The Subject Line Debate

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Is it more important to have a short or long subject line?

The answer to this is not I think simply a yes or no. The answer depends on what the email is setting out to do and who the target audience is. Business emails that are sent out to many recipients can be many different types, all of which serve valid purposes. There is the email update or email newsletter type email, there is the sales or product focused email, there is the news alert or news release type email. So let’s have a look at the differences:

The newsletter/email update
The major purpose of this type of email – particularly for B2B and professional services types of businesses – is simply to remind recipients of your existence and your expertise. If you are able to provide your readers, clients and prospects alike, with useful information, you become a trusted source of information and advice, and when they are ready to use your expertise, they know where to find you. The purpose is less to directly sell your services than to reinforce your expertise and enhance your credibility.

With these types of email, the subject line needs to be as long as necessary to convey all the items in the email the reader might be interested in, to encourage them to open and read it. The online business news website Smartcompany does this with their daily news emails – their subject lines are always very long, but informative when you’re scanning your inbox.

The sales/product focused email
This type email is the one where a short and sharp subject line is going to get the best results. It is better with these type emails to only be talking about one thing. If this is the only type of email you send however, be prepared for low open rates and higher unsubscribe rates, as those people who are not interested in taking up your product or service offering immediately, tire of only getting promotional messages from you. This applies particularly in B2B and professional services, less in consumer and retail where there is a greater likelihood of an impulse type purchase.

The news alert/news release email
If you have some important news, it’s a good idea to tell everyone. The subject line here should be reasonably short and to the point. Don’t necessarily wait until your next update is due out if the news is important enough.

In our opinion businesses should be sending out a judicious mix of all three types of email – if you’re only sending out email newsletter type emails you may not be making the most of email to promote specific products and services. If you’re only sending out promotional emails, people soon tire of being sold to all the time and will start unsubscribing or ignoring. It’s also good to mix things into your regular (monthly) update, but certainly send single subject emails from time to time to promote individual products and services.

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