Email Headers In The Right Direction

Email may have supplanted snail mail for direct marketing, but the challenge remains the same: how to keep recipients from trashing your message before they read it. Here are a few best practices that may help your next campaign. We’ve all received plenty of direct-mail letters that we’ve tossed without bothering to open the envelope. Then there are the envelopes that interest us enough to at least open. Well, the email equivalent of the envelope is the header—the From, To and Subject lines.

Here are some tips for optimizing your headers. From: Someone they’re hoping to hear from Send your email from someone who will mean something to your recipients: Joe Dokes has zero credibility. Joe Dokes is better. Productivity Solutions not only has credibility, it has promise! To: Someone that shows you know who you’re talking to As with any advertising, don’t talk at the masses; have a one-to-one dialog with each member of your target audience. Direct-marketing emails should go to persons, not lists:

  • Bad: Dokes Customer List
  • Good: Elmer Fudd (By the way, if you use an email service provider with an interface that doesn’t let you make changes like these to the header, you need to find a new one that’s more direct-marketing friendly.)

Subject: About something the reader wants to be subject to Make it short. Shoot for 50 well-chosen characters if you can. And don’t waste any of them on the name of your company. That’s in your From line, remember? Make it clear. Your recipients shouldn’t have to guess what your email is about. “Cut your IT capital costs in half with hosted solutions.” Make it intriguing. The subject line is the equivalent of the teaser on a direct-mail envelope. Here’s an email version of a tease that was effective on a direct mailer to prospective lessees for an office building: “Caution: Message contents can expand to 4,000 square feet.”

Arguably, this contradicts the previous tip. However, the return address on the envelope made it clear the mail came from a commercial real estate property. The From line of the header can offer a similar clarification. Make it compelling. If at all possible, your subject line should answer the most important question in advertising: What’s in it for me? “This 7-minute read can save you $700 today.” Make it qualify. Who do you most want to respond? In all likelihood, you’ll happily trade a high message-opening rate for a high response rate by those most likely to respond to your offer. If you have an ultra-highly targeted list, this tip may not apply. Otherwise, you may want to let recipients know whom your message really applies to: “Feeling pressure to cut IT costs yet boost productivity?” Make it urgent. Nothing drives action like urgency. “Last chance to register for …,” “The first 100 responders will receive a bonus …,” “Respond within 24 hours for a free …” Uh-oh! I hear alarm bells going off all over Web 2.0 World because I used that most taboo four-letter word, “free.” But hey, we’re talking about throwing away the most powerful word in advertising, so let’s dispel this urban legend here and now: Putting “free” in the subject line will not automatically consign your email to every recipient’s junk-mail box. Some maybe, but, depending on what you’re selling, the increase in reads will almost always be worth losing any messages that are filtered out, especially when you minimize them by following these rules: * Never put an exclamation point after “free”! (In fact, never use a slammer in a subject line.) * Don’t begin or end your subject line with “free” (which takes care of the exclamation point). * Don’t put FREE in all capital letters Finally, no subject line can accommodate all these tips of course. Use the ones that work best for what you’re doing.

Are you distributing an e-newsletter to customers? Soliciting participants for a webinar? Holding an inventory clearance sale? Recruiting resellers? Let the situation (and your testing results) guide your strategy.