Good subject, bad subject

It’s no secret that the subject line of an email newsletter can have a big impact on the open rate. Give people a compelling reason to open the thing, and usually they will.

However, if the subject promises more than the email actually delivers then you’ll shoot yourself in the foot: a big open rate, yes. But a high unsubscribe rate too.

This isn’t exactly the cutting edge of online marketing. So it’s surprising that some companies do email so badly.

Here’s an example. I entered two ballots to purchase tickets to gigs recently, I wasn’t confident of success. But like entering a competition, it seemed worth a go.

One was for Hard-Fi’s album launch tour – a series of gigs in tiny venues a couple of months back. The other was just a day or so ago, to get in on the presale for XFM’s Winter Wonderland, a Christmas fundraising concert featuring some big names.

I got emails back from both saying I’d been unsuccessful. The subject line from XFM? ‘Winter Wonderland Pre-Sale Commiserations‘. Upfront and honest – I knew straight away that I hadn’t been lucky.

But the Hard-Fi one was pretty misleading: ‘Important Ticket Information‘. So it’s ‘important’, eh? Must be good news.

Er… no. In fact, it was completely unimportant, because I hadn’t been successful and therefore didn’t have to rush to buy my allocated tickets before a deadline.

I was annoyed – and not just because I didn’t get tickets. (Their recent singles have been rubbish actually, so it might’ve been a blessing in disguise.)

This kind of hopeless choice of subject line crops up again and again, on all sorts of emails.

So next time you write to customers, prospective customers or, well, anyone really, think about the subject line. It’s the first thing people see, so it needs to have the right impact:

  1. Don’t overpromise. People hate it when they feel deceived. If there isn’t anything inside the email to make it worth opening, then don’t send it.
  2. Keep it short. Many email clients and webmail services will chop the end off long subject lines, so get to the point fast.
  3. Think about including your company or brand name. People these days are really switched on to spam and other email threats, so you need to reassure them if you can.

There’s not much more to it than that. Be realistic, do an honest job of selling what’s inside and watch your open rate soar.

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