A year ago I set out on a pilgrimage to test some of email marketing’s common assertions about subject lines and open rates.
I wanted to drink from the holy grail of open rate optimization. I wanted to find the Shangri-La of subject lines and enter into enlightened subject line Nirvana. (I wanted to mix metaphors with no shame.)
So I put together some hypotheses, drawing from email experts who had done their own research and from my own assumptions, and then went to work testing them.
Convirza hosts a weekly webinar series. On a weekly basis we offer free webinars and partner with marketing and sales experts to provide the content. We invite our email list of about 10,000 to each webinar. Our email list is comprised of three different lists (different lead source, different needs and interests, different levels of engagement). Each list has its own email. So on any given week, I sent the same email to three different lists. So our list isn’t massive, but it’s more than sending an email to a few buddies to see which subject line they like better.
To test the subject lines and open rates, I created an A/B split test for each weekly email over a period of 10 months.
1) Personalization: Research says people like subject lines personalized with their name. Something as simple as “Mike, check out this webinar” will have greater open rates than “Check out this webinar.” The personal touch is supposed to entice greater open rates.
2) Brevity: Shorter is better. Ideally, keep subject lines under 50 characters to optimize open rates.
3) Specificity: Specificity of content could outweigh brevity. Some email optimization experts, particularly emails promoting webinars, show data that recipients are more likely to open emails that give a clear description of what they will gain or learn at the webinar.
For example, the subject line, “Free Phone Skills Training Webcast,” is general while, “Free Phone Skills Training Webcast: Nailing the Greeting to get People to Listen,” tells people more what the webinar will be about. Likewise, “Tomorrow’s webinar: Iron-Clad PPC Account Structure for Optimizing ROI” is specific and will get better open rates than “Tomorrow’s webinar: Get better PPC.”
4) Quantities: People like to know what they’re in for with a quantity. They like lists and a list quantity lets people mentally categorize what to expect and feel more at ease with committing. It gives them a sense that there will be quantifiable substance and organized learning objectives established for the webinar. Therefore, the subject line “5 Ways to Do XYZ” will be have better open rates than, “How to do XYZ.” Or, a real example, “6 Key Things National Brands Need to Know About Local Marketing” will do better than “Local Marketing Strategies for National Brands.” Our blog posts and white papers with list quantities do well. Email subject lines with list quantities should have better open rates.
5) Headliners: Our audience may know our all-star lineup of presenters, and adding their name to the subject may encourage more opens.
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.
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 presenters name.
Why these results? It’s possible that I’m only good at writing short subject lines. Or that most of our audience just doesn’t know these marketing allstars on our webinars. There are tons of different factors that go into an open rate…but that’s why ambitious marketers TEST TEST TEST, to figure out what works best for their mix of audience and offer.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post with more postulations WHY we had these results.