Are Subject Lines Over Rated?

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Since the dawn of email marketing, many believed that best practice suggests that subject lines are the key to email marketing success. I want to break that perception of best practice. While subject lines are very important, they aren’t as critical as you might think. There are other areas you need to focus on first.


Who is the email from?

The general sub-concious process your subscribers take when they see an email in their inbox is:

  • Who is the email from?
  • What is the email about?

It is more than likely that your subscriber will make the decision on whether to open the email or not, based upon the answer to these questions. Therefore the starting point should be to look at testing your from name, before looking at your subject lines.

Whenever we have tested the from name, we have experienced uplift of at least 20% in opens, and most importantly clicks. How? We use a first name as part of the from name, so ‘Name – Company Name’.

Why does this make a difference? Well we think it is because we all prefer email from an individual, rather than a blast from a faceless company. It also gives you the ability to add your personality into the email before they open it, with many of these made-up names becoming cult heroes amongst the subscriber base!

What they think about your emails

When asking themselves the question who is this email from, this then leads onto what do I think about their emails? If the last few emails they have received have had nothing of interest, then recipients may have already made the assumption that the content won’t be relevant, and therefore won’t even take your amazingly crafted subject line into consideration.

This is also why lists can fatigue quickly. Maxemail’s ‘Lifecycle Report’ shows the average open rate per email a subscriber receives. On most ‘Batch & Blast’ emails the open rate has dropped by more than half by the 4th email customers receive, as they realise there is no value in the company emails.

To change this is not a quick tactical fix, but a change from batch & blast to thinking about relevance and value of emails.

It’s about the click, not open

Well for many it’s actually about the purchase you hope to generate from sending the email. Certainly getting the customer to click from the email onto your site is more important than them just opening the email.

If the customer has opened the email because of the subject line, but then they find nothing to back that intent up in the email, then it is a wasted exercise. That is why basic subject lines that simply state what is in the email underperform over open rate compared to subject lines that inspire intrigue, but 9/10 generate more clicks.

Currently there are a few tools out there which claim they can predict the best performing subject line based on words you enter. This is great but they miss the idea of making sure your subject line has the utmost relevance to the actual content of the email.

So should I ignore the subject line? No, that would be foolish as it still has an impact on overall response rates but make sure you get the most important factors right first.

About Rupert Adam

Marketing Manager at Emailcenter, the UK's largest independent ESP.