Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Size Matters When it Comes to Email Subject Lines

According to new research from a British online marketing firm, email subject lines that work best are either less than 30 characters, or longer than 90 characters. You want to avoid the  “dead zone” between 30 and 90 characters.

The study conducted by Adestra, which analyzed over 1 billion B2B emails sent within the last 12 months, found that marketers using 90 characters and up produced the highest response rates because more benefits could be communicated. In contrast, snappier subject lines that used 30 characters or less performed well in the case for transactional or direct-action emails.

Word count is a proxy for character count, and vice versa. But, in B2B, where industry-specific jargon tends to be long words, it’s important to consider this metric.

Researchers found that 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.

While conventional wisdom says using dollar signs in your subject lines is risky, researchers say spam filters use “Baysian” filters to determine spam ratings, and in the B2B world, users engage strongly with currency symbols. Thus spam filters no longer penalize for dollar signs. That being said, the report found that engagement is high only when relevant and valuable financial email content is communicated in the subject line.

No kidding!

Here’s a summary of the report:

  • Discount terms: These generally performed below average. “Sale” was found to above-average, though, in opens (14.4%), clicks (76.5%), and click-to-opens (54.3%). Others such as “% off,” “discount,” “free,” “half price,” “save,” “voucher,” “early bird,” and “2 for 1″ all came in below-average in all 3 metrics.

  • News terms: These had better success than discount 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 3 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%.

  • Multichannel terms: Facebook (21.6%) and Pinterest (16.4%) were the only terms to score above average in clicks and click-to-opens, though both showed below-average performance in opens. However, “app” and “iPad” were above average in opens, and below average in clicks and click-to-opens. Both “Twitter” and “LinkedIn” were below average in all 3 metrics.
Social Networks
Generally speaking, referencing social networks won’t get you great response. Experts say this could be due to the huge volume of emails pertaining to them, or it could be an indication that in the B2B world people aren’t using social networks as much as pundits had predicted.

Personalized Subject Lines

With personalized subject lines, recipients feel instant engagement, but engagement falls off when people open the email, since in most cases the content of the emails is not personalized! The key here is to construct a congruous user experience, says the report.
As with everything else in B2B marketing, there’s no one-size-fits-all option. You just have to keep testing and tweaking as Adestra researchers agree.

Macro Economic View

Despite yesterday’s disappointing numbers on manufacturing activity, auto industry analysts reported yesterday that new vehicle sales rose 15 percent in November and a measure of planned business spending rose to its highest level in five months in October, the Commerce Department said last week. Meanwhile, single family home prices rose for an eighth straight month in September, according to the
Standard & Poors/Case Shiller composite index.

Our Take: We think the overall trend is positive as the manufacturing index from the Institute for Supply Management is based on sentiment while the aforementioned data are from actual results. We’re also encouraged that the financial markets have held their ground despite no clear indication that the fiscal cliff will be avoided before January 1, 2013.


Just as there’s no one-size-fits all solution for email marketing, there’s not going to be a one-size-fits all marketing strategy for 2013. Things will be in constant flux regardless of what the economy and DC policy makers throw at us. You need to keep adjusting, tweaking and constantly measuring your game plan. You also can’t keep your head buried in spreadsheets and computer screens. In this data driven, ROI and KPI era, the need for anecdotal feedback is more important than ever. Go ahead and crunch the numbers. But, don’t forget to pick up the phone and call your clients and customers. Better yet, go spend some time with them, preferably at their offices or facilities. Get a feel for their culture, pain points and morale.

That’ll tell you more about their spending plans than any forecast or new metric.


TAGS: Institute for Supply Management, Adesrta, email subject lines, size matters, Standard & Poors/Case Shiller, auto sales, housing market

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