Latest Subject-Line Study Offers Actionable Data

In the current issue of PR News (12/3/2012), there’s a story on e-mail campaign pitfalls and best practices. One major pitfall is that two-thirds of e-mails sent aren’t relevant to their audiences (MarketingSherpa). One best practice is ensuring you tie your e-mails to social networks for maximum effect.

Then there’s making a good first impression: the subject line. What constitutes a good subject line has been debated for years. I often second-guess my subject lines when reaching out to potential story sources.

Now a new study by Adestra offers some strong subject-line data. Analyzing 1.159 billion B2B e-mails sent within the last 12 months, the study finds subject lines that work best are either less than 30 characters, or longer than 90 characters. In-between lengths are termed the “dead zone.”

Word count results in the study produced similar results to the character lengths in that each end of the count scale performed the highest. However the comparative results show that much shorter subject lines (14 or fewer words) produced considerably higher engagement than longer subject lines.

Here are some findings pertaining to specific terms commonly used in e-mails that might be helpful to your own campaigns:

News terms: “News” (16.2%), “update” (4.9%), “breaking” (33.5%), “alert” (25.9%) and “bulletin” (12.5%) all saw better-than-average click-to-open rates, with “newsletter” being the only term to perform below-average in each metric.
Content terms: “Issue” (8.5%) and “top stories” (5.9%) were the only to perform above average in click-to-opens, although the latter saw slightly below average open and click rates. “Forecast,” “report,” “whitepaper” and “download” all saw below-average performance in each of the three metrics. “Research,” “interview” and “video” scored above average for opens, but below average for clicks and click-to-opens.
Benefit terms: “Latest” was the only to see above average clicks (8.8%) and click-to-opens (9%), while “special,” “exclusive” and “innovate,” while performing average in opens, fared far more poorly in clicks and click-to-opens.
Event terms: Each of these terms performed below average in opens, clicks, and click-to-opens. The terms examined were: “exhibition,” “conference,” “webinar,” “seminar,” “training,” “expo,” “event,” “register” and “registration.” The worst offender for click-to-opens was “webinar” at -63.5%.

So keep some of these findings in mind when crafting campaign subject lines. And for heavens sake, make sure first that your e-mails are relevant to your audience.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01