Which Subject Line Won?

Email is a funny thing.

You can spend hours writing a well-thought out sales email… only to see it flop. And you can kick out something in minutes that creates a buying frenzy.

Naturally, your subject line plays a huge role in whether your email even gets opened. And, in theory, this also affects your sales.

With that in mind, let’s play a little game. You read the two subject lines below, and then see if you can pick which subject line won. Got it? Okay…

  • Subject Line #1: Long-Shot Leads to Unexpected Win
  • Subject Line #2: China tells U.S. to “go straight to hell.”

Just to give you a little bit more background on these emails, both were sent to a house list of folks interested in trading. Both sold the same product at the same price. And both “piggy-backed” on news events.

The first email piggy-backed on the 2009 Superbowl. The second email piggy-backed on China’s move to unload the fraudulent derivative products sold to them by U.S. banks.

So both had tie-ins to events that would have been top of mind for most traders.

Alright, have you made your decision?

Good, let’s move forward.

Here are the open rates for each email:

  • Subject Line #1: 741 opens
  • Subject Line #2: 1,434 opens

Did you guess right?

Well, maybe you did and maybe you didn’t — but you actually don’t know yet.

That’s because open rates are a relatively meaningless metric. Think of print advertisements. You don’t care how many people read your headline; you care about how many people actually buy.

Fortunately, this particular client took my recommendation to buy some simple (and affordable) ad tracking software.

We use this software program to track the open rates and sales of every email we send out. (We also track ads by source so we know when our advertising dollars are working and when they’re not.)

Because we track emails like this, I can tell you that the real winner was Subject Line #1 — and NOT Subject Line #2 as you probably guessed.

Here are the numbers:

  • Subject Line #1: Long-Shot Leads to Unexpected Win – 741 opens, 17 sales
  • Subject Line #2: China tells U.S. to “go straight to hell.” – 1,434 opens, 9 sales

If you’re paying close attention, the first email got about half as many opens… but… almost double the sales!

This real-life example proves that while your subject line matters — and you should always aim to get your emails opened — a high open rate does not necessarily guarantee a greater number of sales.

And while this example may be appear to be an anomaly, I promise you: it isn’t. I’ve seen this same story played out a number of times.

I have a theory about this.

There are people on every email list who will never buy. They’re either freebie seekers or they’re just not interested in what you have to offer. This is a fact.

Unfortunately, we tend to think that everybody on a list is a potential buyer… and so we try to write for the list.

This is a mistake because “the list” doesn’t buy. Individual people on the list do.

So when you write emails, try to imagine your ideal buyer. Write to that guy. And don’t worry about all the non-buyers — they’re never going to buy anything anyway.

Said another way, don’t focus on maximizing attention; focus on maximizing sales. Don’t write to the list; write to the latent buyers on the list.

Making this simple mindset shift could make a massive difference in the results you get from your email marketing.

-Ryan M. Healy

P.S. How do you know which emails are really working and which ones aren’t? And how do you know which ads are worth running again? Well, you can’t really know — unless you track your ads by source.

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Ryan Healy

Ryan Healy is a freelance copywriter, list manager, and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like WordStream.com, SmallBizClub.com, and MarketingForSuccess.com.

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