Enormous amounts of time and money has gone into studying the most effective word choices in email subject headers — and yet, the results often conflict: what works for one company may not work for another. Always up for debate is using “percent” or “%”. Studies have shown that this word both triggers computer and human spam traps, but sometimes increases open rates. The only way to know what’s best for your company is to do an A/B test.
Also conflicting is the use of first names, especially for B2B companies. Contemporary audiences may feel seeing their name in email is more personal, while older audiences may feel it’s too intrusive. If you’re a B2B, try putting the recipient’s company name in the header. This shows a previous business relationship and personal connection without risking being perceived as too chummy for knowing their name.
Targeted email headers
“Personal” and “timely” are the most important reasons readers reported opening email in a 2012 study from one email marketing group. Subject headers that concisely and clearly stated information that readers wanted were the most effective.
The most successful email campaigns catch customers when they are ready to shop: travel info before their vacation, diaper coupons when they have an infant at home, personal information from family and friends.
To target the right customer, build customer profiles with social media and webforms. Knowing when to send birthday or anniversary emails can make a big difference in the sense of interaction a customer has with your brand. Test your subject headers within your segmented sub-lists to determine which phrasing and length works best.
The human spam filter
At least half of your userbase have been using email since before 2003, when the CAN SPAM Act outlawed the most egregious email spam sins; these more experienced email users can sniff an email scam a thousand pixels away. It may not be fair, but some words have developed spam-like connotations, like “work from home” or “free.” Also avoid phrasing your deal so it sounds too good to be true. Is anything ever completely free?
Another suspicious phrase, if you aren’t a nonprofit, is the word “help.” Too many Nigerian prince scams have left people too wary to become a duped Samaritan. We all have our generosity begged upon several times a day, and there’s only so much we can give. Instead of asking for help in the subject line, inform readers about the issue and how they can get involved.
Sell an idea, not a bottom line
Skiing in Aspen is a vacation; cheap flight tickets is a detail. Be specific that your email is for flight tickets, but include the idea of the fabulous vacation, as well. “50% off American Air” sounds too good to be true and is generically dull. “Fly to Aspen on a budget this holiday” sounds like a great vacation that any budget can — and deserves — to afford.
Be specific about how this deal or product will solve a problem or improve this specific customer’s life. When you have segmented your list, you will know your subject header has caught the right customer’s eye.