Test Your Way to Success: 11 Tips for Your Email Subject Lines

Avatar Act-On
Email Marketing

When I was in charge of marketing for a B2B media company, I saw thousands of email subject lines. While we had developed best practices, we always knew we would have to test our way to success. So, when an email marketing ninja says “it depends”…in many ways, they are telling you the truth. Your market and customer base have unique needs no matter what you read or are told.

Bottom line: we have to be great with email open rates as we compete for mindshare in the inbox. Here is one of my favorite “inbox” screen shots from my buddy Eric Wittlake: a bunch of media companies filling the inbox with the same offer.


We’re doing a Round Table Thursday, August 23: How to Write Email Subject Lines That Convert, and we’d love for you to join us. It’ll be totally focused on subject lines.

Here are some of the things we’ll cover. These are my eleven favorite tips for your email subject line strategy (which is technically your “email open rate” strategy)

  1. Optimize your subject line for the mobile inbox first – Do I need to tell you how big mobile is? You are probably reading this post on your iPad.
  2. Clear subject lines are the name of the game now — More people clear out their inbox with their mobile phone than ever before. Here is my slogan: “Be clear or get cleared out.”
  3. Be relevant – My buddy Matt Heinz once told me, B2B buyers don’t consider something intrusive if it is relevant. I get tons of email, but if you can hit me with something I care about, I will open the email.
  4. Scalable personalization – Segmenting your database to deliver a personal message that still scales. I once received a message: “Join 25 marketing experts just like you.” I opened it.
  5. Localization – I was talking with the Michael Lodato from Network Hardware Resale who said they increased open rates by 5% by just mentioning the local weather. I got really excited about this tip and saw all the possibilities. I used this concept on a couple mini-email campaigns and they worked. When the lottery reached $350 million, I wrote a long effective one: “If you aren’t in line buying lottery tickets right now, join us for…”
  6. The “From” line – In my old media company days, we had certain brands that converted dramatically better than others. In other words, the open rates for our trusted brands were fantastic and the open rates on our lesser known brand names were much worse. Email experts will tell you the From line can get you deleted pretty quickly.
  7. Numbers/lists – 875 million ways to get your emails opened. Lists still work. I wanted desperately to move away from lists since the concept is so ridiculous right now as every blog post, tweet, etc has a list. We tried, but the numbers spoke for themselves.
  8. Test and test and optimize – I know I already mentioned this, but I actually can’t message it enough. T-T-O or “always be testing” – The best email marketers have patience because they know the drill.  Their open rates will get better over time.
  9. Don’t send once – This isn’t a subject line tip per se, but everyone is busy and the email may get buried. Feel free to send again, and if you want to add a little something to the subject line to recognize that fact, that’s okay.
  10. Follow your competitors – This is not a crazy tip. You can learn a lot about what is working for them that you may want to test. They typically hit the same target market, so let them do some work for you.
  11. Make it actionable – Tell the email reader what he/she is going to do or get. Again, people typically delete more than they open.

Again, join us to have fun talking more about email! Tuesday August 28, 2012 11 am – noon, PT  (2 pm – 3 pm, ET).