Such Fuss About Subject Lines!


Why do you click on an e-mail from me? Or from anyone, for that matter?

A lot of e-mail markers out there obsess about subject lines. How can a subject line capture a reader’s attention? What can I say to make them click on it? I think there is a better approach, but first let me address these obsessions.

There is a lot of testing of subject lines to see which ones perform better in terms of Open Rates. But, this approach is flawed for two reasons.

First of all, the Open Rate isn’t a particularly useful measure of the effectiveness of your e-mail. For starters, Open Rates are notoriously inaccurate because of the way different e-mail viewers work. Some people may have seen and read your e-mail without technically “opening” it.

But more importantly, getting people to open your e-mail isn’t the goal of your marketing. What do people find when they open it? Do they click on links within the e-mail itself? Are they reading the content and engaging with your business? These are all much better measurements of your e-mail’s effectiveness. If your subject line is causing people to click on the e-mail only to find it lacks useful content or has poor design, you have not accomplished your goal.

The second reason the obsession with Subject Lines is misguided is that there are so many reasons people do or don’t open an e-mail. Some people say that it is affected by the time of delivery, or which mailbox it got delivered to. Individually, maybe someone got behind and their Inbox overflowed! But the best indicator of whether someone will open an e-mail is the person or business it is coming from, and whether they have a relationship with them.

That relationship starts at the very beginning of the e-mail marketing interaction – the first couple of pieces you send them after they sign up, or opt in. Those first couple of pieces usually have excellent open rates because people just signed up! And they are critical to establishing the expectation people will have when they receive e-mail from you.

After they have seen one or two e-mails from you, they have a picture in their mind of “what you send.” Does it require them to watch a 15 minute video every time? Or can they glean some useful information within a few minutes? Do they feel connected to you, and find that the e-mails deepen that relationship?

That relationship and those expectations play the biggest role in whether people continue to open, or read, or stay subscribed, or engage with your e-mails.

I have a confession to make. When I sent out my first two e-mail newsletters, I forgot to change the subject line! All it said was the name of my company. Oops! But, in the end, it didn’t really affect my open rates at all. The people on my list still found great content in the e-mail.

Now, let me just say that I am not talking about giant companies with millions of people on their list. They can look at statistics, and test subject lines all they want. But the same rules don’t necessarily apply to small businesses. At that level, the most critical thing is the relationship your readers have with you.

So, if you have established a good relationship with your list, then they will look forward to getting your e-mails, no matter what the subject line is.

Having said that, I’m not recommending that you forget about your subject lines, like I did. Here are some suggestions for creating subject lines with a focus on relationship building:

– Don’t obsess about it!
– Ask them a question that is answered in the e-mail
– Tell them what they will find in the e-mail (e.g. “Find out… ” or “Learn to… “)
– Mix it up – occasionally do a very short or more creative subject line
– Show your personality – its okay to use lingo, or abbreviations, or emoticons as long as it matches who you are and your brand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *