Insider Tips for the Perfect Headline: Email, Mobile, or Social

The perfect headline grabs the reader’s attention!

I am a big believer in focusing on a meaningful subject line – a headline that works. I use these for subject lines for my emails, Facebook, and LinkedIn headlines, Twitter updates, and even for that short SMS burst.

My approach to choosing this headline was based on simple A/B tests among friends, recipients, and my team. It is one thing if this task is infrequent, but given the load on us digital marketers, we have the onus to always keep a fresh set of headlines even if we are reusing old content.

I have developed categories for different types of headlines, but before I share those with you let me tell you how I almost lost my job.

About seven years ago, I was burdened with too much to do as a digital marketer. I truly felt like a hamster trying to pick subject lines for different email campaigns. It was Friday morning and I was already tired, so I placed a temporary placeholder for a campaign – “Insert Witty Subject Line Here!”

At five that afternoon, my heart sank as I saw my inbox fill with a confirmation receipt for a campaign that was sent to 1.4 million recipients. My weekend was awful and I was expecting the worse when I met with my boss at 3 p.m. on Monday. Not surprisingly, he didn’t notice the error, but more than 70 percent of my list did.

My statistics were as follows – 73 percent open rates, 21 percent click-through rates, and a normal unsubscribe rate. The reply to inbox had 2,714 emails from recipients, each recommending their “witty subject line.”

The suggestions I received were terrific – these were the real recipients of my campaigns who took the time to give me feedback on what I sent to them. Many of the recipients sent me one-liners, and a fair number of recipients even took the time to explain what they were looking for in a campaign headline. Plus, I got a lot of good feedback on my campaigns.

I grouped the responses from recipients back into the original user segments – that allowed me to see the types of subject lines being proposed by different segments. I got witty subject lines, serious subject lines, and exposure to a number of different categories.

My approach to subject lines now is a little more systematic.

I recommend you start by sharing your message copy with those providing feedback a few days to a few hours prior to getting out the message. Even if you can go out on social media – Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn – 15 minutes before launching the actual campaign, you will end up with advice that will make a remarkable difference.

Next, I recommend an A/B test on a few of these headlines. The best performing subject line is typically used on the balance of my campaign and I put the ones that I did not use to very good use.

My suggestion is to use these “unused subject lines” as part of your social campaigns. So the same content is peppered with different headlines – this helps me boost my response rates.

I have done tests and contests where I have my list vote on what headline will win for the upcoming campaign. It gets my users involved and this does go a long way in keeping things engaging.

The best thing to do is to build up an insiders’ club. An insiders club is part of your list – they are the people who respond to your campaigns. Reach out to those who respond and request them to be part of this insiders’ club. If you want some tips on creating this inner circle, please read this article.

SES San Francisco is going to have a complete day dedicated to email marketing, plus a daylong boot camp for digital marketers to sharpen their skills. My class at SES will include the 15 different subject line categories and I promise to share those after the event.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

Related reading