Dec 23, 2008

Enticing Subject Lines Are Not Enough

I’ve been sending email newsletters for about 7 years now. I’m no longer worried about my open and click rates. You kind of find your stride after your first few dozen emails. Writing effective subject lines, doing A/B testing, finding your best day to send—that stuff just comes naturally over time.

The thing I find most challenging now is writing salutations and using my 250 pixels of preview pane space to entice subscribers to actually scroll down and read my emails.

Here are some tricks I’m playing around with, and some nice examples from other MailChimp users…

Here’s what I mean. I had to send a very important email announcement recently, to my most "active" MailChimp customers (here’s what it looked like).

It had 2 important items. First, I wanted people to know that we were planning some server downtime in January. So this was an early "heads-up" about that.

Second, we really, really wanted users to take our end-of-2008 feedback survey. The survey was more urgent to me than the downtime announcement, since the downtime’s not happening for another month or two. But you don’t start a "system alert" email with a fluffy survey link. So you start with the important server stuff, and you put the survey stuff below it.

Now, I know my readers.

Most would open my email, read the first paragraph about the server downtime, then immediately hit reply to ask me questions (thereby neglecting the entire 2nd paragraph about the survey).

So I tried to really emphasize the point that there are TWO really important things.

Entice With Numbers and Bulletpoints

Here’s my 250 pixel preview box of that campaign:

Notice that in my pre-header (the tiny text above my logo), I talk about a "big announcement" plus a quick survey. Using that pre-header space is a trick I learned from Lisa Harmon over at the EEC Blog.

Below the logo, in my salutation, I don’t even bother with any "Dear FNAME," stuff. Sometimes that’s good to do, but in my case, I need to emphasize "2 quick things…" more than anything else.

Then, in my body text, I start off with the number 1). I figure if people see a 1), they’ll assume there must be a 2) somewhere down below.

See how much thought I put into a stupid 250 pixel box? And people in the office wonder why I take so long to send newsletters. It takes a lot of work squeezing attention-getting stuff into that space.

Here are some examples from other MailChimp users that I’ve stumbled upon…

Another numbers example…

Neil Corman Photography recently use MailChimp’s RSS-to-email tool to send his readers a new photo everyday for 30 days (automatically, whenever he updated his blog). Then, he sent a newsletter (here’s the archive link) asking readers to vote for their fav photo:

Great idea to include the "thirty days" in giant letters, and including "your vote…" makes me want to scroll down to look at the options.

Entice With Tips

My accountant recently asked me for some help with her email’s salutation. She was sending her annual, "Please read this so that doing your taxes this year won’t be such a pain in the you-know-what" email newsletter.

She was spending far too much time worrying about how to "personalize" the salutation with an FNAME.

I recommended she get the words "tips" and "2008″ and "2009″ as high as possible:

In retrospect, I probably should have recommended something more like:

If I got an email from my accountant with "Important 2008 tax…" peeking out from my preview pane, I’d open it. Fast.

Entice with Humor

The folks at Aviary (super powerful tool, like Photoshop in your browser) sent a campaign from MailChimp that started off like this:

Woohoo! would get my attention, and entice me to scroll (if the talking toucan didn’t already).

Entice with a Table of Contents (and ninjas)

Mozilla Firefox sends a newsletter that always starts with an "In this issue" table of contents at the start:

Assuming their readers are a little more tech-savvy, they probably appreciate a list that they can skim.

Here’s an archive of Mozilla’s actual email newsletter.  It did its job for me. I skimmed through and clicked on the items that mattered to me: mobile, QA community, and videos.

Now, I happened to watch some of the Firefox videos, and noticed that they include ninjas. Shame on Mozilla for not saying, "New Firefox Videos (Ninjas included)." Missed opportunity. :-)

So long as you’re sending permission based emails, and so long as you’ve found your stride in sending decent, useful content, you’re going to have a pretty stable open rate over time. Your loyal readers will open. The trick is getting busy subscribers to open AND actually read all your content.

If anybody out there has any other tips for enticing readers to scroll (and would like to be showcased on this blog), comment below.