If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: subject lines matter when it comes to email marketing. Think of subject lines like the headline of a newspaper article. If it grabs you, you start to read. If the first few paragraphs keep you engaged (similar to an email sweet spot), you keep on going.
Over the past few months, I collected subject lines from all sorts of senders, all based on how they grabbed me the second I saw them. What you'll see here is an exercise in the Sender name, the subject line and a quick analysis of what I liked or despised. There have been no alterations, no punctuation changes and no edits. What you see is what you get.
My hope is that after perusing this piece, you get a sense of what your fellow marketers are doing and how you can be better, resulting in more opens, more views, and more purchases.
Always remember the Golden Rule of email marketing subject lines: Tell what's inside, don't sell what's inside.
Subject: Pat Magoon sent you a message on Facebook...
This is about as straightforward as it gets, as I know the sender and I know the immediate reason I'm being contacted. Granted, this is an auto-responder based on a specific action, but there is no such thing as a wasted email.
From: Russell Goldstein
This was from the ESPN assistant to Le Anne Schreiber, the sports network's ombudsman. It was another auto-reply, but still... no "Thanks for the email to ESPN" or "Your ESPN comment has been received"?
From: AirTran Airways Net Escapes
Subject: 3 Days of Sale Fares for Your Much Needed Vacation!
If I've ever shopped for vacations, I'm usually going for a set location or region and not just a vague offer. Sell me a bit here, guys. Also, do we need a full four-word descriptor for the From? AirTran Airways isn't good enough?
Subject: 30% Coupon—Limited Time
Direct offer, simple source, timeframe established: nice work. I'd like to see "30% off everything" for future mailings to really nail it down.
From: Domino's Pizza
Subject: A Special Offer from your local Domino's Pizza
Ugh. Why so vague? Pizza chain emails traditionally are terrible and do more to deflect opens than intrigue. To date, I have never been blown away or enticed by one of these offers. Ever.
From: AAA Northern New England
Subject: AAA Newsletter—February 2008
Ah, the dreaded (Company X) Newsletter with the month and date. Fun! When I opened up the newsletter, there were all kinds of great discount offers; but, instead, this subject line reads more "library" than "block party."
From: Bob Marley
Subject: Comedian Bob Marley Returns To Boston!!
It's a direct statement that his fans in that area would likely open. Since "Bob Marley" is already in the From line, there's no need to repeat in the subject line. I'd try "Boston dates coming up soon!" instead. Why waste the valuable real estate?
From: CyberLink eNews
Subject: Crucial Blue-ray update, no more HD DVD, Power2Go update, and more
Misspellings and punctuation issues aside, this is fairly informative about what's inside. If you're interested in any of these subjects, you're likely to open this up.
Subject: Fanscape's February Newsletter
For an organization that appeals to younger people interested in today's rock, there is just one letter to sum this subject line up: zzzzzzzzzzzz.
From: Red River Theatres
Subject: Flick Flash: Films for 2/22 - 2/28
Quick: how many times can you say Flick Flash Films in a row? Red River is a local indie theater that apparently doesn't want to intrigue you to open up the email. Next time, try "Oscar winners appearing all week long" or something fun.
From: Dunkin' Donuts
Subject: Stop by Tuesday 2/26 for a special treat from 1-10 pm
I've written about this email on our company blog, as I love it. Direct date, direct offer and a little mystery ("special treat"). Dunkin's email practices are a model of what other major chains should be doing.
From: 101.7 FNX Promotions
Subject: FNX E-file 2.13.08
Is this a marketing email or an Excel document? You're a radio station, meaning promotions are extremely important to you. This is the best you can come up with? Trying way too hard to be hip with this one.
From: Cybear Club
Subject: Hub Buzz: P.J. is Having a Pajama Party
I love it. It's from the Boston Bruins' email list (the brand could be better represented) and lays out an interesting reason to open: someone is having a pajama party. A hockey guy? What the...? Just like that, I opened it up and saw that veteran P.J. Axelsson is hosting a charity event. Nice work.
Subject: IPod Shuffle. Now just $49.
Doesn't get much more plain and direct than this. If you're interested in a Shuffle and have $50 kickin' around, this is for you. This is an example of marketing at its most basic level: Tell them what you're offering and at what price.
From: The Jimmy Fund
Subject: Join Dustin Pedroia: Show your Red Sox pride
I'm not of the mindset that putting in a Major League Baseball player's name in an email is good enough to get people to open. What if some of the Jimmy Fund list aren't fans? Something like "Join Red Sox player Dustin Pedroia at a special event this Thursday" would be more fitting.
From: Lake Erie Monsters Insider
Subject: Tune In Tonight
To what? This was the first email I had got from the sender in months, so I guess I'm to assume it was a televised game? A suggestion: "Monsters vs. Devils in your living room tonight!"
From: Warped Tour
Subject: Who do YOU want to see open up for The Used?
Who, ME? This is a good direct line that either gets you to vote in this contest or not. I think the random capitalization is hilarious though. What's the point of that?
Subject: Watch LIVE on ESPN Classic—Inaugural Pan-Pacific Championship 2008
I'd much rather see the From name as Major League Soccer and not the site URL as a best practice. In general, this line is way too wordy. How about "Pan-Pacific Championship on ESPN Classic tonight"? Taking out words like "watch," "live," and the year eliminate what are unnecessary statements (based on the overall intent of the message." And, again, what's with the random capitalization? We must be looking at two isolated cases from MLS and Warped Tour, right?
From: National Football League
Subject: Watch LIVE Workouts from the 2008 NFL Scouting combine Today
So what did we learn?
- Don't discount the importance of the From name. Keep it your company name and not an individual's name or drawn-out term. In addition, keep your company name out of the subject line: It's redundant—a waste of valuable real estate.
- There is no point to using all caps in a subject line. OK? (Unless it's "OK.")
- Write a compelling subject line that won't deceive people. If people aren't opening it, that's OK, as you'll have many more campaigns to intrigue them. If you break the receiver's trust early, you'll have to work twice as hard to get it back. Never forget the Golden Rule.
- Most important, have some fun with subject lines! If you're struggling that much with how to talk to your audience in a single-sentence format, give it to someone else to writes. Just make sure that you don't explain the task in all caps, please.