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The subject line has evolved. It is now a filter and not a marketing device. 

Those using it to tease extra opens run the risk of sender reputation damage for little incremental revenue.

Can a good subject line encourage someone to open an email? 

According to deliverability specialist ReturnPath, the choice of subject line is the third most important influence when deciding whether to open an email:

  • Know and trust the sender (55.9%)
  • Opened previous mail and thought valuable (51.2%)
  • Subject Line (41.1%)

When you look further, the same piece of research shows that the best subject lines actually explain clearly what the email is about:

  • State the offer clearly – 55.2%
  • Offer a discount/free postage – 49.6%
  • Include the brand name of the sender – 48.8%

So where does this leave subject lines that tease people into opening them? 

The truth is that it is getting harder and harder to tease someone into opening an email: 

  • Preview panes give the recipient the opportunity to read more about the email before committing to open it. 
  • Improved spam filters - especially with the launch of Window's Live Hotmail - mean a higher chance of more mail being delivered into the junk items folder with more blocking techniques. 

This leaves you just the from name and the subject line to tease that open. 

So technology is working against you if you rely on teasing opens.

There is a downside too. If you do manage to get opened, and the recipient is disappointed with your content, they can give you some payback. 

They can unsubscribe ending your relationship with them, or worse still use the “mark as spam”complaint loops in Gmail, Hotmail and AOL and report you as spam. 

This will damage your sender reputation and whether you will be delivered to the inbox ongoing. 

The benefits aren't massive either. 

The industry average open rate, according to the DMA's latest benchmarking report (Q2 2007), is around 23% for retention mailings and 15% for acquisition. 

If you can tease an extra 1% to open your email, by the time you've applied the click through rate and then your conversion rate, was it worth this potential long term damage to your sender reputation?

The subject line is no longer a marketing device

It is now a filter to allow your recipients to decide whether they should open your email communication. 

Treating it in any other way will only provide a small amount of benefit and pose a significant risk.

Henry Hyder-Smith is the MD of Adestra .

Henry Hyder-Smith

Published 8 February, 2008 by Henry Hyder-Smith

Henry Hyder Smith is MD at Adestra and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

23 more posts from this author

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