Your Subject Line Is Not the Only Thing Driving Open Rates

February 25, 2014

It’s easy to languish over crafting the perfect subject line, then contribute your open rate success (or failure) to those words. But the reality is that there are many more factors motivating people to open emails beyond a copywriter’s sparkling wordsmithery.

For example…


Who’s the sender?

Your goal is to make your brand name speak louder than your words. As Copyblogger once put it: “if people trust you enough, you can write crap subject lines and your emails will still get opened.”

Conversely, if you write the most brilliant subject line in the history of email marketing but your name and sending address are meaningless to recipients, your campaign could still fall flat.


What is the subject line offering?

A subject line is like a really important headline—it needs to prepare the reader for what’s coming and explain why she should care (in just a handful of words, of course).

Sometimes, marketers get so caught up in trying to “trick” readers into responding to their campaigns that they forget a key point: many people will actually want what you’re offering, regardless of how you present it, as long as they can easily figure out what that is.

According to Practical Ecommerce, “Top performing subject lines often seem mundane, and frequently include a company name and a simple explanation of the content.”

Although cleverness has its place in subject line writing, never let it detract from or overshadow your email’s actual offer.


How timely is the email?

During the month of December, emails with phrases like “holiday entertaining” and “cookie recipes” and “gift ideas” in their subject lines almost always perform well. Obviously, this is because those things are already at the forefront of people’s minds, causing recipients to have knee-jerk reactions of interest.

Your goal is to get into the heads of your target audience and meet them wherever they are right now, so that your words feel like a natural extension of their ongoing internal dialogue.


Is the email expected?

Recipients are much more likely to open an email they’ve actively opted into. Even if you’ve lured them into sharing their email addresses through other means, such as a contest, you should have made it clear to them that regular email communication was part of the package.

When people receive unexpected emails from companies they’ve recently interacted with, they feel invaded and often immediately turned off, regardless of the value the email itself may or may not offer.


What is the recipient’s perception of value, based on prior emails?

If your email is part of a regular e-newsletter cycle, its success rate is partially dependent on the success of previous emails. Recipients will expect repeat performances from you, for better or for worse, and will respond accordingly.

Therefore, if your open rates are trending downward, it doesn’t necessarily suggest that your emails are getting worse—it could mean that recipients are responding to accumulated disappointment.


Does the offer connect with recipients emotionally?

Your target audience might be interested in ideas and recipes for entertaining, but if you dig deeper, you’ll find that what they really want is to make a good impression on their guests and avoid embarrassing themselves. Similarly, people attracted to DIY ideas might be interested in saving money and not being duped by service providers.

Even if your audience isn’t actively pursuing what you’re offering, you can still attract them by appealing to preexisting emotional states. Insurance companies know that people want to feel safe. Drug companies tap into our suspicions that we could always feel a little bit better.

How does your product or service improve people’s lives, on an emotional level, and what words reflect that emotion? Those are words you could be weaving into your subject lines.


But remember: open rates are only half the battle

…And not even the most important half. The real purpose of your email is to direct people somewhere else—to your website, typically. This is measured by your click rate. If every single one of your emails gets opened but no one ever clicks through to the next step in your marketing funnel, that’s an important disconnect that needs to be addressed.

As much as we marketers try to uncover the perfect email marketing formula, we ultimately have to accept that such a thing doesn’t exist. Email marketing is dependent on human behavior, and where there is human behavior, there is inconstancy and unpredictability.

However, knowing the factors at play in this game (a deserving title, right?) does put you one small step closer to email marketing bliss.


What would you add to this list?


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Summer of Curds

Summer of Curds

This social media promotion capitalized on the love that people have for Wisconsin cheese.

This social media promotion capitalized on the love that people have for Wisconsin cheese.

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