publishers as well? I think so. I’ve spoken with members of varied sizes who have had success with pretty quick barriers: Exchange Monitor, which recently unveiled a beautiful new website; Modern Markets Intelligence; Optimus Education (in London, part of Electric Word); and Modern Distribution Management.

To accomplish the data chores, however, might mean a recalibration of resources. But Grimshaw would probably be on board with this. The phrase, “we try to get hold of every customer who…” takes some doing, as does customer services engaging in multiple conversations. But his point is to keep pricing as high as possible to make such conversations worthwhile. “…people will pay a lot for things they want,” he said. “You know, people buy ring tones.”

He continued: “My bet was that as people took up subscriptions they would spend more time on the site, and we would have tools that would help us to do that, because if someone is a subscriber, you can email them, you can bring them back to the site more often. That’s what happened. As a result, even though we got much more aggressive with the positioning of the barriers, traffic on the site really did not dip.”

The quick paywall may be how Grimshaw wants to sell subscriptions. But he admits that content remains why people buy, and product development the future. “We spend a lot of time looking at the data for how people use the site, and also from generating feedback from focus groups and those sort of things,” he said. “So that as we put new developments through [an internal] product council and things, those all come with a set of documentation that says, ‘Actually, on the basis of our insight into the audience, and what readers have been telling us, we think this is the right next thing to do.’”

Much of this goes along with what Carola York, managing director of Jellyfish Publishing in the U.K., told me last week—with respect to testing. “Testing is fundamental to what we do,” she said. “Our mantra is test, analyze and refine. We test every single kind of thing—different landing pages, color on call to action, copy size. If we got them there [on our site], we want them to stay there.” When I asked her about all the time it takes, she said, “That’s what we get paid for.” In other words, it’s that important.

So do the best content possible, don’t undersell or give it away, test every which way you can, and then engage with as many customers as possible rather than assume anything. No rocket science all that, but still a good blasting off point.


Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009, and then SIIA in 2013 and IIN in 2014.

New Retention and Renewal Tips from Member Experts

If you can’t remember your username and password, you’re not alone, warned Torry Burdick, VP product marketing, Vantage Production (a UCG company). She told a SIPA 2014 session on retention that when Vantage saw “usage of their products declining like crazy,” they sent a quick blast to members/subscribers with their username and password. The uptick was instantaneous.

(In that case, if you are a SIPA/SIIA member and want to hear any of the now-available sessions from the SIPA 2014 Conference and don’t recall your username and password, contact James Gerald at jgerald@siia.net here at SIIA.)

Burdick and her co-presenter, Nancy Brand, director of operations for Chartwell in Atlanta, represent two SIPA member companies that successfully use a membership model. But even if you are subscription-based, there are still many lessons to be learned here.

1. Pick up the phone. For Vantage, phone calls are the “power-hitters” in their lineup. Burdick said that 30 days prior to expiration, members get a call—80% of which go to voicemail. The people who aren’t planning to renew usually call back, she said, allowing for meaningful conversations. “It gives a personal touch—which people don’t get a lot of these days—and we can really help people over the phone.”

2. Look for champions/gatekeepers in your member companies to help increase individual usage and “rally the troops” if there are lulls. Chartwell asks their champions to invite as many as people as possible to the initial “walk-through” of their services. Later on, the account management team will walk member employees through the website sign-up process. Once logged on, they can review cases studies, profiles, data sheets and trend overviews.

3. Get your information experts involved with members. Vantage has weekly live calls with experts where they will run through the product for 10 minutes and then take questions. People keep coming back for those calls,” Burdick said. Brand said Chartwell also wants their “subject matter experts” to be visible—on webinars, at conferences, on calls—and build relationships with the customer. “This way they can demonstrate our knowledge and make that one-to-one connection.” They also have an Ask the Analyst service.

4. “Take a very candid look at your service and make sure it’s easy to use,” Burdick said. “It should be comprehensive, organized, current and intuitive to move through. Pretend you’re a consultant or someone else coming to the site for the first time.”

5. Make the most of the first couple weeks of companies joining. Brand said the average open rate for a welcome email is 50%, 86% higher than a typical marketing email. Include their member benefits and cross-promote other areas. Burdick said they start their retention process on day one with a call. “Can we sign you up for training?”

6. Monitor event and website participation. Report downloads of information. (Note if they do an extra amount at the end of their membership period.) Chartwell sends quarterly usage reports—which they review—to their gatekeepers. If there’s low usage, they want to know now. “Much better than waiting to when you need to ask for money,” Brand said.

7. Schedule visits, create touch points. Chartwell tries as much as possible to schedule visits to their member companies. Vantage encourages their members to come to them if possible.

8. Go after expireds. Vantage sends email to their recently expired clients—and calls to their champions. “We saw that you’re no longer a member. What can we do to help you?” “These get a high response rate,” Burdick said, “especially if they know the individual sending the email.” Brand agrees about the personal touch. “Name-dropping is huge when you’re trying to gain entry into a new department at a company.”

9. Strive for cross-department cooperation—sales, client services, marketing. Burdick gave an example of an employee who moved from inside sales to retention. “It’s a wonderful blend.” The employee reaches out to those who have been expired between 60 and 120 days. It’s like sales in that there are team bonuses involved. Brand said it’s important that your account management and research teams work closely together to reach out to your customers.

10. Personalize as much as possible. Use bold and action-oriented subject lines. Brand said their numbers show that 51% of all email is being opened on a mobile device. “Don’t overload on links,” she said. “And iPhones cut off subject lines over 32 characters. Use simple calls to action. “If they don’t use it, they will not renew it,” said Burdick.

To subscribe to the SIPAlert Daily, go to the SIIA website.


Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.

SIIA Announces Business Information & Media Summit – B2B Media Industry’s Most Diverse Event

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SIIA today announced the Business Information & Media Summit (BIMS) – a new conference designed to reflect increasing integration and transformation within the information and media industries. The conference, slated for November 10-12 in Miami, Fla., will focus on the integration of four markets that are dramatically impacting the B2B media landscape: big data, marketing, digital media and advertising.

Advertising-based media companies are becoming data companies. Subscription-based brands are entering the events business; and media marketing strategies and tactics are shifting constantly. As the lines which once separated industry business models fade away, the Business Information & Media Summit combines three former conferences – the Specialized Information Publishers Association’s Marketing Conference, the American Business Media’s Executive Forum, and InfoCommerce Group’s Data Content Conference – into one event that will provide the most comprehensive look at the rapidly changing B2B media industry.

Through high-level keynotes by top industry executives, and in-depth presentations on big data, marketing, digital media and advertising, the Business Information & Media Summit will provide insight and debate around on global data challenges, monetization of the Internet of Things and how big data is being leveraged by “little data” publishers.

SIIA’s BIMS will also feature:

  • Models of Excellence. InfoCommerce annually identifies and honors the data products that are re-setting the standards for data excellence. During the conference, the 2014 Models of Excellence companies will discuss their new products and what’s driving their innovation.
  • SIIA Previews. The most innovative early-stage B2B media companies will present at the conference and discuss how they are transforming the business information and media industries.

WHO:         Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA)

WHAT:       SIIA’s Business Information & Media Summit 2014 #BIMS14

WHEN:      November 10-12, 2014

WHERE:     The Fontainebleau, Miami, FL   

For a complete schedule of events, visit: http://siia.net/bims/2014/schedule.asp. Updates in advance of the event are available using the conference’s Twitter hashtag: #BIMS14.

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