Increase Email Open Rates With These Subject Line Hacks

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Partner & Chief Creative Officer
Sep 4, 2018

Let's face it: email marketing doesn't exactly get many people's rockets firing. As a consumer, you might consider them an inbox-clogging annoyance. Digital marketing professionals know that they come with a ton of moving parts that make them an expensive pain in the you-know-what. There's KPIs to track, customer segmentation, CTA placement, design, timing, messaging...the list goes on and on.

So, Why Even Bother?

In spite of all this, email still remains one of the most effective marketing channels. Don't believe me? Just consider the stats. For 59% of B2B marketers, email is their highest revenue-driving channel. B2C companies that utilize email marketing automation can see conversion rates as high as 50%. In the US, marketers have found that email has a median ROI of 122% - more than 4x higher than paid search, social media and direct mail efforts. Again, I could go on and on. Suffice it to say marketing emails are worth the investment if they're done correctly.

While it's possible to write a book on how to correctly set up all the different elements of email, none of the other parts even matter if your subject line stinks. Two more stats for you: 47% of recipients open emails based on the subject line alone, and 69% of them report email as spam based on the subject line. Although subject lines are short and may seem inconsequential, it's critical to get them right.

At our web consulting agency, we like to combine an emphasis on user experience with data and research in everything we do, and crafting emails is no exception. Here are the four guiding principles, based on data and the way real users think, that we stick to when writing subject lines:

Psychology-based Hacks for Crafting Email Subject Lines

Include motivators.

Email is essentially direct mail's younger, hotter descendant. So it shouldn't be surprising that we can transfer some of the lessons learned from direct mail marketing into email. Herschell Gordon Lewis, copywriter and author of Open Me Now, broke down six "marketing motivators" that increase response rates. These are: fear, exclusivity, greed, guilt, need for approval and anger. If your subject line can incite one of these responses in your recipients, you've just upped your open rates.

Let's try creating a few sample subject lines to get you thinking. To create exclusivity, you have to create a sense of urgency. For example, "Limited offer - only 100 samples left. Claim yours now."

How can you inspire greed? Try something like, "Work less, make more - how can your money work for you?" If you think your audience will respond best to peer approval, you could say "Five sensational gifts anyone would be grateful for." Once you start thinking about how to use your subject line copy to inspire a specific emotion, you'll be surprised by how easily the ideas flow in.

Build trust.

Our lives are so saturated with advertisements and marketing that nearly all consumers have become incredibly skeptical. The last thing you want your subject line to do is trigger suspicion or distrust in your recipients. It should generate interest, not annoyance.

So pay attention to the small details in your subject lines. For example, don't capitalize every word of your subject line. "Limited Offer - Only 100 Samples Left!" seems a lot more spammy than "Limited offer - only 100 samples left." It's a small difference, but people are conditioned to recognize these little cues and respond accordingly.

Generating a false sense of urgency also only works if you aren't doing it every single time, so don't make every matter seem like an emergency. That's not to say that you shouldn't give your subject line a bit of timeliness to make your recipient feel the need to read your message sooner rather than later. Just try to put yourself in your recipients' shoes when writing copy. Would you open that email, or would you immediately trash it? Next time you sort through your inbox, pay attention to the emails you open and the ones you dump and try to consider what made you take that action.

Ask a question or offer a benefit.

People are always more likely to do anything if they think it will benefit them. That's really not rocket science. Say, for example, that you use your emails to distribute your company's blogs. Title your email "Read our latest blog!", and guess what recipients are not going to do? Instead, you want to make them feel like you're giving them something of value. If your subject line implies that the reader will profit from the content of your message, they'll probably click it, even if only out of curiosity.

Speaking of curiosity, if you can make your reader curious you can almost guarantee that they'll want to read your email. So, instead of saying, "Lose 10 pounds in two weeks!" say, "Is it possible to lose 10 pounds in two weeks safely?" The first line makes a reader think "Ugh, spam." But the second one might make them think "Could I lose 10 pounds that fast? I do have that reunion next month..." Click.

Personalize it.

Imagine having two e-mails: one with a generic subject line and one that states your name. Data shows you and other users are 30% more likely to click on the latter. Calling individuals by their names when making a pitch is a well-known sales technique, so why wouldn't you use it in your email if you can?

For example, "Identity theft is on the rise - you may be at risk" vs "Identity theft is on the rise - you may be at risk, Kim". Which one do you think Kim is more likely to click on? The one-size-fits-all subject line, or the one that makes her wonder whether there is a specific reason why she, Kim, could be particularly at risk?

Given the character limit restrictions on subject lines it may not always make sense to include a recipient's name, but if you can fit it in, it certainly doesn't hurt.

These tips are designed to help you increase your open rates. If you follow them correctly, we can almost guarantee that you'll see that happen. However, while the subject line is critical for getting your foot in the door it is not enough to get readers to reach your end goal. A subject line that doesn't deliver on the expectations it created will be identified as clickbait by today's savvy consumers. More than that, it will keep them from opening any subsequent emails and may even cause them to unsubscribe entirely.

The main content of your email, its layout and effective CTAs are equally as important when it comes to driving actual conversions. We'll cover all that in future posts - be sure to check back soon!

Need a team of expert digital marketers to craft your e-mail marketing campaigns and increase your open rates? Contact our web consulting company today.

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