To boost opens, click-throughs, keep subject lines short

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By Carol Krol

Short subject lines and lots of links produce higher response to e-mail marketing messages, according to a new report by EmailLabs, Redwood City, Calif.

EmailLabs’ "Delivery Trends Report," released this week, found that e-mails having a subject line of between 0 and 49 characters had a 27% open rate, while those with 50 or more characters had a 23.7% open rate.

The report analyzed three specific variables in e-mails sent by more than 650 client companies: Length of the subject line, message size and number of embedded links.

"It confirms what a lot of us had thought," said Loren McDonald, VP-marketing at EmailLabs, which provides e-mail marketing automation tools.

"Those get better open and click-through rates," he said, referring to e-mails with shorter subject lines.

McDonald said the findings make the point that people with mailboxes full of opt-in e-mails, as well as spam, have a short attention span when it comes to marketing e-mails.

"You have a very small window to capture their attention and get them to open [an e-mail]," McDonald said. He said subject-line writing is akin to "top of the fold headline writing," and he said he thinks that it takes a different skill set than that required to craft the e-mail marketing message itself. "You need a subject line that is quickly and easily comprehended," he said.

The study also found that the more embedded hyperlinks an e-mail has, the better the open rate. E-mails with 25 or more links had an open rate of 27.8%, while e-mails with 0 to 24 links had an open rate of 25.1%.

"There’s a much greater chance of someone seeing something of value or interest to them," McDonald said. "Whether the strategy does what you want it to do is a different issue, but it definitely increases click-through," he said. The more links there are, the greater the chances that one or more will resonate with the recipient, he said.

"While 25 links may sound like a lot, navigation and administrative-type links in best practices newsletters can easily reach 15 to 20 links.

Another finding from the report was that size does matter in e-mail messages.

The smallest messages (less than 3 KB) had a 3.7% bounce rate of messages sent, while messages with 80 or more kilobytes had a bounce rate of only 1.9%.

"Normally, large messages are more susceptible to bounces because corporate servers are often configured to block messages over a certain size in an effort to block spam and viruses," McDonald said. "It’s counterintuitive." The largest messages also had the lowest unsubscribe rates, while the smallest messages had the highest unsubscribe rates.

McDonald speculated that the smallest messages didn’t provide enough high-value information. "Maybe some of our clients doing these small messages weren’t doing such a good job with providing compelling content," he said, while the bounce rate, he explained, might suggest those same people had not done a good job of list hygiene.

While EmailLabs recommends a general rule of thumb for message size, 40KB to 50KB, "marketers shouldn’t be too concerned with the size of their messages, with our analysis not revealing any negative effect on performance from larger-sized messages," he said.

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