Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Subject Matters

How many times have you opened your mail next to the garbage can, tossing in newspaper ads and junk mail?  And out of those things that you chose to discard, how many did you throw away without even opening?  There are many reasons that we throw an unopened envelope into the garbage can - we recognize it immediately as junk, we know the sender and can guess what's inside, we know what's inside and we're just not interested.  Incredibly, these reasons don't apply only to envelopes that we can physically hold in our hand.  They also apply to email.  Think of all the times that you've deleted an email without even bothering to open it.  What were the reasons?  Did you immediately recognize it as junk mail?  Did you know the sender and guessed what was probably contained in the body of the email?  Or, were you just not interested?  Whether you use email marketing as the primary means of connecting with your customers, or whether it plays just a small role, it's important to make sure that each of your emails is being opened and read.

Fifty characters is generally all you have to catch your reader's eye, to make him or her want to open the email.  Fifty characters.  That doesn't leave a whole lot of wiggle room, so you've got to make sure that you get it right.  But how?

As an email reader, I absolutely love my spam filter.  I view it as sort of a "cyber bodyguard", not allowing anything near me that may be annoying or even harmful.  As an email marketer, however, the spam filter has earned its place as my marketing nemesis.  Knowing what key words are going to trigger the filter can be a tricky thing.  For a long time, it was widely reported that using the word "free" would earn your email a free trip to spam land.  This isn't necessarily the case.  Research shows that customers are more likely to open an email if they believe that there's some sort of offer inside, so the word "free" can be an important trigger to opening the email.  However, any subject line that uses all capital letters or multiple exclamation points is sure to be caught by the spam filter.  So, if you want to use "free", go ahead!  Just don't put it at the beginning of the subject line or in all caps.

Research shows that most people look at the "From" line in the email first, so make sure that your company's name is clearly identified.  For example, in my inbox right now I have 35 unread emails.  There are a few from well-know coupon sites (I'm a deal junkie), some from family members, and one from "John".  The subject line of "John's" email is just as ambiguous:  "Try something new today".  Well, "John" isn't going to get a second look.  The simple fact that I don't know what company "John" works for, coupled with the broad range of "somethings new" that could be awaiting me in the body of the email, and my curiosity may take me on a one-way trip into virus-land for all I know.  Deleted.  Make sure that your company is clearly identified.

Since your company will be identified in the "From" field, it's unnecessary to repeat it in the subject line.  Doing so will only take away from your precious character count.  Use the subject line to draw the reader in, but also be clear about what they'll find inside.  Don't mislead or exaggerate, or you run the risk of losing your readers' trust.  A great place to get ideas about how to write a subject line might just be sitting on your front porch.  The newspaper is a prime example of what it takes to draw a reader into an article.  The writers, just like you, have very limited space.  Because of this, each headline must be eye-catching and accurately describe the content of the article.  Taking lessons from these headlines will help you learn to write your own fantastic email subject lines.

When it comes to keeping your email in the inbox, and not the deleted folder, the subject really does matter.

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