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Tips & Bits #28: Subject Line Testing

Objective: creating subject lines that get people to open e-mail messages and unlock the marketing messages inside.

Presenting: Test ideas for subject lines to get the best results that you can, out of your emails.


Test: Personalization vs. No Personalization

Many e-mailers hesitate to use personalization in subject lines for fear of triggering spam blockers. That’s a realistic issue. However, a survey of 270 million e-mail messages from January to June 2007 showed personalization increases open rates.

E-mails in which just the subject lines were personalized got an 18% open rate. When the subject line was general, but the message inside was personalized, the open rate slid to 16%.
Will this hold true for your business? You’ll have to test to find out.

One reason that many e-mailers don’t follow this practice is that personalization uses up vital characters in the subject line and leaves less room for the main message. 


Test: Short Subject Lines vs. Long Ones

It’s challenging enough to condense a marketing message into 45 characters, the typical length of an e-mail inbox. But recent metrics show that even this length may be too long. Open rates are 5.1% higher for subject lines under 35 characters. 

So character count is another good test to implement. 


Test: Brand Names in Subject Lines or Not

This is generally considered to be a best practice recommendation. According to one study, adding a company name to the subject line can increase open rates by 32% to 60% over a subject line without branding.

It’s a worthwhile test, but it’s a high hurdle because many brand names can use up more than half of a subject line.

Sometimes you can cut it down by abbreviating or using acronyms, but only if the shortened brand name is still recognizable by the target audience. Sometimes, there are legal reasons you can’t modify a brand name or company name.

Is a branded subject line is necessary when the sender line uses the brand name? The only way to know for sure is to test it.


You’ll Never Know Until You Test It

With so little room for fluff within a subject line of 35 or 45 characters, you’ll have to test to see what factors are most critical to increasing performance.

Try a new approach on one or two e-mail messages. If it doesn’t work, move on to the next test. If it does, incorporate the winner into the next testing scenario.

There are so many different factors to change and test when it comes to email subject lines:

  • The use of deadlines to increase urgency
  • The use of offers to motivate response
  • Different product features/benefits to see which work best with your audience
  • Different tonality styles — emotional, intriguing, researched-based, newsy, etc.
  • Specific prices or percentage-off?
  • Two for the price of one or buy one get one?
  • And on and on

When winners emerge, you must keep on testing. Companies that send out weekly emails risk fatigue in readers. Also, your competitors will notice repetitive use and may begin to mimic you.


Plan For Ongoing Testing

Documenting and archiving all failures and successes is an absolute necessity. It’s easy to say “we did that” in a meeting and kill a good idea when there is no evidence to back up a claim. People move to other companies and take essential learning with them. An archive will keep those hard won lessons where they belong.

Tell us your ideas on what to test for in the comments!

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