Curiosity, Value and Urgency Get the Most Opens, While ‘Virtual’ May Be Best Inside

Most reports I’ve seen say to use very few words in your subject line. But a consulting firm called Invesp reports that 6-10 words in a subject line had a 21% open rate in their research—the highest—vs. 16% for 0-5 words. Amazingly, they report that emails with no subject line are opened 8% more than those with one. Call it the Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome.

“Virtual Programs Are Back!” the National Archives shouted in a recent email. “Our virtual programming is back this September, which means you don’t have to be in DC to see what the Archives has to offer!”

Using “virtual” in subject lines now can be tricky. I’ve spoken with several people who cringe when they see it and hit delete. But the virtual landscape will, of course, continue to be a huge part of what we do. It may just be better to put it in the preheader or actual email. Maybe “Watch Living History With Us This Fall” would have been better for the Archives.

According to Invesp, 47% of email recipients open email based on the subject line whereas 69% of email recipients report email as spam based solely on the subject line. So it’s still—and probably will always be—a big thing.

Here are some more takeaways that have crossed my desk:

Focus on value.
“Instead of framing a subject line with a message like ‘Rejoin our association,’ try framing it this way: ‘Here are three things you’re going to get if you rejoin,’” says Sheri Singer, president of Singer Communications, in Associations Now. “The subject line needs to answer the question: What’s in it for me?” Adds GetResponse: “If you’re promoting a piece of content or a valuable resource, you’re probably better off if you mention it in the subject line.” For click-to-open rates, “infographic” scored huge at 35.1%. It’s short, easy-to-read and decisive.

Curiosity wins.
“Curiosity is a driving force that’s often stronger than fear of loss and desire for economic gain,” writes Copyhackers. “…a manageable information gap—one where bridging the gap is just challenging enough—can be stimulating and fantastic for engagement.” In a blog post on ASBPE, Scott Costa, publisher at tED Magazine, wrote that when their online daily newsletter is finished, “[we] go through [to] make sure all the links work, the headlines have some punch, the subheads don’t give the whole story away and it looks really pretty.”

Create a sense of urgency and exclusivity.
How can you create that FOMO feeling we get when we see people waiting in line somewhere? Amtrak combines personalization with urgency: “Ronn, last chance for this 50,000 bonus points offer.” An obvious subject line works when it’s an organization you respect. “An Exclusive Opportunity From AFS,” coaxed the well-run Annapolis Film Society. “These frightening graphics show how far under water your city will be” warns Fast Company. That’s pretty urgent.

Deploy active verbs in subject lines.
“Using words like ‘acquires,’ ‘accuses,’ ‘dies,’ ‘splits,’ or ‘expands’ grabs the attention inside email inboxes that are usually pretty cluttered,” said Costa. “We have to accept that many times negative news leads to a lot of open e-newsletters. Popular people or businesses could lead to many more. We pick out those selling points very carefully when we create our headlines for stories and subject lines for e-newsletters.”

Include a number in your subject line.
A recent study looking at 115 million emails surmised that email open and reply rates go up when there’s a number in the subject line. “Numbers and data get your emails noticed, demonstrate a clear and straightforward message about your offer, and set the right expectations for your readers, helping draw them in.” Some I’m seeing today: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs. 6 New B2B Publishing Jobs. 5 Ways to Transform Your Lead Engagement and Sales Process.

“Free” is good, maybe similar wording a bit classier.
Invesp says that subject lines with “free” are opened 10% more, and that makes sense. But I also like when places phrase it differently. “Have a night out on us,” the American Film Institute’s said in their subject line last week, leading to a free ticket offer. I’m in. “In-Person Comp Tickets Available for Mysticism & Music,” announced Constellation Theater. A recent email study reported that using ALL CAPS in the “From” address gets a 19% higher open rate. And first-word capitalization in the subject line raises open rates 14% (Example: FINAL DAY: Free Registration to Tomorrow’s Webcast).

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