Tried and True Tips to Get Your Open Rates Up

Five Techniques to Building the Better Subject Line

Here’s a test of subject lines (from a mortgage company) from copywriter Mark Everett Johnson, a frequent speaker at SIPA events. Choose one.
1) “Do you want to save thousands with no-hassle refinancing?”
2) “Who else wants to save thousands with no-hassle refinancing?”

Drumroll please. Number two won by 37%. “People click on that because they don’t want to miss out,” Johsnon said “and the ‘who else wants to’ headline clearly suggests that it’s already happening, that it really happens and other people are getting this advantage and you’re missing out on it.” The idea that you can change three words and get such an upswing in open rates is amazing, and a tribute to testing. “…the thing that runs through all successful direct marketing organizations is the commitment to testing,” Johnson said.

Test 2.
1) “One hundred and eighty-eight ways you are being secretly tracked, targeted and ripped off.”
2) “Fifty passwords you should never use.”

I’ve mostly stayed away from long subject lines—probably a little too much, according to Johnson. “I don’t really have a rule of thumb about long versus short subject lines or headlines,” he said. “I found it varies quite a bit. Sometimes the long one will win and sometimes the short one will win, so I don’t have a hard and fast rule about that.” In this case, the short subject line won—by 40%! What’s sincere about Johnson is that while he does take credit for having the building blocks in place to create effective subject lines, he does not proclaim to be a fortune teller. So he gives testing its large proper due.

Here are five such building blocks and techniques that Johnson gave during a SIPA webinar last year. (The transcript is on the new SIPA website.) Johnson emphasizes that it takes time to come up with very good subject lines—where the tendency might be to spend the time on your email and then want to get it out real quick.

1. Focus on the self-interest of the reader that is of benefit. Do a read-through and ask, “What is the benefit to the reader?” Write a couple possibilities down before choosing your final answer.
2. Give the reader a quick and easy way to do something. “…people want quick and easy solutions to their problems, don’t they?” Johnson asked. “They want the 15 minutes could save you 15 percent on your car insurance.”
3. Give them something newsworthy. Be current or relevant in your readers’ lives. “As they see the subject line about fifty passwords you should never use,” Johnson said, “they’re going to be wondering, ‘Oh, I wonder if that password I used a couple hours ago is one of them?’
4. Make them curious. A famous envelope teaser line that Johnson pointed to is, “What never to eat on an airplane.” “It kind of sounded silly, but people were curious enough about that copy…to tear the envelope open…” he said.
5. Try to combine two or more of the above. This is now Johnson’s favorite technique and I can see why. I just received an email with a subject line, “My Oscars party is…” That hits on 1, 3 and 4—it’s a huge interest of mine, it’s current in my life and it made me curious. I quickly clicked it open. I think Sean Oberle’s recent subject line for a posting on the marketing listserv was good: “When to give up on the USPS” I send mail out (1), it’s current (3) and obviously made me very curious (4).

Johnson’s final point was about taking that extra time. “It might add an hour or two or more…but we’re looking for those 40 percent winners.”


I mentioned that Johnson’s comments came
from a SIPA-sponsored webinar last year.
There is another webinar on Thursday, Feb. 16 titled
How to Generate Maximum Sales From Your Website
starring Anne Holland. Register now!

And speaking of webinars, tomorrow’s weekly
Twitter Chat focuses on your webinars.
Wednesday, Feb. 8, 12 p.m. EST

using the hashtag #NicheInfo.
If you don’t have a Twitter chat client,
we recommend
Once you are on their site,
simply log in through your Twitter account,
type the hashtag #NicheInfo, and you’re set!

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