May 23, 2018

…and the answer is “seven”

OK, so what’s the question? I’ll get to that in a moment, but first let’s talk about Inbound Marketing.

Inbound Marketing is a modern marketing practice that engages potential customers of products and services via content marketing, social media, and search and web optimization. Its primary difference from more traditional “outbound marketing”, in my mind, is the use of related content and incentives, which encourage people to self-identify, request more information, or make a purchase. The inbound marketer says “sign up for my useful newsletter!” or “Download this case study–it will improve everything you do.” The marketer gets your contact information and can measure your interest and you get an informative newsletter or nuggets of value from a whitepaper–that’s the ideal inbound scenario. The premise here is that these prospects are more likely to buy or select a company’s offering than what would come from mass-market outbound channel.

You’ve all been exposed to inbound marketing. Have you seen a white paper offer or a subscription to a blog recently? In many respects, if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re interested in library marketing or Patron Point (or both). And, that provides a greater opportunity to develop a marketing relationship with you than someone who may respond to an offer for a coffee cup. (Although offering a coffee cup in a blog post, might be fun.)

The big Inbound players are, as you might expect, companies that offer marketing automation platforms including Pardot, Hubspot, Marketo. These companies offer free subscriptions to their blog or other content related to online marketing. I subscribe to several of the blogs as a way to keep abreast of current thinking.

Recently, the Marketo blog had a post that I thought I might share: “What Email Subject Line Length Works Best?” written by Mike Madden. Ted and I are always thinking about the technical aspects of email marketing and subject lines are always part of the mix and I thought that Madden discerned a key learning that probably isn’t intuitively obvious.

He started with the question, “What email subject line length works best?” To conduct his analysis, he was able to tap into the resources of Marketo and include hundreds of email campaigns and millions of individual emails. This large data set reduced the variability of copy quality, word choice, etc. It also provided enough data to have significant results.

What I found most interesting was that, in terms of simple open rates, Madden found that shorter subject lines worked better than longer ones: a four-word subject line had an 77% higher open rate than a nine-word subject line. (In email marketing, it seems, shorter is better.)

However, as marketers we know that getting an email opened is part of the game, but getting to some level of engagement is really what you strive for. Whether clicking through to a web page, filling out a form, whatever, having the respondent do something results in a much higher quality interaction. So, taking his analysis further, Madden investigated what subject line word count produced the highest engagement rate.

The answer was 7. A seven-word subject lines produced the greatest engagement rate (defined as open rate x clicks to open)–one that was over 12% higher than the four-word subject line performance. Warning: An eight-word subject line had nearly half the performance of the seven-word line!

To be honest, I initially wasn’t comfortable with these findings. I struggled with the fact that a subject line could have any impact the performance of the body of the email. I thought of the two factors as independent of one another. But Madden’s point was this: As an email writer, you have more opportunity to be descriptive with nine words over, say, four. As a result, a nine-word subject line turns out to be more productive as the reader is more attuned to the email content than someone who clicked on four-word subject line. Hence, the chance that the reader is more likely to have further interest is higher…and is high enough to more than account for the drop off in open rates.

So, this doesn’t mean make all of your subject lines seven words. If you can write a good descriptive subject line in five words, by all means, make it so. If all you are going for is opens, then, definitely “go short” with the subject line. But, if your goal is greater email engagement, shoot for seven.

Shimshock out.

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