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Create the Perfect Email Newsletter- Part 3 – Subject Lines

What’s the best eShot subject line?

There isn’t one! Sorry it’s true. Think about it. There must be a infinite number of combination of content out there in the emails you get. Can you sum all of them up with the same subject line? No. The same runs true here. However there are a few things you could to “help” with your open rates. People who are new to email marketing often ask us, “What is the best subject line for me to use?” or “How should I write my subject lines so that more recipients will open my emails?” So we have got some examples for you to look at to get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. The “highest” open rates were in the range of 60%-87%, while the “lowest” performers fell in the dismal 1%-14% range. Do you see a pattern below?

Best Open Rates (60%-87%)

  • [COMPANYNAME] Sales & Marketing Newsletter
  • Eye on the [COMPANYNAME] Update (Oct 31 – Nov 4)
  • [COMPANYNAME] Staff Shirts & Photos
  • [COMPANYNAME] May 2009 News Bulletin!
  • [COMPANYNAME] Newsletter – February 2009
  • [COMPANYNAME] Newsletter – January 20096 [ *|FIRSTNAME|* *|LASTNAME|* ]
  • [COMPANYNAME] and [COMPANYNAME] Invites You!
  • Happy Holidays from [COMPANYNAME]
  • Invitation from [COMPANYNAME]
  • [COMPANYNAME] Jan/Feb 2009 Newsletter
  • Website news – Issue 3
  • Upcoming Events at [COMPANYNAME]
  • [COMPANYNAME] Councils: Letter of Interest
  • [COMPANYNAME] Coffee Exchange – Post-Katrina Update
  • We’re Throwing a Party
  • October 2009 Newsletter
  • [COMPANYNAME]: 02.10.09
  • [COMPANYNAME] Racing Newsletter

Worst Open Rates (1%-14%)

  • Last Minute Gift – We Have The Answer
  • Valentines – Shop Early & Save 10%
  • Give a Gift Certificate this Holiday
  • Valentine’s Day Salon and Spa Specials!
  • Gift Certificates – Easy & Elegant Giving – Let Them Choose
  • Need More Advertising Value From Your Marketing Partner?
  • [COMPANYNAME] Pioneers in Banana Technology
  • [COMPANYNAME] Moves You Home for the Holidays
  • Renewal
  • Technology Company Works with [COMPANYNAME] on Bananas Efforts
  • [COMPANYNAME] Update – A Summary of Security and Emergency Preparedness News
  • Now Offering Banana Services!
  • It’s still summer in Tahoe!
  • [COMPANYNAME] endorses [COMPANYNAME] as successor
  • [COMPANYNAME] Holiday Sales Event
  • The Future of International Trade
  • [COMPANYNAME] for your next dream home.
  • True automation of your Banana Research
  • [COMPANYNAME] Resort – Spring into May Savings
  • You Asked For More…


On the “best” list, you’ll notice the subject lines are pretty straightforward. They’re not very “salesy” or “pushy” at all. Some people might even say they’re “boring.” On the “worst” list however, notice how the subject lines read like headlines from advertisements you’d see in the Sunday paper. They might look more “creative,” but their open rates are horrible. It’s as if those email marketers assumed that subject lines have to jump off the screen and “GRAB THE READER’S ATTENTION!” or something. Unfortunately, most people get so much junk mail in their inbox, anything that even hints of spam gets thrown away immediately.

Setting Expectations

So does that mean your subject lines should be really stale and un-creative to get high open rates? We don’t think so. We actually saw some campaigns that used more “creative” subject lines (like the ones on the “bad” list) but they had pretty decent open rates. The difference seemed to be in the expectations that were set for the emails. Email newsletters, or eShots are for soft-selling. They build relationships with your customers, and they’re great if your products have a very long sales cycle. Use them to slowly soften your customers for the sale, or to make them feel really good about your brand. If your recipients signed up for these kinds of emails, don’t expect them to be very enthusiastic when, out of the blue, you send an email with a subject line like, “10% Discount! Open Now!” For newsletters, keep your subject lines simple, straightforward, and consistent. On the other hand, if your subscribers specifically opted-in to receive “special offers and promotions” from your company, there’s nothing wrong with saying there’s a “10% off e-coupon inside.” They’ll be expecting a “hard sell” from you. It’s when marketers send promotional emails to their entire “newsletter” list when things go wrong. The idea is to create a totally separate opt-in list for those who want to receive promotional emails. Furthermore, segment your promotions list into smaller, more focused groups before you send your campaign (don’t send an offer for purses and high-heel shoes to the men on your list).

The Secret Formula for Subject-Lines

So what’s our advice for email subject lines? This is going to sound “stupid simple” to a lot of people, but here goes: Your subject line should (drum roll please): Describe the subject of your email. Yep, that’s it. Always set your subscribers’ expectations during the opt-in process about what kinds of emails they’ll be receiving. Don’t confuse email newsletters with promotions. If your email is a newsletter, put the name and issue of the newsletter in your subject line. Because that’s what’s inside. If your email is a special promotion, tell them what’s inside. Either way, just don’t write your subject lines like advertisements. When it comes to email marketing, the best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst subject lines sell what’s inside.

Next Time…

In the next article we will be talking about “eShot Design” (the exciting bit?).

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