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Email Blast: Creating subject lines that pack punch

Guest column by Karen J. Bannanmarketing coach email subject lines

How long was the subject line in your most recent e-mail marketing campaign?

You may not realize it, but the number of characters you use can positively or negatively impact the success of your campaign, according to a new white paper released by direct marketing agency Epsilon.

The white paper, "Rethinking the Relationship Between Subject Line Length and Email Performance: A New Perspective on Subject Line Design," details some of the more important considerations that marketers should be thinking about, said Kevin Mabley, the company's senior VP-strategic services.

Here are four tips you can use to boost your subject line prowess.

1) Front-load your subject lines with the most important information.

It would seem like this tip is a given, but take a look at the messages in your inbox. As you'll soon see, it's a strategy that few marketers embrace. The biggest problem is with ordering information. If you've only got 38 to 47 characters-the average number of characters that show up in the subject line of 57% of all U.S. e-mail recipients' e-mail programs-you need to put the most important information all the way to the left.

Use urgency and relevance as your guide. Is your offer or newsletter timely? Put that right up front. Also, make sure your brand is in the first few words. However, if your company has multiple brands or categories underneath its umbrella, lead with what's most recognizable and important to your customer.

2) Keep the subject line as short as possible to convey the message.

Epsilon's research shows that shorter subject lines have higher click-through and open rates. Still, you don't want to go short for short's sake, Mabley said. Instead, you're looking to pack the most information you can into the smallest number of words.
And avoid words that have a sensationalist slant, such as "free" or "discount." "Don't just say '20% off your next purchase.' Your messages need to be rooted in your customers' expectations," Mabley said.

3) Don't forget to test.

This is another common suggestion, but one that still isn't heeded as it should be, Mabley said. "At the minimum, you should be performing an A/B test on every message that goes out," he said. "The general rule is you can test 10% of your list in order to figure out which option is a better one."

This is how you're going to figure out if your front-loaded data should be the brand name or the actual benefit to the recipient, and it's something that may change on a day-to-day and message-to-message basis, he said.

Your messages should also go through a spam filter so you know, on a scale of 1 to 100, how likely it is that an ISP will consider your message to be spam, Mabley said.

4) Dynamically personalize the subject line.

This is something that's simple to do, and shows that you know who you are e-mailing and what they are looking for. "Whether you use their first or last name or their company's name, it makes it more personal and provides better reception," Mabley said.

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