How WeddingWire Chooses the Perfect Subject Line

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The online wedding marketplace breaks down its five secrets to subject line success based on its VALUE framework.

Coming up with a compelling and effective subject line can be challenging. But the real challenge is that we, as email marketers, are expected to do this with creativity and success all day, every day. At WeddingWire, we have formalized the perfect subject line selection process for our marketing emails. We call it the VALUE framework.

The subject line VALUE framework:

The VALUE framework highlights the key to subject line success, as well as five important characteristics that are easy to remember through a mnemonic device.

The cornerstone of our process is focusing on the value proposition of our emails. Bring the value proposition from your email button and landing page into the subject line. It's that simple. This does two things: First, it ensures that everyone on your list who wants what your current email is selling knows that they should open and click through. Second, it ensures that everyone on your list who is not interested in what you're selling can self-segment by skipping the email. The former will maximize conversions today while the latter will build trust with your subscribers and maximize conversions tomorrow. Both are equally important.

A desktop subscriber will see around 15 to 20 emails above the fold. On mobile, the subscriber sees four to six at a time and is likely scrolling through quickly. You may only have a brief moment to catch the subscriber's eye and draw in their focus. Bringing the value proposition into your subject line will convince the right subscribers to open. But, thinking about these five characteristics will help extend that brief moment so you can make your case.

V is for visual:

Here are some examples of how you can attract the attention of your subscribers visually:

● Go really short. Most senders have long subject lines. Being different will help you stand out. Plus, in the most common mobile environments, unused characters are not backfilled with pre-header text. A short subject line will create negative space in the inbox, which stands out from all the other senders who filled their space with wall-to-wall text.

● Most senders are only using letters. Try mixing in a few other characters to give a different visual that will catch the subscriber's eye. Test using a plus sign (+) instead of the word “and,” for instance. Hashtags and emojis can be effective, too. But tread carefully. Incorrect or contrived usage can be found annoying. As with all of these suggestions, they need to be organic and authentic. Don't force it. If it doesn't fit the message or your brand voice, then don't do it.

● Start your subject line with a number. This follows the same logic as special characters. Most subject lines only use letters. Starting a subject line with a number will help your email stand out in the inbox.

A is for authentic:

Your subject line voice should be true to your brand, the email's message, and your brand's relationship with each individual subscriber. More than anything authenticity is about establishing expectations about who you are as a brand and how you conduct yourself and then delivering on those expectations. Falling short or straying from those expectations will be viewed as inauthentic and have a negative impact on your subscriber relationships, eroding engagement over time.

“Being authentic” is easier said than done.  Here are some tips to help stay on track:

● Sound like a human—not a robot.

● Try writing the subject line as if you were emailing a friend. This will help the subject line sound more casual by using colloquial terms, abbreviations, and brevity.

● Keep it professional. Colloquial and professional are not mutually exclusive concepts.

L is for length:

Length adds friction, and in marketing, friction is bad. Low character count alone isn't enough to maximize opens and clicks, but a long subject line can make your value proposition unclear or difficult to find.

In a 2015 study of all WeddingWire emails, we found a medium to strong inverse correlation between email engagement and character count: As character count increases, email engagement decreases. The only exception to this is when the length exceeds the character limit on mobile. Once we hit the 35 to 40 character limit, there was no relationship between engagement and character count. Forty characters did just as poorly as our longest subject line at 133 characters.

U is for unique:

Seemingly every week, marketers read a new report gawking at the sheer volume of emails our subscribers receive on any given day. One of our biggest challenges as email marketers is cutting through all of this marketing noise in the inbox. The good news is that a lot of these brands sound the same. Most senders are using the same marketer lexicon, the same buzzwords, and the same idioms. Try these tips to sound different and cut through the clutter:

●  Stop using buzzwords.

●  Look in your own personal inbox. Remove any words from your brand's subject line lexicon that you see in your own personal emails. Find better words to convey your message. Don't go too wild—articles, pronouns, and prepositions are the exceptions.

●  Use personalization in your subject lines, but go beyond first name. Some WeddingWire A/B tests suggest that our emails do worse when we pull the first name into a subject line. Get specific about a subscriber's interests or mention something about their specific community. This is a much better form of personalization. 

E is for emotion:

Emotion is powerful in developing a relationship with your subscribers and optimizing your subject lines for action.

Effective emotions for fostering action are:

●     Fear of missing out/exclusivity

●     Anxiety/urgency to act

●     Gratification

●     Gratitude

●     Celebration

Finally, A/B test, A/B test, A/B test. Assume nothing; test everything; and make sure that you're measuring the success of your subject line with metrics that are as far downstream as you can track. For many, this will be click/delivered metrics. But if you can track all the way to conversion, then judge the success of your subject line on conversion rate.

About the author:

Bart Thornburg leads email and SMS strategy, as well as technology and innovation as the Associate Director of Lifecycle Marketing at WeddingWire. He is a champion for A/B testing, data-driven decision making, and improving the user experience. Previously, Bart helped run the day-to-day email marketing operations at Targeted Victory, where his team sent more than one billion emails, bringing in more than $50 million in email revenue for 75 clients.

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