Are subject lines overrated?

Many believe the subject line is the key to email marketing success.

I want to break that perception of best practice. While subject lines are very important, they aren’t as critical as you might think. There are other areas you need to focus on first.

Who is the email from?

The general sub-concious process your subscribers take when they see an email in their inbox is:

  • Who is the email from?
  • What is the email about?

It is more than likely that your subscriber will make the decision on whether to open the email or not, based upon the answer to these questions. Therefore the starting point should be to look at testing your from name, before looking at your subject lines.

Whenever we have tested the from name, we have experienced uplift of at least 20% in opens, and most importantly clicks. How? We use a first name as part of the from name, so ‘Name – Company Name’.

Why does this make a difference? Well we think it is because we all prefer email from an individual, rather than a blast from a faceless company. It also gives you the ability to add your personality into the email before they open it, with many of these made-up names becoming cult heroes amongst the subscriber base!

What they think about your emails

When asking themselves the question who is this email from, this then leads onto what do I think about their emails? If the last few emails they have received have had nothing of interest, then recipients may have already made the assumption that the content won’t be relevant, and therefore won’t even take your amazingly crafted subject line into consideration.

This is also why lists can fatigue quickly. GraphicMail’s ‘Lifecycle Report’ shows the average open rate per email a subscriber receives. On most ‘Batch & Blast’ emails the open rate has dropped by more than half by the 4th email customers receive, as they realise there is no value in the company emails.

To change this is not a quick tactical fix, but a change from batch & blast to thinking about relevance and value of emails.

It’s about the click, not open

Well for many it’s actually about the purchase you hope to generate from sending the email. Certainly getting the customer to click from the email onto your site is more important than them just opening the email.

If the customer has opened the email because of the subject line, but then they find nothing to back that intent up in the email, then it is a wasted exercise. That is why basic subject lines that simply state what is in the email underperform over open rate compared to subject lines that inspire intrigue, but 9/10 generate more clicks.

Currently there are a few tools out there which claim they can predict the best performing subject line based on words you enter. This is great but they miss the idea of making sure your subject line has the utmost relevance to the actual content of the email.

So should I ignore the subject line? No, that would be foolish as it still has an impact on overall response rates but make sure you get the most important factors right first.


Email design best practice

Email Design: Best Practices

What makes a good email design? You might have asked yourself this question countless times. But what is the answer?Unfortunately, there isn’t a definitive one.

Design is subjective; an opinion based on personal preferences and experiences. Take you and your partner for example, you would both have very different ideas and options about how you would decorate your house. Neither are right and neither are wrong, and in reality, the result will more than likely be a combination of each of your ideas.

The process behind developing the right email design is no different.

“Too many cooks spoil the broth”

Sound familiar? In most instances, there are likely to be several people involved in developing a new email design. However, too many opinions are likely to result in you going round in circles and finding yourselves back at square one. Remember that someone who has not been involved from the offset might not be on the same page and may cause confusion. That said, you should always seek the opinions of others when you have completed a select few designs to choose from.

Keep the customer at the centre

Although design is subjective, one thing you need to remember is that basing design decisions on personal preference is only going to get you so far. Asking your self the question “Is this right for the customer?” will always ensure you stay on track to achieving what you set out to. This is the most important aspect of email design, as you need to ensure you include the information that your target customer or segment will respond positively to. If the content is not of interest to them, then the design will become irrelevant.

“With great power comes great…” You know the rest

Teams without leadership are not as effective, especially in design. One member of the team needs to take the lead and have the final say. This would normally be the responsibility of the brand or marketing manager. Remember, the decision makers role is not just about having the final say, it’s to also keep the design process from getting caught up in the afore-mentioned spin cycle.

Don’t leave your specialists on the bench…Keep in touch

You might have spent hours, days, weeks or more sitting in meetings with your design team, coming up with your pinnacle email. So you want to make sure that this time and energy is not wasted by not communicating effectively outside of those meetings.

Quick emails here, post it notes there, even shouting across the room doesn’t really work that well! Come up with an effective system that works for everyone. This way all points or issues will be actively noted and dealt with in the effective way.

To Summarise:

• Give feedback as a group on a specific email design

• Draw visual annotations on the email itself, removing ambiguity in your feedback

• Easily identify who left feedback

• Archive comments for auditing purposes