Only one thing increases open rates. After a year’s worth of email subject line testing, here’s what we learned about subject lines and open rates.
To recap, we tested five elements of a subject line: personalization, brevity, specificity, quantities, and headliners. We assumed that using combinations of each of these would increase email open rates. We were wrong.
I was 1 for 5. Across all of the emails we sent out weekly over the last 10 months, here are the open rates.
– Personalization: 15.7% vs. 14.9% open rate in favor of not including the recipient’s name in the subject line.
– Brevity: 17.4% vs. 16.1% in favor of short subject lines (less than 50 characters).
– Specificity: 15.7% to 17.4% in favor of less specific subject lines. This is our largest spread.
– Quantities: 17% to 16.7% in favor of not including a quantity in the subject line.
– Headliners: 17.6% to 17% in favor of not including the presenter’s name.
Why these results?
There’s a bunch of problems with first names in weekly webinar invite subject lines, even when the name is randomly there one week and the next week it’s not. It’s my hunch that people are tired of seeing their names in subject lines. With the proliferation of marketing automation, more and more people are getting savvy to <FNAME>. In addition, the standard, templated, webinar invitation email is far from a personal email, so it’s incongruent to have a personalized subject line and then a clearly non-personal email body (and adding “Hi, <FNAME>!” at the top of the email doesn’t help).
Marketers talk a lot about personalization as a way to increase conversions. A name in a subject line won’t help. And it doesn’t help to put the first name in the body either: “Dear <Fname>, standard email sent to everybody that fits your segment and profile.” There’s definitely an argument to be made for lead nurturing and sending people content that will interest them based on demographics and behaviors, often it’s the only scalable way to market to lots of people. But NOTHING beats the authenticity of an actual conversation.
Brevity is the Shangri-La of email subject lines that encourage opens (at least in this case). Almost all of the other subject line strategies required breaking this one rule that rules them all. Specificity often required more words, list quantities often required more words, adding headline names required more words.
Why is brevity so effective? Frist, it’s a busy, deadline driven, over stimulated, 6-second Vine, ADD world. Second, short subject lines demand more thought and creativity to get your point across. Remember those English classes in college and high school where the teacher required you to “cut the fat. Now cut the fat again. Now do another draft and cut another 20%. Again.”? After that excruciating exercise, the paper/subject line/blog post/sales pitch was always better.
Again, specific subject lines tend to be longer than short subject lines, so immediately we have a problem. The general subject lines appeal to a general and broader and bigger audience, so higher open rates on more general subject lines should not surprise anyone…except for those that think specificity encourages greater open rates. Now, there’s a whole ‘nother argument to be made for lead quality: The 10 people that opened the specific webinar invite are probably a bit further down the sales funnel than the 20 people that opened the general subject line, and your sales reps want to spend their time with those 10.
The test results were so close (16.7% to 17% in favor of no list) that it would be fruitless to consider why the tiny 0.3% spread. The only thing I’ll throw out is that the numbered list subject line was usually a word or two longer.
We get all-star presenters. Why doesn’t adding their name to the subject line draw more opens? Perhaps our audience isn’t ready for them, like the world isn’t ready for Batman. Or perhaps there’s so much content out there, our audience cares more about subject than presenter. Or, as we’ve learned with these others, it’s a brevity issue. Adding in the name increases the word count of a subject line by at least three words. The small spread of just 0.6% is pretty insignificant, and there’s so many variables to this element, we really don’t have enough evidence here to draw a conclusion one way or the other.
Subject Line Conclusion
Brevity trumped all other elements. Shorter subject lines won nearly every time. Every other tested element required making the subject line slightly or significantly longer.
While understanding the research and best practices implemented by others, every situation is unique. No other company has the same combination of audience, product, offer, etc., as you do. The only way to know what works best for your marketing strategy and tactics is to test.
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