Make a Great First Impression (and learn more at the OMS event in February) – Part One

True in email as in life, you only have one chance to make a first impression. It’s your subject line. Unless the reader has a preview pane, the subject line is your first and only chance to encourage a subscriber to actually read and respond to your call to action. So what are the magic words that will entice your subscriber to take the next step? In part one of this blog posting, I’ll provide you with a few do’s and don’ts that will help you find the best combination to elicit a higher response.

  • Do Be Short and To the Point. We recommend that you keep your subject lines to 55 characters or less. Between 30-40 characters is preferred since the first 30 are the most visible in the inbox. This will also ensure that your subject line doesn’t get cut off at a crucial point in your message.
  • Do Be a Marketer, But Be Wary. The fact is that subscribers still respond to “free” so you can continue to use it if it is true and not overhyped. Just go easy on this and other great direct marketing words like “discount” and “now.” For instance, don’t capitalize or use exclamation marks. Always run your content through a spam filter before sending to your entire file. The word “free” means nothing if no one sees it.
  • Don’t be Deceptive. Clarity always trumps clever – so keep your subject lines simple and to the point. Egregious spammer tricks like putting “RE:” or “FW:” in the subject line should always be avoided. Also avoid anything that doesn’t clearly state the offer or content headline. Using copy that does not accurately reflect your content is bad business and does not promote trust in email. Oh, and it could also get you into legal trouble since these practices may violate the federal CAN-SPAM Act that requires subject line transparency.
  • Do Entice and Deliver. Be relevant and state your value proposition. This is the best way to interest a subscriber and get them to open your email. Just stick to the facts. Subject lines like “A gift for you,””2 Day Event: Take 25% off,” or “Just hours to go. Extra 20% off Last Chance Bargains” can work best. Another great trick is to use your best performing search keywords in the subject line – these are words that your customers use to describe your products and solutions..
  • Do Test and Test Again. Guessing is never the right answer. It’s so easy to test subject lines that there is no reason not to with every campaign. One caution: when optimizing, be sure to let the winner establish a true lead – this can take up to a full day in some cases. We often see that the early winner is not the winner at the end – so watch the subject line performance over time for a few campaigns until you understand where the inflection point for your file is located.

Next week we will discuss more best practices for subject lines as well as a few tips for writing them.

In the meantime, I invite you to join me at the Online Marketing Summit in San Diego in February, where I will be talking more about subject lines as part of creating great subscriber experiences. This summit is by invitation only. Apply for an invitation here. Mention that you heard about the event from Return Path and you will receive a 40% discount if you apply before January 11th.

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