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Shocking! 'Clickbait' Doesn't Work With Email Marketing

Shocking! 'Clickbait' Doesn't Work With Email Marketing
Credit: Rosenthal/Shutterstock

If you want better returns on your email marketing efforts, pay close attention to your subject lines.

"Clickbait" subject lines that try to shock you into reading a message and those that promote prices and discounts are among the least effective, according to new research from data solutions provider Return Path.

While clickbait subject lines like "you won’t believe this shocking secret" are very successful at garnering Web traffic, they don't provide the same results via email. Specifically, the use of the phrase "secret of" in a subject line results in an 8.69 percent decrease in read rates compared with messages containing similar content sent with different subject lines. Additionally, the use of the word "shocking" had a 1.22 percent decrease in read rates.

The research also revealed that value-based subject lines that highlight prices and discounts don't perform as well as many might expect. Subject lines containing the keywords "discount," "save," "sales," "clearance" and "free," as well as those with dollar signs and percentages, yielded lower read rates than comparable messages with alternate subject lines. 

Better options are to use subject lines that are benefit or urgency-based. The study discovered that those featuring superlatives like "fastest" generate 5.3 percent higher read rates than similar messages with different subject lines. [10 Essentials for Successful Email Marketing Campaigns ]

In addition, urgency-based subject lines that use words like "limited time," "last chance" and "expiring" also had increased read rates.

While subject line word choice can have a big impact on an email marketing campaign's success, subject line length can make slight difference. The research found that although subject lines longer than 100 characters had the lowest read rates, those just slightly shorter, between 91 and 100 characters, were among the best-performing.

For the study, Return Path analyzed more than 9 million subject lines received by more than 2 million subscribers.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.