I’ve been fishing since the invention of the Sony Walkman. My father started me catching fish in a bucket with a string and a coat hanger, and I was hooked (pun intended) ever since. Through the years, I have evolved into a very formidable foe to anything with gills and fins.
One lesson I've learned from my fishing experience is that presentation is everything. If you don’t offer the bait correctly, all you have is a wet line.
Now, I am applying my fishing skills to email campaigns. I have been implementing and analyzing email campaigns for the past five years as sales solutions manager here at MarketingProfs. Optimizing open rates is one of my main goals, and I have done extensive research to raise the percentages. Sure, internet providers and email clients play a major role in open rates, but I firmly believe that your subject line is the most important aspect of catching your prize.
Here are some things fishing and subject lines have in common.
A.) You have to use the time you have wisely.
Picture this: An 8-inch trout swimming around waiting for something to eat, and you are ready to catch it. You feel fully prepared to reel this one in, as you toss a 10-inch lure made for a shark at its head. Splash! The lure just about knocks the fish unconscious… and that fish is never to be seen again.
That image is not far off from a wordy long subject line. People cherish their time and are very particular where they invest it. Don’t scare them off with long, time intensive subject lines. The best subject lines are ones that use that space wisely, and keep it short, concise and informative. The highest open rates came from subject lines with average of 46 characters or less (see below C1); while the lowest open rates came from subject lines of 57 characters or higher (see below C2).
B.) Your lure needs to fit the situation.
Imagine the same scenario as above—except this time we do have the right size lure. We are definitely catching the trout now, right? Not necessarily.
So, you’ve got the right size lure, but you tied it on with fluorescent pink line and used grapes for bait. Most fish don’t like pink line and grapes. Now, the fish is just annoyed that you’ve invaded its space. You obviously don’t belong where it is.
What I believe to be the most important part of a subject line is what it says. Tie your ideas neatly together; make your subject line enticing. Make it belong. Don’t annoy or confuse the reader with vague, unrelated information. You have something for them, so use this chance to tell them exactly what you have. Once considered an email no-no, the word “free” is a great way to start. "Free" is enticing, exact, and appears in almost all of the highest open rate email subject lines: free content, free webinars, free events, etc. (See below C1).
Conversely, the word “free” did not appear in any of the lowest open rate email subject lines. (See below C2.)
C.) Know how to reel in a great catch.
Now that you have your email recipients' attention, hook them with a solid finish. Example C1 shows a great way to do this. You know you are getting free instruction on how to create great webinars. All the information is tied together and nicely presented.
Free Webinar: How to Create Great Webinars (26% open rate)
That subject line is a good example of A (42 characters, tells you what it is, and what you will be learning) and B.
C2. The State of Social Media Marketing and Social Scoring for Marketing Goals ( 17% open rate)
Unfortunately, that subject line doesn't meet the requirements of A (74 characters, doesn’t tell you what it is), and it is a very broad vague topic. What goals? I have a million of them. Nor does it match the description of B.
I would love to see some examples of subject lines that convinced you to open, and some that made you swim the other direction. Feel free to share them in the comments section!