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Opened or Not – Email Subject Lines Still Drive Engagement

Email marketers tend to see the Subject Line as the primary way to get someone to open an email. Each email open is seen as the primary thing marketers want their subscribers to do with every email. The thinking goes like this:

Write a good Subject Line – get more people to open – get more clicks – get more conversions.

Write a bad Subject Line – fewer people open the email – get fewer clicks – get less conversions.

Armed with this simplistic view, marketers set about trying to optimize to find the best sales Subject Lines. But the reality is it couldn’t be further from the truth!

As the chart below shows, the number of actions and decisions that a Subject Line influences for better or worse is exponentially more complex than:

Open Yes or No? If Yes – Click, If NO delete/mark spam.

Click Yes or No? If Yes – Convert If NO delete.

If you think that is complicated, you need to remember that every one of those actions is influenced by the emails and Subject Lines you have already sent and will influence those you are yet to send.

For example, someone gets an email from a retailer saying, “Great deals on yoga pants in store and online”. They do NOT open the email but happen to be walking past the retailer’s store that day. They go inside to look at the product, but don’t have time to stick around and make the purchase.

Two days later another email arrives from the retailer repeating the message or reminding them the offer is about to expire. The person opens that email then clicks and buys. Throw in things like what device each Subject Line was viewed on, whether they “read” or just“skimmed” the email content and you will get the point.

It is not only possible, but quite likely that an email with a very high open rate will generate less sales (if you take other channels into account) than one with a very low open rate that had an attention-grabbing email Subject Line and “nudged” thousands of people who did not open into the store or to visit your site.

A DMA Consumer Tracking Report provided evidence of the nudge effect of email Subject Lines, revealing at least four and arguably five of the six most likely actions taken by consumers because of receiving a marketing email do not involve a click. If the Subject Line is informative enough the email may not even have been opened!

If you are serious about optimizing Subject Lines to promote opens and take advantage of the nudge effect, you should consider a tool such as Subject Line Pro. It is a web-based virtual testing application that enables you to test up to ten Subject Lines at once and get real, accurate results in instantly.

Now that you understand how Subject Lines can drive engagement directly and indirectly, you should start looking beyond the opens and clicks generated immediately by your Subject Lines and reconsider the attribution model for your email marketing campaigns.