Tips on catching the reader's eye

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Breaking through the inbox clutter is no small feat, so it's not surprising that publishers spend a lot of time and effort to get their e-mails' subject lines and preview pane content just right. “You have to have really smart people doing subject lines,” said Frank Cutitta, general manager of IDG Connect. “[Subject lines] have to be provocative enough but not—and this might sound strange in the world of IT, but it's true—too steamy that it hits a tripwire at the ISP. That's a huge part of our business.” IDG Connect does a lot of A/B testing on subject lines, Cutitta said. “You have to have a basis for comparison, and we're constantly arguing about which is more effective—creative copy or straightforward copy,” he said. “We're constantly testing that on our database.” The type of publication will determine what kind of subject line works best, said Traci Young, VP-product development, RBInteractive at Reed Business Information. “For publications that are more news-based, the subject lines tend to be more topical and about the issues,” she said. “The ones that are more feature-rich, covering a topic in depth, the subject line tends to reflect that.” Overall, she said, subject lines must be descriptive and easily understood, avoiding jargon that readers might not understand. Considering what content will appear in an e-mail client's preview pane is also important. TechWeb recently revamped its InformationWeek daily e-mail to add a preview pane at the top. “We've gotten lots of feedback from the audience that indicated that they open their e-mails in a split-screen mode and wanted a preview pane box that would offer a summary of the newsletter's content,” said Tom Smith, VP-Web analytics at TechWeb. “That was really important.” Smith said TechWeb also cut down on the length of the newsletter. “We're cognizant of how many newsletters the typical person receives and wanted to be economical about that,” he said. Penton Media has also redesigned some newsletters to display better in the preview pane, said Sandi Brown, director-online audience development, adding calls to action and removing images at the very top of the e-mail. The company also moved ad positions down below the table of contents. “That's the first glance, and sometimes the only glance, that your readers see of your product; so, hopefully, there's compelling content up in that area that will cause them to open the newsletter,” she said. —M.E.M.
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