Email marketing can drive major sales for an eCommerce business, however, you must first get the customer to open your emails. Email subject lines make or break the customer’s decision to read the email or send it to the trash, so it’s well worth your time to pay attention to them.
There are plenty of research-driven strategies that will get increase your chances of driving email opens and driving sales through this marketing channel.
1. Use the Bystander Effect
The Bystander Effect is a relatively simple concept in psychology. Basically, the Bystander Effect states that the more people that are present in a situation, the less likely someone is to feel accountable to step up to help or take part in the situation. The same can be said with email subject lines.
It’s no secret that marketing emails are sent in mass quantities. However, the best way to get your emails opened is to make the customer feel like they’re the only one receiving the email. For example, an email saying “Janet, we’re giving you 20% off this week,” is more likely to be opened than an email saying “20% off sale!” because it directly addresses the recipient.
Take a look at how CVS uses this approach.
2. Keep Social Proof in Mind
Social proof is the concept that people will conform to the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of the correct behavior. This pertains directly to email marketing.
One common way marketers use social proof is by leveraging experts. It’s a common practice to try and get “influencers” to endorse a product. But “influencer marketing” is more than a trend or buzzword; there’s science to back this practice up.
Influencers are well-known, so they already have established reputations. If it’s a positive reputation, anything else they are involved with is seen more positively by association. This is why influencer testimonials work.
Let’s take a look at an example. This email subject line from Piperlime, which name-drops style experts Rachel Zoe and Olivia Palermo, is a great use of this strategy.
3. Keep Things Concise
If something can be said in three words rather than three sentences, the three words will definitely prevail.
Take a look at this cluttered inbox. (Look familiar?)
In a sea of subject lines, which one stands out?
It’s actually the super short “M3” from Amazon Local. Now, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what “M3” means. That can definitely be an issue. However, the point is that it catches my eye and it sparks my interest. I’m curious enough to click open, but if I wasn’t, I may be at least interested enough to read through the preview text to learn more.
The preview text… the preview text…that brings me to my next point…
4. Make Subject Lines Mobile Ready
It’s no surprise that 50% of email opens are now being read on smart phones or tablets. After all, email gives us something to do when we want to avoid awkward small talk with strangers on the T, right? I kid.
But anyway, keep this in mind about your mobile readers. Distracted mobile readers are scrolling through emails like they would on a social media newsfeed, so it’s primetime to combine the best practices we’ve discussed about subject lines to ensure your emails are ready for mobile. Make your subject lines short, urgent, and personal. One other thing you need to optimize is your preview text. This is the little line of text that shows along with your subject line in your inbox.
I really liked this preview text and subject line combo from Club W.
The adjectives were really eye-catching and totally work for the product (mmm wine.)
5. Be Daring
“Why the hell not” was the approach Marketing Sherpa suggested after a study about daring subject lines.
Influitive, a marketing software company, used the funny and innuendo-laden subject line “So I’ll pick you up at 7?” for a product email. (The gist of the campaign was teaching marketers about the right timing to ask a customer referral, and how the wrong timing can come off as too aggressive…kinda like proposing after the first date or something.)
The “pick you up?” subject line resulted in a 25% open rate – much higher than what Influitive normally gets – and a 2.3% CTR, which is much better than the company’s typical 1.7% CTR.
This example proves that being a little edgy can pay off, even in a more traditional B2B environment.
6. Be Clear (But Not Too Direct)
Subject lines sometimes “trick” the customer into opening your email by asking a question completely unrelated to what they are offering in the email. Even if you get the recipient to open the email, that person isn’t likely to convert.
You want to be intriguing, but clear. There’s a fine line with this because being clear with your intent is useful, but you can also be too direct.
Promotions in subject lines are one way you can be too direct. Many retailers rely entirely on sales promotions for their email strategy. They do this the point where sales don’t seem like special occasions anymore. If you offer yet another 20% off promotion in your subject line, and it’s basically the same thing that you sent last week, there is little motivation for me to open that email. I’ll just wait until I know there is something I want to buy from you and see if it’s on sale then. In fact, I’ll probably just sign up to get the initial discount when I find that item and then unsubscribe later.
So as you can see, this is direct/intriguing copywriting is a balancing act, but having the right marketing strategy to drive the subject lines is the foundation of it all.
7. Use Interesting Punctuation and Capitalization
The promotions tab on Gmail is filled with newsletters and marketing emails from many different companies. After all, they all blend into one tab now. This is why unique capitalization and punctuation can grab your recipient’s attention.
Take a look at how Nasty Gal and Free People stand out from the crowd in this inbox through their use of all caps and hashtags.
This said, this is one tactic you do need to watch out for. Lowercase letters, like Kate Spade uses in its emails, shouldn’t get you in trouble and can be quite cute. But typing in all caps and using trigger words like “FREE” or “SALE” can send smoke signals to the spam police. Take caution.
Key Takeaways for Winning Subject Lines
As mobile email becomes more popular, as spam rules evolve, and as people in your space use different formats in their subject lines, your email marketing strategy will change over time. Great copy, thinking creatively, and tracking open rates are three things that will never go out of style though.