The search-optimized subject line

When it comes to composing subject lines, we’ve traditionally given two schools of advice here at WhatCounts.

For subscribers who already know you and know what to expect from you, consider using a consistent subject line. Assuming that you’re doing a good job of creating valuable content, having a consistent subject line allows subscribers to identify your email quickly and move it to their mental reading list.

For subscribers who don’t already know you, we recommend looking at and using formats similar to newspaper or magazine headlines to better catch attention and increase open rates. Remember that generally speaking, open rates among subscribers who don’t know you well will be substantially lower than those who are loyal readers.

There’s a hint of future third type of subject line, one you may want to get started practicing now: the search-optimized subject line. For a very long time, email providers (especially web-based email providers like Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, and Gmail) have provided search functions to help users find emails, but Google has started a game-changer of its own: letting users have emails included in their search results. Here’s an example from my web search and inbox:

Search optimized subject lines get picked first in Google Search.

In the above example, I looked for my newsletter by title, and found both the web page and the newsletter itself. Logically, the same practices that have made web pages searchable should probably work equally well in emails that are destined for a universal search engine. If this experiment by Google is successful, expect it to roll out to Gmail users over time and even to other email providers.

Think about the differences in these two example subject lines from a search perspective:

  1. Save now with our latest incredible sale, 60% off!
  2. Inexpensive snowshoes for sale, 60% off

If someone’s searching using Google’s universal search for inexpensive snowshoes, a search query is much more likely to look like subject line #2 rather than subject line #1.

Right now, this is merely a field test by Google, so stay tuned. However, it can’t hurt to look at the subject lines of the last 5 email campaigns you’ve sent out and ask yourself, do they use language that you’d find in a search query? If not, how could you rewrite them so that they’d do so?

Christopher S. Penn
Director of Inbound Marketing, WhatCounts

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1 Comment

  1. Email subject lines need to be catchy and now they need to be optimized as well. Take the same approach that you would when creating the title of a blog post or an article. Essentially it is the title that encourages people to click to continue reading.

    Reply

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