Set Expectations with Email Subject Lines [Data]

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Jeanne Hopkins
Jeanne Hopkins



describe the image Email marketing doesn’t lie.  It tells you right away what your open and click through rates were. Test a number of subject lines and you quickly find out which ones get the best results. Recently we sent out five test subject lines for the same email and found out right away which one got the best results.  See if you can guess.

  1. Marketing Slide Show In-a-Box [Ready to use/share]
  2. 54 New Data Slides for Your Marketing Decks
  3. 65 New Charts for Your Presentations
  4. Get Key Marketing Trends from the Marketing Data Box
  5. 65 New Marketing Charts for Your Presentations

The open rates were fairly close, the range going from 14.3% to 13.7%, but the click through rates were dramatically different with the high being 26% and the low being 10.4%.

This points to the importance of subject lines, not so much as the way to improve your open rate, but more as a way to set the expectation. All of these subject lines introduced the identical email, so it wasn’t the layout or wording within the email that had an impact. It was the subject line that set the tone.

People Don’t Like the Bait and Switch

A lot of energy is often put into a clever subject line that gets a good open rate. However, if it has little to do with the content in the email itself, you not only get horrendous click through rates, but you also damage your brand.

People get hundreds of emails a week and when they read them they do so with an expectation that was set up by the subject line. When writing your subject lines start by making sure it has a strong connection to the email itself. If after you’ve tested a number of variations and you still get low open and click through rates it’s not the fault of the subject line – it’s probably your offer. Writing bait and switch subject lines won’t change the eventual results either; they will just make people leery about reading your next email.

Personalizing the Expectations

There is nothing worse than getting an email from a company that clearly has no idea who you are. The obvious example is women getting emails clearly addressed to men and visa versa.

In our latest eBook, “ 7 Steps to Jump-Start Your Email Marketing Strategy ” we talk about segmenting your lists and changing the messaging to appeal to different groups. For example, say you want to promote the same offer to prospects and existing customers or clients.

First you would test similar subject lines for both groups. You could further test tweaks to the winning subject line – one that acknowledges the customer or client.

Then in the body of the email, a slightly different greeting can make even more of an impact. The purpose is to let clients/customers know you are aware that they are clients/customers, while letting prospects know you understand their needs.

A general rule of thumb is that the more thoroughly you can segment your lists and personalize your message, the better your response rates will be. And if you can personalize those expectations in your subject line and greeting, you’ll get even better results.

And the Winner Is!

So which of the five subject lines did you choose as the winner?  Here are the results (OR is open rate and CTR is click through rate) :

  1. 54 New Data Slides for Your Marketing Decks -  13.7% (OR) - 26.0% (CTR)
  2. 65 New Marketing Charts for Your Presentations - 13.7%(OR) - 24.3%(CTR)
  3. 65 New Charts for Your Presentations - 14.3%(OR) - 22.8%(CTR)
  4. Marketing Slide Show In-a-Box [Ready to use/share] - 14.1%(OR) - 14.8%(CTR)
  5. Get Key Marketing Trends from the Marketing Data Box - 12.7%(OR) - 10.4%(CTR)
Which one did you pick? Why do you think the winning one got the best results?

Free Ebook: 7 Steps to Jump-Start Your Email Marketing Strategy


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