Proof Point #2: Email Subject Line Length Matters, SOMETIMES

Email Subject Line Length Does matterWelcome to our Proof Point series—highlighting research findings to use when advocating for the marketing approaches you know are right. 

Email subject line length DOES MATTER, as proven by Mail Chimp’s research on open rates for 200 million emails.

The best email subject lines are short [50 characters or less]…and provide the reader with a reason to explore your message further.

No surprise, as many email readers and browsers cut off subject lines there. But…

We’ve all read multiple takes debating the ideal subject line length, many of which are contradictory. In fact, Marketing Sherpa just released research on open rates for 9,300,000 emails, concluding that:

There’s no relationship between the number of characters in a subject line and whether or not the email is opened.

What’s a nonprofit communicator to do? It’s hard to know what to do when proof points contradict each other like this. So we’ve got to dig into the research or reasoning to learn more. When I did so here, I discovered that:

  • The tests aren’t apples-to-apples: Marketing Sherpa tested read rate, NOT open rate. Read rate is the percentage of email recipients who mark your email as ‘Read’ in their email client [i.e. email reader].
  • Look at the numbers—MailChimp sample size is 22 times that of Marketing Sherpa!
  • Both sources stress the value of results from A/B subject line testing with your organization’s list, over any other research or recommendation. E.g., “it depends.”
  • Size doesn’t matter when you’re targeting well-known recipients and customize the subject line accordingly. MailChimp’s research shows that subject line length is irrelevant “for campaigns whose subscribers were highly targeted. In these cases, readers appreciate the additional information in the subject line.”

So subject length size does matter, except when you know your audiences well and personalize your subject line accordingly. Proof point, sort of! Beware of the black and white.

More Proof Points
Proof Point #1 — Prioritize Websites & Email

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Bonus: Use these proof points to depersonalize decision making, and diffuse conflict. They’re useful when you:

  • Get push back on your recommendation
  • Are hit with a way-off marketing request
  • Choose proaction (do it!), building understanding, engagement and support for your marketing vision and execution. It’s the quickest way I know to establish your in-house expert status.

Nancy Schwartz on May 21, 2015 in Proof Points | 6 comments
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