Writing Subject Lines That Double Your Clickthroughs

Maximize Results with the Right Subject Line

Maximize Results with the Right Subject Line

E-mail is still a great (and very inexpensive) way to communicate and get your message out but, because of over saturation and all the spammers and other greedy people, most people and companies are experiencing drastically reduced open and clickthrough rates.

Marketing Experiments — and if you don’t know who they are you are really missing out — did an experiment where they asked Copyblogger and people who came to their blog to suggest subject lines for an e-mail they wanted to send out about one of their upcoming conferences.

From the submissions this is what they then tested with actual e-mails to their list:

  1. Quarterbacks aren’t the only changes being tested in Denver
  2. A scientific way to increase your conversions
  3. Do your landing pages pass this test?
  4. [Optimization Summit] 3 Days to a Better Website ($300 Off Coupon Inside)
  5. Learn 3 Tips that made 10,000 pages extremely successful
  6. Optimization Summit 2012 – Speaker’s List Up Now! + Save $300 Today

The best one had about 106% better clickthrough rate than the worst one, which do you think was the best?

Let’s see…

The Test Results

Here are the results from the tests of the above subject lines:

Subject # Click Through Rate Improvement
1 .32% 0.0%
2 .51% 57.9%
3 .73% 105.9%
4 .37% 14.8%
5 .66% 105.2%
6 .40% 24.9%

As you can see, #3 (“Do your landing pages pass this test?”) was the best subject line closely followed by #5 (“Learn 3 Tips that made 10,000 pages extremely successful”).

They were both much better than all the others with #1 (“Quarterbacks aren’t the only changes being tested in Denver”) being the worst one.

That’s all interesting and congratulations if you picked the best one but the important thing for us is WHY.

Understanding the Results

Why did #3 and #5 do so much better than the others?

Understanding that will help you write better, more effective, subject lines and reap the resulting benefits.

To look at that you need to understand 3 key principles.

Principle 1: Understanding the Purpose of the Subject Line

If you ask most people what the purpose of a subject line is they will say one of two things: to grab the attention of the reader and to get the e-mail opened.

The answer is that both are correct.

You need to catch the attention of the reader in the big pile of e-mail they’ve gotten but that is not enough.

You need to convert that attention into enough interest to get the e-mail opened because without that your e-mail won’t be read and it will have failed — miserably.

If you look at the above subject lines that were tested you’ll see that the worst two subject lines may have gotten attention by:

  • Quarterbacks aren’t the only changes being tested in Denver” may get attention by the word quarterback — as it’s somewhat unexpected — and, if you understand the Tim Tebow reference that may get your attention.
  • [Optimization Summit] 3 Days to a Better Website ($300 Off Coupon Inside)” may get attention from the brackets, parentheses and $300 Off.

But they don’t build enough interest as you can see in the results above whereas the top 2 subject lines not only got attention but turned that attention into enough interest to open and ultimately clickthrough.

Principle 2: Understanding the Connection to the Value Proposition

In my blog post, “Value Propositions are the Key to Success“, I say “Marketing is really nothing more than communicating the value of you, your products and services, and your company to your prospects in the most effective (and efficient) way you can so that they will take the action you want them to take.

If you haven’t read the article I suggest you do so, otherwise here’s a refresher.

One of the keys to a successful sales message, and an e-mail is definitely part of the sales message, is to make sure that you have defined and communicated all 4 of the levels of a value proposition:

  1. Primary Value Proposition: “Why should someone (an ‘ideal prospect’) buy from you rather than any of your competitors?”
  2. Prospect Level Value Proposition: “Why should a specific prospect (one being targeted in a campaign) buy from you rather than any of your competitors?”
  3. Product Level Value Proposition: “Why should the identified prospect buy this specific product rather than any other product?”
  4. Process Level Value Proposition: Why should the specific prospect for the specific product take a specific action?” For example. open an e-mail, click an ad, register for your webinar, and click the ‘buy’ button.
The Value Needs to Outweigh the Cost

The Value Needs to Outweigh the Cost

For each value proposition, the prospect has the choice to do it or not do it and they consciously or subconsciously make that decision by measuring the cost of doing something against the value received for doing it.

For an e-mail subject line (and also for the subsequent clickthrough) the same is true.

Let’s look at the subject lines we saw above.

The cost versus value for “Quarterbacks aren’t the only changes being tested in Denver” was obviously very low.

While “A scientific way to increase your conversions” appeared to have more value to more people it didn’t have as much value as “Do your landing pages pass this test?” – as you can see above, just changing the subject line resulting in more than doubling the clickthrough rate!

We’ll go into why that might be and how “value” is defined later but the point here is that you have to understand the value proposition and how to communicate it effectively to the right audience.

Principle 3: Using Data-backed Criteria to Maximize the Value Proposition

The bottom line is you want to do as good a job as possible communicating the value proposition so you consistently write great subject lines that drastically improve your open and clickthrough rates (like those 100+% improvements we saw above).

There has been serious research done on this with tens of thousands of subject lines tested and the data from these results can be used as strong guidance to writing your own subject lines.

In my next blog post, we’ll look at some of the key findings and come up with a sort of checklist to use when writing subject lines.

Did you know which was the most effective subject line? Tell me below what you picked and why.

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