So you’ve created the story you want to tell, have a powerful offer and are determined that the best medium is email. Your creative team has worked long and hard, using best practices and all their skills to create an effective and powerful representation of that story. You now have a great email that should drive engagement! Your development team has put in all the bells and whistles to track behavior. You have a great communications plan that is based on the customer’s engagement. You blast the thing.

And no one opens it.

This is a painful occurrence that too many marketers live through. To get past it, there is one surefire way to improve your open and engagement rates: subject-line testing.

According to Marketing Sherpa, most marketers (over 70%) say they use subject-line testing regularly. But, are they doing it right? Are the culture and process in place to ensure proper subject line testing every time?

Great subject-line copy starts with a culture that makes subject lines a priority, not an afterthought.

The goal of your subject line is to first grab the recipient’s attention and then convert that attention into interest. A hefty goal for a sentence, but it can be done. I’m not going to show you best practices around subject-line composition (I will cover that topic in another article). I’m going to discuss how you need to set up your digital processing culturally and operationally to ensure that subject lines are written well and tested.

Creative: Putting Subject Lines First

Subject lines can be the most important part of an email. Yet, they are often hastily thrown together after the email is completed. At KERN, we understand the importance of subject lines and have built a process in which the writer takes the creative brief and writes up to 10 subject lines. This may seem excessive, but forcing the writer to develop a host of good email subject lines does create better outcomes. Additionally, we have a set of best practices for writing subject lines. Yes, an entire 10-page document just on the pros and cons of short versus long, active versus passive, mobile versus tablet versus desktop, etc. We take it that seriously.

Process: No Email Goes out Without a Subject Line

Our dictate is that A/B testing of subject lines is just the bare minimum. We like to have at least four good alternatives in every blast. If you have a contract with an Email Service Provider, you must set up agreements and processes to make this happen. If your ESP tells you they don’t have a process for subject-line testing or the ability to give you results from the test within hours, then work with them to come up with a process. Or get a new ESP.

Take small, but statistically significant samples and blast to them no more than one day, prior to your main deployment. Results should be turned around the same day, and analysis on engagement metrics should be evaluated to determine the winning subject line. Remember to use both open rate and click-to-open rate to not only find out which subject line gets the most opens, but also which is most aligned with the message of the email so that consumers click through. Review opt-out rates to ensure the subject line is not so misleading as to encourage opt-outs.

When working with partners, such as acquisition emails sent directly from list/site owners, the process can become more difficult, only in the sense that they may not be used to doing this level of testing and reporting. Often they consider each combination of creative and subject line as a unique version. But work with your partners to try to put together a process. Even if you are limited to A/B testing, it’s a start.

We have seen increases in open rates of up to 40%–50% based on these tests. Usually, however, it is closer to 7%–9%. Still, this can mean significant increases for you in sales and revenue. Once the process is in place and it is second nature, never again will you wonder if it was your subject line that lowered engagement. And you will get that darn email opened!