A few weeks ago, Kyle was caught off guard when asked about subject lines at eduWeb. I don’t fault him. Subject lines are tricky - you’re got a minimal amount of characters to convince someone that your email deserves their attention.
Fortunately, a study was released a month ago by AlchemyWorx which gives us some insight on how to do subject lines better. It tested aspects which email marketers had always assumed to be true and returned some surprising results. They use the concept of click-to-open rates, or click-through rates which are calculated against emails that are OPENED, rather than emails that are DELIVERED. Many experts believe this to be a more accurate assessment of the effectiveness of the message.
- Shorter subject lines generate higher open rates, but lower click-to-open rates
- Longer subject lines generate higher click-to-open rates
- Open rates and click-to-open rate curves intersect at about 60-70 characters, whether neither is optimized.
The study concludes that their stats show the impact subject lines have not only on a user’s decision to OPEN a message, but also their decision to INTERACT with the message.
So what does this mean?
- Don’t be afraid of long subject lines: Conventional wisdom says that subject lines should be no longer than 50 characters. This came from back in the day when many email clients truncated subjects that were too long. However, most clients today allow up to 100 characters. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the extra room, since this study clearly shows that medium length subject lines (60-70 characters) get you nowhere.
- Longer subject lines work because they provide value: The study hypothesizes that shorter subject garner more open rates because they tend to be misleading - the user isn’t sure what the email is about and opens it to find out more. A longer subject line gives you more space to tell your user what the email is ACTUALLY about! If it’s not relevant to them, they will filter it out but if it is, they are much more likely to take your call to action.
- If you create a track record of providing value for your users, they will be more likely to open a message every time you send. I call this “creating a promise” with my users. A cardinal rule of any email program should be that you will not email users unless it is relevant to them. It’s a long-term strategy where you will eventually prove to them that opening your emails is worthwhile. Your subject line is the first thing they judge you by. Make sure you are adequately communicating the content of your message to them so you are managing their expectations about what they will find upon opening it.
Longer subject lines don’t necessarily correlate with success. Neither do shorter ones. The key is to not worry so much about the length and articulate the content of the message so that your user knows what they are getting when they click on it.