While the message and design of each e-mail are crucial to converting recipients, the subject line is the outer envelope, if you will. It must strike the right tone in order to get prospects to open.
In the recent how-to guide All About Email Creative, published by DirectMarketingIQ, a chapter is devoted to the best practices in writing subject lines. The author of that chapter, direct response copywriter Ivan Levison, says the success of an entire e-mail campaign rests on whether or not the subject line works.
Levison mentions these three ways, among many others, to perfect the subject line.
1. Communicate fast, just like on an outer envelope
As Levison says, getting someone to open a paper envelope is a heck of a lot easier than getting past the subject line. Why? Because with a paper envelope you have plenty of space to write teaser copy and add photography or illustration if it's appropriate. You can create something unique that stands out from all the other mail in the pile and screams out benefits that will get the prospect to read the letter within.
Meanwhile, subject lines all look the same and have to be kept short. This means that every subject line must communicate extremely quickly. According to Levison, that means 40 characters or less.
2. Test those lines!
Just as you don't go on stage without rehearsing your lines a ton, subject lines deserve the same treatment if you want a decent showing. According to e-mail list broker/manager Robert Mendez, if you have at least 5,000 names, then you have enough names for an e-mail test cell.
Why is it worth testing? "A strong subject line can double the response," Mendez says. In other words, a 4 percent response rate can turn into an 8 percent response rate just by using the right subject line.