Winning subject lines and how to find them: It’s a Knockout

Our priority at Winbox is to make email marketing win big for your company, every time.

Together we build your perfect campaign through value-driven content, well-chosen images and perfectly timed campaigns. They’re the ultimate dream team — but no team is complete without a star player.

In email marketing, that’s the subject line. When you examine the statistics, it’s easy to see why. 35% of email recipients decide whether or not to open an email based on subject line alone, and even more compellingly, 69% of email users mark an email as spam on the same basis.

Here’s how we make sure all our clients’ subject lines are fighting fit and match-ready.

Finding the perfect subject line: test, test, and test again

Before deciding on a game plan, a sports coach gets to know his team — their motivations and their strengths — perhaps trialling them in different playing positions. We apply the same basic principle to emails.

It is vitally important to apply rigorous test measurements to compensate for differences between recipients.What motivates an accountant to open an email (probably) won’t do the same for a health practitioner.

What does testing look like in practice?

Answer: quite a bit like ‘It’s a Knockout’.

For your first few campaigns, we conduct a series of A/B split tests on your list, pitting different types of subject lines against each other.

Let’s say your first email campaign is a traditional industry newsletter. During round one of testing we might segment your list, so that:

  • 10% receive a general subject line: Welcome to Company X’s September Newsletter. They’re the A group.
  • 10% receive a descriptive subject line: September Newsletter: your complete round-up of Industry X’s news, views, and events. They’re the B group.

The rules are pretty simple: whichever subject line yields the higher open rate wins.

It’s not just about winning the match, however. It’s about winning the tournament.

The first winner will then play on against a different type of subject line — perhaps a multi-propositional one (e.g. Interview with Industry X person, dates for your diary, and blog post on Y: all in our September Newsletter) showcasing the variety of your content. Whichever emerges victorious will then go head-to-head with a first name personalisation subject line (e.g. George, catch up on Industry X news in our September Newsletter).

We keep going in this vein, through a series of gruelling tests, until we find our champion of champions. Hurrah.

Key trends and our top tips for success

While there is no ‘one size fits all’ rule, we have found certain techniques, words and tricks which increase the likelihood of your email being opened.

1. Length matters

Statistics indicate that when it comes to subject lines, concise (yet persuasive) is better. We’ve found the sweet spot is 6–8 words: long enough to engage, short enough to intrigue. This is particularly true as 40% of emails are now opened on mobile.

2. Personalisation

It’s a fact: hearing (and reading) our own name makes us sit up and take notice. When executed sparingly, accurately, and as part of an overall strategy, personalisation delivers excellent results — on average increasing email open rates by 29.3%.

3. Emojis

For a subject line to succeed, it needs to stand out in an overcrowded inbox. A well-chosen, brand-appropriate emoji can make that happen. If you haven’t used emojis in your email marketing before, it might be time to start: a report from Experian found using them boosted open rates by up to 45%.

4. Power-up with power words

Not all subject lines are created equal. The industry agrees that certain words almost always increase open rates. Here are just some that rack up more points on the scoreboard:

  • ‘Download’ — implies a transaction of value to the reader
  • ‘Video’ — promises information in an accessible way, instantly
  • ‘Tomorrow’ — suggests that the reader has to do something now or miss out

What happens once we’ve crowned a winner?

The best athletes never stop training. We never stop testing.

Even once we’ve found the highest-performing type of subject line for your business, we continue to split-test every single campaign in a constant process of questioning and refining. Conversational vs. numerical. Questions vs. statements. Optimal emoji positioning: beginning, middle, or end?

Each of our clients has a monthly team huddle review where we draw conclusions from the most successful campaigns and hatch our plans for the next season.

For one-on-one email support and expert advice on getting your email strategy match-ready, contact Marc@winbox.co.

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