3 web analytics tips for subject line testing

Why don’t more email marketers use testing in their campaigns? It isn’t lack of availability – every major email service provider has testing tools of some kind available in their repertoire. I suspect the problem is more in overcoming the mental hurdle of what to test. I say this with some confidence because you, dear reader, made the previous blog post about subject lines the most popular one ever. Rather than test and experiment, especially in times when resources are tight, most marketers default to what they know without testing simply because it’s either easier or less risky. In failing to test, however, you’re leaving significant money on the table.

Let’s take a look at another area ripe for harvesting when it comes to creating subject lines. Effective subject lines are hard to come by, and as writers we struggle with what to put in subject lines in order to test them. Last time we looked at the general Google index as a way of determining what subject lines to test. This time, let’s dig into your site’s specific analytics. I’ll be working with Google Analytics, but any reasonably good analytics package should work.

Start by looking at your top content over the period of time of your choice. What are the top 10 pages on your web site? These are the topics that generally and broadly, your audience is interested in. Depending on how well written your web site is, if you haven’t sent this content to your list, you could package up just that page (including its title as a subject line) and an excerpt to your list.

Consider your top content when subject line testing.

If you maintain a corporate blog with different analytics than your corporate web site, you’ll want to do this simple test for both sites. You’ll find which blog posts generated the most raw interest and pull subject lines and creative messages from those statistics. This, by the way, is another argument for blogging frequently on a corporate level – you never know what will pique your audience’s attention, but when you get a hit, you can leverage that knowledge in all your marketing.

How do people find your site? In your analytics, you’ll find search engine keywords that have led visitors to your site. No surprise here – the phrases that people use to find your site (indicating interest and intent) also may be good fodder for subject lines.

Keywords are an indicator of what to include in subject lines.

Let’s kick this up a notch. If you’ve correctly implemented Google’s free Webmaster Tools service, you should have access to statistics from Google about the way their visitors see your site. You’ll see how your site appears in search and the relevant search queries that got viewed and clicked in Google.

Search queries can be used to create dynamic subject lines.

What’s new in the more recent releases of Webmaster Tools is the ability to check clickthrough rate. It takes a very tiny leap of imagination to realize that a highly clicked search result (which is effectively a subject line for a web page) is likely to perform well as subject line material for an email. Try to rework the query as little as possible, because the way users type in their search indicates the language they’re using. Use their language as much as possible and you’ll get better results.

The power of web analytics is that we have more data than ever before to tell us what’s capturing the attention of our audiences and making them click on things. The goal, of course, is to boost open rates by having subject lines that catch attention, and these three tips should help give you some additional tools for crafting the subject lines you need for maximum action.

Christopher S. Penn
Director of Inbound Marketing, WhatCounts

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