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The best subject line for your sector? “Alert’, “Daily’ and “Free delivery’ create great response, but content marketing terms fail

A subject line is one of the main things under an email marketer’s control to influence their customers’ behaviour. Having an ineffective, confusing or overly-clever subject line delivers a poor user experience for the online journey.

In the last couple of years, the way consumers interact with email has changed drastically. Much like the broader web, email is now all about usability. The 2013 Adestra Subject Line Analysis report shows what works and what doesn’t, and gives ideas on how to improve results.

With the volumes of emails mushrooming and open and click through rates difficult to maintain, don’t forget that even if the campaigns aren’t opened the subject line is still performing – as they deliver key brand and product information to customers’ inboxes.

Parry MalmParry Malm, Account Director at Adestra, says: “Subject line strategy should be seen as a series of branding tools over a period of time, not just one-offs to drive short term response. With usability firmly in mind, there are key words and phrases that statistically help drive response in your sector, try them and test them – constant testing is vital to success.”

Adestra recently undertook a survey of over 2.2 billion emails, from over 90,000 campaigns, to identify trends in subject lines. These cover keywords and phrases that recipients respond to better OR are overused and ineffective for a sector. The research is split into six sectors: B2B publishing; B2C Publishing; B2B Events; B2C Events; Charities & Not for Profit; and Retail & Ecommerce.

Email communication generally is trending towards usability.  Brands having a “Sale” will drive response by simple saying so (+23.2% open rate, +60.7% click rate); brands with something “New” must talk about it (+17.2%, +38.2%); new “Video” content must be promoted (+18.5%, 64.8%).

Overall usage patterns of email have drastically changed in the last few years, influencing how people interact with email as a communications channel.  With the growth in popular content aggregators, many don’t bother to sign up for a newsletter anymore. While the word “˜newsletter’ shows a marginal effect on open rates (+0.7%), but a strong negative effect on click rates (-18.7%.), “˜Alert’ performs much better +38.1% opens and +61.8% clicks. It’s a great action word, creating urgency among reader and gives the impression that the news is breaking, and cannot be missed.

It looks as though one of the big trends this year, Content Marketing, has over-saturated customers, both B2B and B2C, with too much information.  For example, “Report” (-23.7%, -54.8%,) “Learn” (-35.5%, -60.8%,) and “Book” (-4.6%, -25.4%) are trending down.  Email marketers clearly need to focus on differentiating their offering, as delivering content marketing is becoming a competitive area.

Creating an expectation to receive scheduled messages works well as customers get into the habit of reading them. Communications that are sent out “Daily” (+27.8%, +100.3%) and “Weekly” (+27.1%, +50.6%) perform strongly. Conversely, “Monthly” (-26.6%, -37.0%) is probably too infrequent, losing the top-of-mind position that brands may have spent years working on.

Obviously, people like to save money and everyone loves getting a good deal.  For example, simple things like offering “Free Delivery” (+50.7%, +135.4%), or specifying a percentage off in the subject line (+10.5%, +27.4%.) seem to work a treat.

Check out the infographic – 4 steps to writing killer subject lines


Check out the updated version of this post for mobile-friendly subject lines, and the brand new Subject Line Report!