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The shocking truth about email subject lines

A subject line’s the first thing email recipients look at when deciding whether or not to open your business’ e-marketing efforts, right? Wrong. It’s all about who sent the email.

A lot of email industry folk will tell you that the subject line is the first thing recipients look at when determining whether or not to open your email.

But they’re wrong!

The truth is that it’s second. Because the first thing people look at is the ‘from’ field to determine who sent them the email.

When people decide whether or not to open your email, they start by evaluating you as the sender. If you’re someone they recognise and trust, they will go on to read the subject line to see if the email is worth opening.

You can see from this example taken from my inbox how the ‘from’ details are clearly positioned on the left as the first item you see.

1. From Name           2. Subject Line

Graph -the shocking truth about email subject lines

This inbox behavior is supported by a 2007 consumer survey from Return Path* that indicated subject lines as the 3rd most cited reason why consumers open emails. The subject line was cited by only 41.4 percent of survey respondents. The most popular reason people open an email is they ‘know and trust the sender’ (55.9 percent), followed by ‘previously opened and thought valuable’ (51.2 percent).

* If anyone is aware of more recent research, I’d really appreciate you letting me know via the comments section at the bottom of this post.

What this means is that a well crafted subject line will only go so far towards enticing people to open your email. So whilst they’re important and warrant your attention and creativity, trust and recognition by subscribers will ultimately win out.

So how do you earn the trust of subscribers and become recognised as a valuable contributor to their already cluttered inbox?

Whilst there is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to this problem, it’s easier to overcome than you think. Because earning trust and recognition with subscribers is achieved by following many of the good email practices you’re hopefully already doing anyway.

Here are four tips for earning trust and recognition with subscribers that lead people towards opening more of your emails.

1. Focus on building relationships with subscribers. Effective email marketing is more than just a one off communication. It involves a collection of touch points where individual experiences contribute towards an overall impression. Therefore it’s important you consider each touch point and make it a positive experience for subscribers by saying the things they need to hear.

2. All good relationships start with a good first impression. Make sure you welcome new subscribers on board with a welcome email that reminds them of the benefits they can expect to receive from your emails.

3. Send your emails with a consistent From Name. Make sure it’s something that subscribers can easily recognise as you or your company. This is particularly important early on in the piece with new subscribers as your consistency will help them develop recognition within their inbox. For additional insight into From Names and the pros and cons for changing them over time, check out this post from Email Marketing Reports.

4. Ensure each and every email you send to subscribers contains something of value. Whether it’s a useful tip, new educational resource or a promotional discount, unless you provide continual value to subscribers, your emails just add to the inbox clutter.

So next time you’re planning an email campaign and pondering the subject line, consider how recipients might react when they see the email is from you. Unless it’s expected to be a positive reaction, you’re wasting your time trying to optimise the subject line. You first need to work on building trust and recognition.

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Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson is the EDM Specialist at Australian email marketing software company Vision6. His work helps to educate marketers and business owners on how to create, connect and convert using the power of email, SMS and social media marketing.

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