Cold Emails and Subject Lines: What Works (According to Hard Data)

Cold Emails and Subject Lines: What Works (According to Hard Data)

Most studies are conducted over a limited period of time with a relatively small number of test cases. Usually, we are forced to go off of data from a few hundred or few thousand different sources. The data derived is usually pretty accurate, but more would be nice.

Usually, we are forced to go off of data from a few hundred or few thousand different sources. The data derived is usually pretty accurate, but more would be nice.

The data derived is usually pretty accurate, but more would be nice.

How about 24 billion (with a B) different tests?

In an ongoing study, Mailchimp pulls several stats from just about every email sent via their marketing platform. As of the time they published some findings specifically about subject lines, that was “approximately 24 billion delivered emails”.

Out of all those individual notes they found 22,000 distinct words and several patterns that could help improve your response rate and overall engagement (if deciphered correctly).

In this post, we’ll go over three things the hard data revealed and see how we can specifically apply it to sales enablement towards the top of your funnel.

Reliability Alert: You may be wondering just how trustworthy data collected from so many sources can be. Mailchimp used some very rigid criteria and study parameters to ensure the highest level of accuracy possible. To read over the guidelines used, here’s the link to the original article.

More Personalized than Short

There are a lot of subject line guides and blog posts suggesting that short subject lines are more likely to get opened—but that’s not necessarily accurate.

Most emails sent have a subject line of less than 50 characters. With more emails having shorter subjects, data can be easily skewed to believe that shorter is better. However, with a large set of emails studied, there isn’t a noticeable correlation between the length of your subject line and open/read rates.

Personalization, however, does help improve the open rate and increases the number of characters in your subject. Mailchimp broke down using contact names into three categories; first name, last name, and first and last name.

The “winner”? Surprisingly, first and last name.

The first name only had a .09 increase in opens, last name fared better with a .17 and both had an impressive .33 increase in open rate. If you send 1000 emails a month that would be roughly 36 more responses from cold outreach per year.

As far as length compared with this data, the average first and last name in the U.S.A. being between ten and twelve characters, you’ve already eaten up around 20%+ of the subject line budget many say you should use.

How Should You Use the Data

Personalize Emails Where Possible: No matter what length your subject line comes to, you should be adding at least the first name. Experiment with the other two (first/last and last only) and see if they produce results.

Don’t Change the Subject: There are reps who meticulously calculate their subject lines in order to keep them extremely brief. Don’t do that. Tell them what’s in the email with less regard for length and more for purpose.

Keep It Brief: This is not a contradictory point. Just because you don’t have to ensure a character count doesn’t mean you should lose regard for brevity. Keep it simple and to the point.

Promissory and Educational, not Clickbait and Scams

How many emails have you opened (at your business address, anyway) with the subject lines:

  • “You won’t believe…”
  • “What happened next was just SHOCKING!”
  • “It couldn’t have ended any worse.”

The answer is most-likely zero!

At home, executives may be lured into clicking on pictures of forgotten celebrities and videos of cats, but on the job they throw emails with these subject lines in the circular file (trash can). Clickbait understandably performs poorly. Even if it’s opened, taking an offer seriously is highly unlikely.

Another way to thwart opens is to use language that has become associated with scams and shady offerings. Words that have a negative impact include; cheapest, sale, even free (surprising to some).

Symbols also prove to hinder results. The dollar sign ($) is understandable, but even the percentage sign (%) was shown to be harmful. There may be a difference between subjects like “25% off now through…” and “Case Study: 78% increase in retention”.

However, to find that out—you’ll have to test your own results.

On the positive side of things, educational and promissory language performed very well in getting contacts to “open up”.

Adjectives that resonated with recipients were mostly those making promises. Fast, Fastest, Easiest and others have positive impacts on read rates. They make promises. Here are a few examples to wrap your mind around this point.

  • “Fastest Way to Onboard New Clients”
  • “Easiest Plan to Organize Inventories”
  • “Move Your Freight Cross-Country Faster”

Educational words also made a great impact. “How to”, “Steps”, and “Ways” are a few keywords to use when trying to convey an educational benefit from your email.

How Should You Use the Data

Avoid Clickbait and Discount Tactics: It’s hard to convey value when sending emails that make people feel cheap. Make sure that your subject lines convey strength and build confidence instead of trying to trick people into opening. It won’t work long-term.

Boil Down the Value: If the content of your email is worth reading, tell them why in the subject. Ensure that the subject clearly explains what they’ll find when they click on it.

Send Content that Allows You Use the Words: What do your prospects want to know? Find or develop that content and send it to them. If leads want “how-tos”, by all means, find them and adjust your subject lines accordingly.

Genuine and Clear, not News and Updates

There seems to be a bit of a misconception that reps should send company updates and newsletters to prospects in order to keep communication going.

Sometimes data is harsh, and in this case, most people don’t want to read about your company. Not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but if you aren’t an investor in a business; you probably wouldn’t read up on them past what you need either.

If a subject line hints of a personal or company newsletter, it usually doesn’t get read. Words like “Announcing”, “Read”, and “See” perform poorly. Not surprisingly, personal pronouns (I, me, my)  don’t do any better.

Words that make the email about the recipient fare very well. Call to action words like “Download” and “Register” puts not only the focus on readers, it gives them something to do (if they want).

Even “Thank You” does well. Granted there isn’t a lot of opportunities to use that term in outreach—but you could think out-of-the-box.

Let’s say you send an email to another exec to find the right person (e.g. decision maker) and they respond with the name. Sending them a “Thank You” email would build rapport with a direct or indirect influencer. Food for thought.

How Should You Use the Data

Be Clear and Strong: A sentence excerpt from the book Predictable Prospecting,my best advice is to make sure the subject line and first sentence of any email is very clear about your offering and the problem you are solving.”

Avoid Me, Me, Me Language: Don’t write about you, or your company in the subject. Wait until they are ready to learn about your solution and then tell them what they need to know.

Be Genuine: No matter what you are typing in the subject line, mean it. The email should also be full of truth and a real view of your company. If you believe in your products, make sure it comes out even in a short line.

Always Be Testing

Don’t just rewrite all of your subject lines tonight and send a fresh batch tomorrow. You won’t be able to gauge how effective anything is that way. Start slow and keep track of the open rate across a large enough pool to yield real results (I’d say at least several hundred).

Then, do it again.