What do the words “free,” “discount” and “special offer” have in common? One hint: The fact they strongly connote a hard-sell tactic definitely has something to do with it. The answer? Because each is associated with the utterly obvious, hit-you-over-the-head pushiness that has become synonymous with spam, they have earned common status as a marketer’s kryptonite.
While the contextual nuances of certain words have rendered them useless for legitimate e-mail campaigns, where subject lines are concerned, huge misconceptions regarding language still exist, relates Nick Usborne, publisher of the ExcessVoice.com Newsletter for online writers and copywriters, and author of “Net Words: Creating High-Impact Online Copy” (McGraw-Hill, 2002). “The purpose of the subject line is to get your e-mail opened,” he explains. And with the very real possibility that your e-mail can be filtered by ISPs, company servers and individual recipients, or at Internet gateways, says Usborne, getting it right is crucial to your ROI. So how do you avoid the spam distinction? Read on for three best practices for writing your e-mail subject line.
Tell, don’t sell. According to an e-mail marketing subject line comparison survey conducted by The Rocket Science Group, an Atlanta-based company that specializes in Web-based tools and applications, the e-mails that achieved the worst open rates (1 percent to 14 percent) had subject lines that, “read like headlines from advertisements you’d see in the Sunday paper.” These messages carried an overtly promotional message, a tactic, says Usborne, that significantly increases the chance your message will be filtered. The e-mails in the survey with the best open rates (60 percent to 87 percent) include, “[COMPANY NAME] Sales & Marketing Newsletter,” “Eye on the [COMPANY NAME] Update (Oct. 31-Nov. 4)” and “[COMPANY NAME] Staff Shirts & Photos.” In each of these successful examples, the marketer is setting expectations for what prospects will find, should they open the message. “The best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst subject lines sell what’s inside,” write the authors of The Rocket Science Group study.