Why Writing Subject Lines Is a Lot Like Dating

When it comes to subject lines, marketers are constantly on the prowl to find “the one.” But often, they end up settling for losers. You know, the bossy ones (“You need this shoe. Now.”), the slightly immature (“Who Charted?”), and the ones that are way more into you than you are into them (“Elyse, we really like you”).

It’s OK. We’ve all been there.

“It’s almost like dating sometimes,” says Jerry Jao, CEO and cofounder of customer retention solution provider Retention Science. “If you give too much information, then the person loses interest. But if you’re a tiny bit secretive, then the girl or boy you’re trying to date will be a little more interested.”

While there’s no Cupid’s arrow for crafting the perfect subject line, Jao advises marketers to focus on three key elements: being clear, being concise, and being real. Here are four ways marketers can write one-liners their subscribers will love.

Be Clear

Don’t play games: Honesty is crucial in any relationship—especially the one brands form with their customers. When writing subject lines, marketers should always tell the truth. If an email contains information about a webinar, don’t write a subject line hinting towards a sale or new blog post.

“You don’t want to say things that are misleading but are going to capture someone’s attention and, as a result, get higher open rates,” Jao says. “You’re not going to carry them throughout the entire funnel through click-through and, ultimately, conversion. You’re also hurting your brand along the way.”

Be Concise

Don’t talk too much: According to a recent Retention Science study, subject lines containing six to 10 words perform the best and have a 21% open rate while subject lines containing 11 to 15 perform the worst and generate a 14% open rate. Yet, 52% of emails sent still contain 11 to 15-word subject lines.

While Jao doesn’t know why shorter subject lines perform better, he suspects that the increase in mobile email opens plays a factor. He also presumes that marketers cram as much information into subject lines as possible out of fear that they’ll leave something out that could generate a click.

Be Real

Test the waters: Thirty five percent of emails are now opened on mobile devices, according to Retention Science’s research, and Jao suspects that some companies see even higher mobile open rates. As a result, Jao encourages marketers to make their mobile emails responsive and to test their appearance before they go out. In other words, try out a few different outfits in front of the mirror before settling.

“Look at your own iPhone before you run a campaign and then count the number of words you can fit in,” Jao says. “A lot of times marketers forget that that’s the easiest [way] to just test whether things are going to work.”

Be interesting: We generally like to date people who know what’s going on in the world. Consumers like to know that their favorite brands are on top of pop culture, as well. In fact, subject lines containing movie or song references generated a 26% open rate, compared to traditional subject lines that generated 16% open rates.

Jao says that movie and song references can make email seem timely, relevant, and interesting. For instance, one Retention Science customer referenced singer/songwriter Adele with a “Rumor Has It” subject line. The company experienced results that “jumped out of our stats board,” Jao says.

“It ‘s very short, and doesn’t tell you anything,” Jao says. “But because Adele was so popular, everybody opened the email.”

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