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5 Ways to Optimise Your Subject Lines this Black Friday 😍

Great email marketing starts with a great subject line. Strap in for Optima Connect's crash course on how to boost those open rates!

Cameron Campbell
|
22 October 2020

With Black Friday just around the corner and marketing teams everywhere preparing to hit ‘send’ on their promotional email campaigns, it’s more important than ever to make sure your emails achieve prominence in your customers’ inboxes. And it’s not just the email itself that matters.

The success of any email marketing campaign rests on lots of small parts doing their jobs. And while the subject line may be one of the smallest in stature, it’s by no means the least important. In fact, the opposite may be true.

Think of an email’s subject line like a car battery. As winter drivers know all too well, if your battery is flat, it doesn’t matter how much petrol you’ve got in the tank or how nice your interiors are. You’re not going anywhere. The same is true of email marketing. Your images, headlines and dynamic content can be perfect. But if the subject line doesn’t make your customers stop and click, it’s all been for nothing. The subject line has to ignite a spark in your audience. It must compel people to open your email.

So important is the subject line that studies show 47% of recipients open marketing emails based on the subject line alone. Get it wrong, and you’ll lose almost half of your audience immediately. And yet, the all-important string of words that can make or break a campaign often receives only a fraction of the marketer’s energy compared to the email itself.

There’s no magic formula to getting your subject lines right this Black Friday. But there is a lot of excellent research out there to guide you on your way. In this article, we've combed through the reports and selected the five factors most likely to influence a customer's decision to open or not to open.

#1 Emojis 😍

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Emojis might be small, but these micro pictures pack a punch, and have become a staple of everyday modern interaction.

Emojis are becoming invaluable as they offer a short-hand method of expressing ideas, tone and emotion without boosting word count. They're the perfect companion for today's time-poor digital media consumer.

And brands have been quick to cotton on. Emoji usage has risen 609% YOY in brand communications.

But are they helpful in subject lines? Do emojis actually help convince consumers to open a marketing email?

Well, the research would suggest 'Yes'. Research from Phrasee into the impact of emojis as a marketing language found that emojis in subject lines improve open rates 60% of the time.

But how are they best employed? Mailchimp’s research suggests using no more than one per subject line. More than one and the emojis can start to detract from the message itself.

The Verdict: Emojis in subject lines certainly can improve unique open rates in email marketing. But keep it to one or two, at most.

#2 First-Name Personalisation

In 2019, Experian reported that first name personalisation in subject lines increased unique opens by 26%.  

In the world of email optimisation, a 26% increase makes a strong case for personalisation's place in subject lines. Little wonder it’s considered effective practice by 60% of marketers.

But, in my experience, consumers are becoming more and more accustomed to seeing their name in subject lines, and its impact may start to decline.

Add to this that we've probably all received an email with some form of the ‘Hey {First_Name}’ problem, as a result of incorrect or missing data. To avoid embarrassing errors like this, you ideally need a data quality strategy in place behind the scenes. Or as an absolute minimum, an appropriate non-personalised fall-back option.

And don’t forget, personalisation can be about more than a name in the subject line. Using geo-location and live content can bring a fresh and compelling reason for customers to open.

The Verdict: Personalisation in subject lines can improve unique open rates in email marketing, but the positive impact of only using a name may be increasingly marginal.

#3 Keep it Short

Much has been published on the ideal length of an email subject line. According to Campaign Monitor, 60% of email marketers recommend keeping subject lines between 41 to 60 characters.

However, bear in mind that half of marketing emails are read on mobile devices. With mobile screens typically only displaying the first 25 to 30 characters of the subject line, there’s an argument for keeping subject lines even shorter. At under 30 characters, subject lines have been shown to gain higher unique open rates.

The Verdict: Keep subject lines under 60 characters. And if your emails are typically read on mobile, test subject lines with no more than 30 characters.

#4 Use Power Words

Studies have shown that including power words can improve open rates by up to 10%. Power words are defined as “words of persuasion used to trigger a favourable emotional or psychological response”. In English, that means certain words are better than others at arousing curiosity, building trust, or appealing to your audience's desire for exclusivity or simplicity.

But again, you don't want to overdo it. Keep in mind that alongside your perfectly crafted marketing bombshells, your customers will also be receiving formula-ridden spam emails all day every day, so there's a risk to using hackneyed power words like 'UNMISSABLE' or 'ONCE IN A LIFETIME' if the content within doesn't justify those phrases. That approach might boost open rates for an email or two, but is unlikely to keep audiences clicking in the long-run.

The Verdict: Use power words… but sparingly.

#5 Create a Compelling Hook

There are many different ways to write a brilliant subject line. All of the following examples have been shown to be effective when applied appropriately.

The Verdict: Ultimately, your subject line has to arouse interest, and there are lots of viable styles to achieve this. Experiment regularly with a wide range of styles – always via a systematic A/B testing strategy - and find those that work best for your audience.

In Summary: Test, Test and Test Again

With 79% of marketers already regularly A/B testing their subject lines, there's a good chance if you're reading this you're already doing some, if not all, of the above.

With Black Friday on the close horizon, now is the time to put your best foot forwards and put into action all of those hard-earned lessons learned around length, style, word choice, personalisation and, of course, emojis.

But don't overlook Black Friday as an opportunity to learn even more. Your testing shouldn’t stop around major events. But do also bear in mind that email open rates are typically higher around special occasions such as Black Friday and, with some reports citing that open rates are already up 26% since lockdown started, the results of your A/B tests may not transfer perfectly to the rest of the year. Make sure you keep testing beyond the 27th of November.

Good luck!

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