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How can marketers optimize email subject-line performance?

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Think of a subject line as your outer envelope. If you don't entice your reader inside, they'll never see your pitch, so your chances of generating a brand new lead or sale are zilch. Remember, every 1% boost in open rate brings you more prospects and customers—and will pay you more net dollars. So consider spending at least as much time on your subject-line testing as you do on pricing or offers. It helps that subject-line testing is cheap, easy and hassle-free. Here are a few ways to get started:
  1. Have something to say that's new, timely or “on sale.” Get it into your subject line and it's sure to pay dividends.
  2. Say it in CAPS if it's important enough. Consider anchoring your subject line with: “INSIDE,” “BREAKING NEWS” or “CONFIRMED.”
  3. Consider testing “free” as a visual hook, especially if you're giving away a white paper, premium, etc. One of my b-to-b clients witnessed a conversion-rate boost of 45%, even though some messages were no doubt captured by spam filters. Proof of the enduring allure of “free.”
  4. Got two messages? Test a combined subject line. For example: Introducing New Power Boost|ETW an iPad
  5. Put a date, price or dollar figure in your subject line. Numbers stop the eye and boost open rates.
  6. Don't forget “From” line testing, too. After all, what do you look at first when peeking at your inbox?
  7. Last, be sure to test wisely. One rule of thumb says you need 300 responses, or opens, per test panel to ensure your A/B test results are valid at a 95% confidence level. For small and midsize businesses that don't have the universe to test at this level, use what you have. Go ahead and test two panels of 800 if that's all you can spare. Then blast your message using the winning subject line.
Now get testing! Brendan Talty is an independent b-to-b direct response copywriter. He can be reached at taltyman@gmail.com.
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