Personalizing, FOMO and Timeliness Can Make Subject Lines (and Readers) Special

Interestingly, as popular as newsletters are today—publishers like The Atlantic, New York Times and Washington Post seem to sprout new ones every day—Campaign Monitor finds that “email open rates go down by almost 19% when [newsletter] appears in the subject line.” Tell us the value, not the form, is probably the moral there.

“A poor subject line is more than just bad: It can contribute to your email being marked as spam, dinging your reputation with your customer and search engines. In fact, 69% of email recipients report email as spam based solely on the subject line.”
Campaign Monitor

OptinMonster reports that 47% of email recipients still decide to open your email based on the subject line. Their advice is to “leverage natural human tendencies and psychological principles.” Given my story on Monday that regrets are just human and should not be mired in, that could be a new category: “Don’t fret but here are things we could’ve done differently.”

When it comes to length, Campaign Monitor writes that “the sweet spot is a subject line that’s between 6 and 10 words in length.” As for thinking more concise for mobile, it’s hard to say now. Prior to the pandemic, the number of people opening our emails on their mobile device was climbing. But desktops have now risen back to 3-to-1 for us. As we go back to the office, that should change.

Of course, everyone advises to A/B test. One common way—which can be automated on many platforms—is to send out 10% of your email to two lists with two different subject lines, see which wins and send the rest to that one. Also test the times you send. The work-from-home revolution has changed a lot of open habits.

Here are more subject line best practices:

Personalize and make the recipient feel special.
The Washington Post sent me this one on Monday: Subscriber Exclusive | “Succession” Actor Brian Cox. As a longtime subscriber, that was music to my ears. If you have members and/or subscribers, reinforce that what they’re getting from you is especially for you. “Wow, RONN, check out your benefits,” Aetna wrote. Writes Litmus: “80% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences.” Sharing location-specific information tells your subscribers you’re paying attention to them. People have an innate curiosity about events taking place in their local area.

Use the fear of missing out (FOMO) email.
I liken this to passing by a restaurant or brand store and seeing a line outside. What am I missing? I need to be there. “Almost sold out.” “Today’s your last day to save.” Yesterday Framebridge sent out an email with five green boxes and the line, “Solve for 15% off.” The email led you to Wordle, where the answer was “frame”; but you had only until midnight to use that word to get a 15% framing discount. That also sounds like an interesting way to partner. Alliance Francaise sent out an email with this subject line: “We are taking you to the South of France…” I’m sure that got a good open rate. It’s for a virtual talk on Feb. 17.

“Avoid spammy words, special characters, and SHOUTING.”
“Nothing says ‘spam’ to email recipients and internet service providers more than special characters (#%*@), [exclamation points] and messages in ALL CAPS,” writes Campaign Monitor. “At best, these will earn you an unsubscribe. More commonly, they’ll end up right in the spam folder.” (Here’s a list of spam words from Mequoda.) However, I have read that putting the first word in ALL CAPS drives open rates up and that we shouldn’t shy away from emojis. The National Academy of Sciences did both today with this subject line: “TOMORROW Wrong Answers Only Wine Edition 🍷🍇.” I’m in.

Remember to add preview text.
“If your email’s subject line acts as the title of your email, then the preview text is like the subtitle. It’s that small bit of text after the subject line that displays in your email subscriber’s inbox before they click into the email.” Gives you a chance to tell a little more about what’s in the email.

Make subject lines timely.
“You’re invited…” scores well. The International News Media Association starts their weekly newsletter with, “What’s New at INMA” before giving some headlines. “Reminder” is a good way to start if it’s something we’ve signed up for. I just received one, “Reminder: Inaugural Robert A. Katzmann Lecture; A Conversation between Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Dean Trevor Morrison starts in 1 day.” We know that especially these days, signing up for something is just half the battle. We need to be reminded of the event and why we signed up. These words also score well: update, alert, weekend, thank you, bulletin, upgrade, new and available. I’ve read pros and cons for the word free.

Use numbers.
Numbers can often speak volumes—and feel louder than words because we know that what’s coming up will be finite and manageable to read and digest. “7 Tips for Increasing Virtual Event Engagement,” writes ON24. “Hear from 4 Teachers of the Year on Adult and Student Wellbeing.” “8 Red Flags That Signal a Toxic Hybrid Workplace.” “7 Top Priorities for the C-Suite and Their Lieutenants.” Those are in my in-box today.

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