Eat me. Drink me. Open me.
There are a lot of good reasons to open a personal email. You got confirmation of your flight reservations to Bali. Your Grammie sent you a birthday card. Your therapist emailed you to let you know that your Monday appointment has been switched to Thursday because her cat died.
But if you’re a business trying to get people to open your marketing emails, you have to be clever and think strategically. You have to be even more clever if you want them to actually click through to your site and buy something.
In email marketing, we document success through two main measurements of what we call engagement – “open rate” and “click through rate (CTR)”. Open rate defines the number of people who open your email and (hopefully) read it. This number is important because it means that your email doesn’t get lost in someone’s inbox or – THE HORROR! – in their spam folder.
An email’s click through rate shows you how many people have clicked on one of the links in your email. If you’ve created a great email with a single call-to-action, a high click through rate means people are doing what you want them to do. But without a good open rate, a high CTR is useless. What’s a good open rate? On average, 20-25% open rate is a fairly good number. In eCommerce, though, 17% is more common. Of course, if your CTR is high but your open rate is low, it may mean you need to write better subject lines. After all, the subject line is how your email makes its first impression.
Say it Loud, Say it Clear
There are a bunch of ways to craft better email subject lines. Some people will tell you that you have to write very short subject lines. Some people will also tell you that Johnny Cash wasn’t the greatest country singer ever. People can be dumb.
I’ve heard it said that more than 3 or 4 words won’t produce a high open rate. But it isn’t so clear cut. Research has shown that somewhere between 9-14 words is an ideal length, or between 40-50 characters. However, there is no conclusive evidence that a longer, compelling subject line can hurt open rates. A/B testing is the best way to know for sure, and that number may only be accurate for desktop devices.
Email on the go
We all do it. On the bus. On the train. In line at the grocery. While we’re supposed to be paying attention during a meeting. Checking email on a mobile device is a regular part of life nowadays. Almost half of all emails are read on mobile. Knowing how your email is going to look on a mobile device is vital to understanding how to convince people to open it.
Since half of the emails opened on mobile are opened on Apple devices, be sure to look at how your email will display in the Mail app or other email clients on an iOS device. An iPhone displays about 35-38 characters when it is held in portrait mode, more in landscape mode. Is anyone holding an iPhone in landscape mode when checking email? Yeah. Didn’t think so. If you’re optimizing for mobile, keeping the subject line short is important. But mobile email clients (and some desktop clients) also display the part of your email which is called the pre-header. That’s the short description that appears under the subject line. Using effective and relevant text in the pre-header is also important to increase open rates.
Good email is like all good content. It is straightforward, descriptive and compelling. Don’t use words that are confusing. Don’t say things like “There’s a sale happening”, when you can say, “Today only, get 20% off!” A sense of urgency, clear instructions, and a consistent, on-brand tone will keep your audience engaged and also manage their expectations. No one wants to be let down. Not even by emails. At the same time, you want to engage your audience and pique their interest.
I get emails from Quora almost every day and I almost always open them. The reason is simple. The subject line always displays a question that they know I will be interested in. They know my history and they know my interests. Segmenting your audience and creating personalized subject lines is a sure way to create engagement.
I got another email this week whose subject line made me open it. It came from The Noun Project, a site for icons. The subject was “Noun Project is evolving with you”. The subject line was perfect. It was direct enough that I knew basically what was going on but intriguing enough that I wanted to open it. It was personal and it was compelling.
What have we learned?
People aren’t perfect and neither are email subject lines. Except Grammie. Grammie is perfect.
But email subjects are not and no amount of cleverness will deliver a 100% open rate. You have to be creative, direct, and clever. Most important of all, you have to test. A/B testing subject lines is really the only way to know for sure if your email will deliver a conversion or end up in the trash. Do it for your business. Do it for your customers.
Do it for Grammie.