How to Create Email Subject Lines That Motivate Action

Which words, phrases, and incentives in subject lines work best at motivating consumers to take action? In this blog, we highlight the results of a recent large-scale study on subject lines to help you answer that question.

Study Analyzes Subject Line Performance of More Than 700 Million Emails

Phrasee – a company that develops software to automate and optimize email subject lines – analyzed the performance of more than 700 million emails sent earlier this year by retail and e-commerce companies in the United States and the United Kingdom. The goal of the study was to determine the impact of certain subject line components on open, click, and click-to-open rates.

In the analysis, each component was given a score on a scale of one to 100 that calculated the overall impact it had on response metrics: The higher the score, the more likely the specific subject line element motivated consumers to take action. Here are some of the key findings of the study:

  • High-Performing Adjectives and Adverbs

    Adding the right adjectives and adverbs can significantly boost a subject line’s effectiveness. In this study, “brand new,” “latest,” and “special” were all top-performing superlatives.

  • Asking Questions in Subject Lines

    Sometimes questions in subject lines worked well in driving action, and other times not so much. Negative questions that started with such words as “can’t” and “don’t” tended to perform worse, for example, while close-ended questions that could be answered with a yes or no did better.

  • Incentives

    This study found consumers responded to “free delivery” offers, especially when they were presented as an additional benefit. So starting a subject line with the product and sale, for example, and ending with “plus free delivery” garnered the highest open, click and click-to-open rates. Additionally, the use of the term “delivery” outperformed “shipping.”

  • Sense of Urgency

    In many cases, creating a sense of urgency in a subject line succeeds in driving opens and clicks. But always expressing it the same way can become boring for your subscribers. “Sale starts,” “back in stock,” and “sale now” were among the top-performing urgency phrases in this study. On the other hand, “hurry,” “ends soon,” “don’t miss out,” and “last few days” didn’t effectively motivate opens and clicks in this group of consumers.

  • Talk about Sales

    Consumers were more inspired to take action with the use of such sale-related words and phrases as “On orders over,” “off selected,” “our next order,” and “save an extra.” But “savings,” “offer ends,” and “off when you” motivated the least number of opens and clicks.

  • Personalization

    As we talked about in a previous NewsLever article, personalization pays off in email marketing. In this study, subject lines personalized with a first name performed well. Plus, a more simple form of personalization – using the phrase “just for you” – scored even higher than using a subscriber’s name.

  • Action Words in Calls to Action

    In subject lines that included a call to action, the words that performed best included “introducing,” “celebrate,” and “buy.” More functional words, however, such as “spend” and “claim your” didn’t do nearly as well.

  • Punctuation That Drives Opens and Clicks

    In this study, ellipses (…) seemed to pique consumers’ interest, and the use of three exclamation points (!!!) was also effective in emphasizing a point and driving up performance rates. The use of two or more commas in a subject line, however, resulted in a low response rate.

Although the results of this study reveal interesting trends and certainly can be useful in crafting great subject lines, testing and optimization is the key to achieving email subject line success.

At FulcrumTech, we see different target audiences often respond very differently to the same subject lines. By designing and implementing subject line testing and optimization programs, we’ve helped clients achieve significant improvements in open rates and conversions. A 67% increase in open rates and a boost of 87% in revenue is just one example of the type of success our subject line testing and optimization achieves for clients.

Do your subject lines inspire subscribers to open, click, and convert your email campaigns? If you think there’s room for improvement, contact the experts at FulcrumTech. We can help test and optimize your email subject lines to successfully drive up your organization’s performance metrics and email-marketing ROI!

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