Light On The Subject: Anatomy of Subject Lines & The Jeopardy Effect

Email campaigns can drive more leads with a higher ROI than their other content marketing counterparts — so long as your email stands out in an inbox. For our Email Data Report, we dug into the current state of email marketing, paying special attention to how marketers handle that all-important digital headline: the email subject.

Anatomy of a Subject Line

After analyzing 93,611 emails from over 2,158 email lists, we found that 59% of emails had subject lines with 50 characters or less. That’s just 1/3 of a tweet! However, shorter doesn’t necessarily mean simple.

TrackMaven's Email Data Report

TrackMaven’s Email Data Report

In a comparable study, MailChimp assessed over 40 million customer emails for the most successful subject line content. The best performing subject lines had open rates of 60-87% percent, while the poorest performers fell in the lowly 1-14% range. What separated the two camps? The more successful customers used email subjects as an opportunity to describe and set expectations for the content within, without sounding desperate. (Or as Mail Chimp put it: “When it comes to subject lines, don’t sell what’s inside. Tell what’s inside.”)

Take a look at the top 5 subject lines with the best and worst open rates from Mail Chimp’s study:

Image via Mail Chimp

Image via Mail Chimp

The Jeopardy Effect

Another interesting result from our Email Data Report: less than 5% of email subject lines used question marks. Now why is that?

TrackMaven's Email Data Report

TrackMaven’s Email Data Report

Roger Dooley, author of Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing, recently analyzed a study about the use of question headlines conducted by a team of researchers at the BI Norwegian Business School. Dooley analyzed this study for its marketing implications and noted that headlines written in question form outperformed declarative headers by 140 – 150% on average. Although this study was dedicated to headlines, its conclusions can translate well into email subject lines. Dooley attributed these results to what he dubs “the Jeopardy effect,” positing that marketers could learn a thing or two from America’s favorite quiz show.

So put together an A/B test and try getting inquisitive with your email subject lines. You may just earn yourself an open rate Daily Double.

Trying different things with you emails is essential in avoiding declines in open rates and click-through-rates. And one of the easiest ways to maintain email freshness is with your subject lines. Be objective and use questions to see a more impactful ROI from your emails.

Kara Burney is the Content Marketing Maven at TrackMaven, the Competitive Intelligence platform for Digital Marketers. Have content marketing questions or topics you'd like covered on the TrackMaven blog? Tweet her your ideas! See more of Kara's posts