What’s the quickest way I can improve my e-mail open rate?

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Answer: According to a recent study by Return Path, 55.2% of e-mail recipients opened a message because the subject line clearly stated the offer. Unlike a newsletter headline, the subject line of an e-mail is totally self-sufficient and does not rely on page placement, layout, design or any other assistance to pull readers into the copy.

The subject line should be treated as a specialized headline, meant to do one thing: get recipients to open the e-mail. Several key elements should be considered when creating an effective subject line:

  • Clearly state the offer in the subject line, and make sure it appeals to the target audience. If this means segmenting your campaigns into smaller blocks, then it’s worth the effort to ensure the most effective subject line is used.
  • Use message personalization. Despite spammers and phishers occasionally adding names to subject lines, tests show that personalized subject lines perform better. Mention other personal information such as a specific job roles or recent purchases to dynamically create effective, personalized subject lines.
  • Place the most powerful information at the front of the line. Many e-mail clients and most PDAs display only a small portion of the subject line. The first few words need to be the most important of the entire line, and should include the leading offer and as many other elements as practical.
  • Offer answers to customer pain points. Use information you know from customer purchases or subscriber activity in the subject line. These should be critical messages based on time of year, time of service, product lifespan, last contact, etc.
Because of the heavy responsibility of the subject line, it must be frequently tested before and after use to ensure best results. No matter how enticing the offer is, if the subject line doesn’t do its job, the e-mail campaign will probably not meet its performance goals. Since nobody reads an e-mail message that’s not opened, creating a self-sufficient subject line should be top priority for any e-mail marketer.

Jim Kinkade is the technical director at Arial Software (, a provider of performance e-mail delivery software.

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