Jan/Feb 2008

Ask the Expert: What Makes an Email Newsletter Subject Line Successful?

by Elizabeth Nielsen, Senior Interactive Consultant, Convio

Q: We know that the subject of an email message is extremely important, but we struggle with what to include in the subject line for our monthly enewsletter. Any advice?

A: You're right — even though staff put significant time and resources into creating the perfect subject line for fundraising or advocacy appeals, too often this component is overlooked for the organization's email newsletter. Although email newsletters don't usually get the same response as a dedicated appeal, they are a tremendously important tool in building and maintaining relationships with constituents over time.

While there's no magic recipe for the perfect email newsletter subject line, here are three best practices you can follow:

1. Tell us what's inside

The bulk of the subject line space should always be used as a cue to what's inside. The subject line of your email newsletter isn't the place to get cute; save your creativity for dedicated appeals. Constituents subscribe to your newsletter to receive updates about the organization and valuable information about current programs and events. Try to reference multiple topics from the email newsletter to appeal to the widest range of readers. Focus on the most compelling or highest priority content. Interesting, clear text reminds your constituents of the value you deliver to their inbox each week/month and keeps them on your list and engaged — even if they don't open the message… this time.

2. Be consistent

Users appreciate a little consistency in the subject line to make the email newsletter easy to identify in the inbox. Consider including the email newsletter name or another indicator in the subject line, but be careful as too much consistency can feel old or tired. Test different subject lines to gauge how your audience responds.

3. Watch the length

Remember, various email clients and platforms don't display messages consistently (Outlook, Yahoo!, Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, etc. may all display the subject line differently). Most email clients allow for 50-60 characters to display in a subject line, which is not that much to work with!

These best practices may all sound easy, but each month I receive dozens of email newsletters with subject lines that leave me flat. As you're finalizing your subject line, here are three additional tips on what not to do:

1. Don't use the same subject line for each issue

There's nothing less inspiring than receiving an email communication with the same subject line month after month after month. You put significant time into creating the content for each email newsletter. A stale subject line gives your constituents the impression that you don't have anything new or timely to share!

2. Do away with the issue/version numbers

Including an issue/version number is irrelevant to your readers, and again, it doesn't tip them off to the great content inside. Do away with the issue and version and use that precious space with compelling text that tells the reader what's new.

3. Don't include your organization's name or the date

You have limited space and time to grab a reader's attention so be sure you're making the most of what's available to you. If your organization's name is in the "From" line, there's really no need to repeat it in the subject. In addition, including date references in your subject is redundant; we all know our email messages are time-stamped!

It can be hard to know what to include in a recurring communication, but because the message is a scheduled constant, you have a regular opportunity to improve your efforts. Become cognizant of the email newsletters you receive on a regular basis and think about the reasons why you do and don't open them. Once you've got the basics down, start testing! Convio Email Marketing allows you the opportunity to perform A/B tests to understand what your constituent base responds to best.

Ask the Expert: What Makes an Email Newsletter Subject Line Successful? | Convio