I get asked a lot about how to make sure email campaigns to schools get the attention you want.
One key factor that often gets overlooked is the subject line.
It’s the first thing teachers will see and has a huge impact on whether they’ll give your email the time of day or not.
But, how long should they be? Is ‘quirky’ good, or should you opt for something more straightforward? Does personalisation really make a difference? And how much of an impact does your choice make on the unsubscribe rate of an email send?
My answer is often a variation of the mantra that every email marketer swears by: The only way to know for sure is to test. A/B subject line testing is the only real way to find out what is going to best engage your audience, and boost the open rates on your email campaigns to schools.
But even then, where do you start when crafting the best selection of subject lines to test?
Short on time? See our quick guide to creating the perfect subject lineTake me there now
Having sent thousands of email campaigns to schools, I think I have a good feel for what should work when choosing subject lines.
Instinct is a great tool, but I am at my core a numbers nerd and I didn’t want to make intelligent guesses; I wanted to know. I wanted to have the data laid out in front of me, so that I could analyse, categorise, and have real answers to give our clients.
To do that, I compiled a list of over 700 subject lines from email campaigns we have sent to schools for our clients, along with their open rates and unsubscribe rates, and categorised each one by type, tone, and personalisation.
The results were a little surprising…
Starting with email type, I assigned one of four labels to each subject line:
Benefits Led: promotes the benefits of the product or service on offer
Offer: directly mentions a special offer in the subject line
Question: asks a question, usually indicating that the answer can be found in the email
Statement: a simple description of what the email is about
Conventional wisdom often claims that questions in subject lines drive open rates, whereas my own anecdotal experience of A/B testing and analytics would suggest that the ‘benefits led’ approach is often the best way to go.
Many clients worry about their email campaigns to schools ending up in SPAM folders if they place an obvious special offer in the subject line, and others worry about being too boring by using a simple subject line.
So, what did the numbers say*?
Perhaps surprisingly, the highest average open rate was seen by the ‘offer’ type subject lines, with an average of 17.70%.
Second were the ‘statement’ type subject lines, with an average of 16.57% opens.
Then it was the ‘benefits led’ subject lines with an average open rate of 13.86%.
And finally, those quizzical subject lines achieved just 11.77% opens.
Next, I checked the average unsubscribe rates for each type of subject line. Those higher open rates are all well and good, but if people are only opening your email to hit that unsubscribe link, it’s not ideal. Again, the numbers weren’t exactly what I expected. Across all four categories, there was virtually no difference in average unsubscribe rates.
So, it seems that ‘offer’ subject lines are the best option when sending email campaigns to schools.
This assertion comes with a word of caution, though.
Offers only work if they seem genuine.
If every message you send has an offer in the subject line, you’ll soon see engagement rates drop as fast as your unsubscribe rates are climbing.
Use this type of subject line sparingly, and intersperse it with some simple statements to see the best open rates.
And remember, never stop testing! People can be fickle, and trends can change quickly.
Don’t take that tone with me…
You may be toying with the idea of using something offbeat and quirky… subject lines like that are attention grabbing, which can help cut through the noise of a busy inbox. But is it a good idea for your email campaigns to schools?
On the whole, no.
Average open rates for quirky subject lines were almost half the average of more straightforward options, which may be surprising.
The thing is, the tone of your subject line needs to match your overall tone of voice.
If your brand voice is quirky and fun, by all means go for a subject line that reflects that. But if you’re trying to sound more offbeat than you really are for the sake of opens, your audience will likely spot the inconsistency and respond negatively.
Finally, you need to decide whether or not to personalise your subject line. This could include the recipient’s name, the school name, or some other piece of relevant data (how about mentioning their subject specialism when targeting department heads?).
Every article you have ever read says that personalisation increases engagement, doesn’t it? This time, the answer is a big ‘Yes!’ Personalised subject lines saw a 10% higher average open rate than those without.
My advice is to get thinking about how you can make those subject lines more personal and relevant to your audience.
But… (there’s always a but) only do this if you trust the accuracy of the data you are using. Adding incorrect, or poorly formatted personalisation will damage that relationship you are working so hard to build.
Email engagement rates can rise and fall across campaigns. We don’t always know what is going to work and what isn’t, and even across a sample size this large, there will be a huge number of variables which have had an impact on the results.
Sometimes a subject line that asks a question will be the way to go. And sometimes, personalisation just won’t be appropriate. But if you need a little guidance on crafting a subject line for your next email campaign to schools, this is a great place to start.
You can also always rely on our experienced campaign managers and copywriters to give you plenty of advice, guidance and suggestions along the way.Get started now