Tuesday, April 26, 2011 11:03 AM
“Brevity is the soul of wit,” wrote Shakespeare, and this principle of communication has held true for centuries. In email marketing, too, brevity can pay off big time. A recent study found that marketing posts on Facebook that are less than 80 characters create 27% more engagement than their longer counterparts. In email subject lines, this concision is equally important if not more so, given that many email providers crop subject lines after a certain number of characters.
The character limits
Various studies have found that the major email providers tend to cluster between a 40 and 50 character limit for their subject lines:
- AOL: 38
- Hotmail: about 45 for their initial line (using word wrap)
- Yahoo!: 47
- Gmail: 130
- Thunderbird: 130
- Outlook: 255 characters
At 255 characters, Outlook may have a much longer character limit than other providers. However, two things must still be taken into consideration:
One, any screen can restored down, meaning that the subject line will be truncated due to screen size rather than platform requirements. Thus, your 255 Outlook subject line can – and will – become less than 50 characters very easily. Two, (and still extremely important) is the factor that AOL’s 38-character-limit, while just applicable to one email platform, still represents 22% of the email market.
The mobile factor
Even more pressing is the fact that a growing reliance on mobile devices for email delivery means smaller screens which display even fewer characters. If your message doesn’t at least attempt to cater to those customers, you’re unnecessarily limiting potential customers. It’s the email equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. For this reason, it is generally industry practice to keep your subject line within a 40-50 character limit.
So, if you’re a furniture company, and you’re trying to announce a sale on a new line of chairs, you have a few options. You can go the wordy route, describing the product and event in your subject line without paying attention to character length:
“Colorful new beach chairs are now available in a variety of styles, and are fifty percent off for a limited time only!”
While descriptive, this subject line suffers from fatal flaws. Though it would be an effective sentence in the body of an email, Hotmail’s 45-character limit would cut it down to “Colorful new beach chairs are now available i”. Poor AOL subscribers would receive the bewildering “Colorful new beach chairs are now avai”.
Front-loading your email message with the most compelling part of your message can be a more effective use of your characters…
“Today only: get 50% off beach chairs! All styles, all colors, all ready for summer.”
This email subject is marketing pay-dirt. Consider what the different email subscribers will see:
- AOL: “Today only: get 50% off beach chairs!”
- Hotmail: “Today only: get 50% off beach chairs! All sty”
- Yahoo!: “Today only: get 50% off beach chairs! All style”
- Gmail: “Today only: get 50% off beach chairs! All styles, all colors, all ready for summer.”
- Thunderbird: “Today only: get 50% off beach chairs! All styles, all colors, all ready for summer.”
- Outlook: “Today only: get 50% off beach chairs! All styles, all colors, all ready for summer.”
Key words and calls to action are carefully placed at the beginning of the subject line. Even the AOL customer now knows that there’s a sale going on, that there’s an end time for this sale (specifically, today), what items are on sale, and how much they will be discounted. With a limited amount of time in which to surf your inbox, which email would YOU choose to open?
The Bottom Line
You shouldn’t stuff your subject line with keywords without a thought to creativity. “Company X Chair Sale 50% OFF NOW” can be just as alienating as any rambling flowery prose. The trick is to strike a happy medium. Correctly manipulating subject length is excellent, but it will achieve nothing if the relevant words aren't contained within it. Make your subjects sound urgent, exclusive, and exciting, and your customers are most likely to click through. In the interest of brevity: minimize length, maximize message…and you’ll be well on your way to a successful marketing campaign.