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The Secret Behind High Email Open Rates
Posted March 15, 2012 by Jarrett Ray

How long did it take you to write your last fundraising email?

Some experts say you should expect to spend that equivalent amount of time writing your email’s subject line.

It sounds strange that you would spend so much time writing a subject line. On a regular day, you probably send 50 emails and don’t think twice about the subject line. But a good subject can be the difference between 10% of subscribers reading your email and 25%. This can translate into thousands of dollars in contributions and hundreds of missed opportunities to connect with your audience.  

You need to know how to consistently maximize the potential of your email marketing campaigns by writing powerful subject lines. We offer five best practices and six proven strategies that will streamline the process of writing an email subject line that will get opened.

Five Tips that Always Apply

Before you send your next email, here are five tips you should consider and make common practice.

  1. Write your subject line first. You might have to change your subject line later, but the subject will drive the tone of the email, and it will ensure your subject isn’t misleading. Deceptive subject lines often result in high spam complaints and opt-outs.
  2. Keep it under 50 characters. After 50 characters, many email clients (like Yahoo) will truncate your subject. In general, pithy subject lines of between two and four words (ex. “Political Machine”) give readers a reason to open your email and don’t bog them down in verbiage.
  3. Find inspiration from like minds. Subscribe to as many email lists as possible to see what other campaigns and organizations are doing. Another great way to spur your thought process is to scan websites like allows readers to vote on news articles they find interesting. Oftentimes, the articles that appear on the front page have compelling headlines.
  4. Avoid spammy keywords and special characters. Words and phrase that have been associated with spam can cripple the deliverability of your email. Common words to avoid include: breaking, friend, free, reminder, hot, and click here to name a few.

    Special characters that can trigger spam blocks include exclamation marks (!), the plus symbol (+), and the ampersand (&).
  5. Test. Test. Test. Many email marketing services offer the ability to easily A|B test your subject line. Find a service that has this functionality and use it to tailor the perfect subject line to your audience.

    If you’re stuck with an email marketing service that does not offer A|B testing, try segmenting your email list. Randomly select 20% of your list. Split that into two, and test two subject lines. After four hours, use the subject line with the highest open rate for the email to the remainder of your email list.

Six Proven Strategies

Some email subject lines are descriptive of the email content. Others use proven techniques that have resulted in high open rates in the past. The best approach is to combine one or two proven strategies with a short description of the content of your email.

  1. Numbers and Counts. The headline of this section (Six Proven Strategies) is a perfect example of Numbers and Counts. People do not read online content, they scan it. Numbered lists, bullet points, and bolding all appeal to the innate organization of how online readers prefer content.  

    Ex. 4 Facts About Wisconsin Union Protests
  2. Urgency. The half life of an email is remarkably fast, which is why this strategy is popular with retailers who often send daily emails. If a reader believes they can wait to read your email, it’s unlikely they will return at a later time.

    Enticing readers with a realistic reason to immediately act is a proven method for higher email open rates.

    Ex. Happening Now
  3. Ask a Question. Remember when your teacher said, “There are no bad questions.” The key here is to capture the question many are curious about, and let readers know you intend to answer it in your email.

    Ex.  Dick Lugar or Richard Mourdock?
  4. Localization. If your email is geo-targeted to a specific city or state, use the name of the location in the subject line. Many are proud of their city or state, and they are interested to learn why their hometown or state is being mentioned.

    Ex. Enraging Video from Michigan
  5. Personalization. Many email marketing services allows you to append first names and other data to an individual’s email address. If you want your email to stand out, use a detail about them like their first name or their total donation to your organization as a way to perk their interest.

    Ex. FIRSTNAME, will you stand with Indiana or Obama?
  6. Timeliness. Overall, the best strategy to make an email successful is to focus on an ongoing event, breaking news, or a deadline. Many federal campaigns use the end of the Federal Election Commission’s fundraising quarters and the corresponding reporting structure as a compelling way to ask their supporters to contribute. Many other organizations time their email campaigns around major legislative news (ex. President Obama signs TARP Bailout).  

    Ex. Presidential Caucus Schedule

When writing your next email, make sure a good amount of thought goes into choosing the subject line. These five tips and six proven strategies will help navigate your email to your reader’s inbox and ensure higher email open rates. In a world of cluttered email accounts, your email subject needs to stand out to enable your message penetrates your audience so you can recruit volunteers, supporters, and contributors.

Email Slice and Dice: Segmenting your Email Contacts
Posted November 9, 2011 by Joe Zapf

Without a doubt a house email file with contact information for family, friends, donors, volunteers, supporters, and members of the media a valuable asset. But, having all of these contacts in an Excel spreadsheet or your Outlook contacts is not enough. To maximize your email communications you need to understand segmenting, how to strategically segment your list, and how to maintain it in order to keep your list healthy. Segments are groupings of email universes based on a characteristic. These characteristics can be geographic, based on relationship to your campaign, or even based on how frequently the contact opens your emails. By utilizing well-crafted segments you can target your email messages to your audience. This will help to avoid email fatigue which can lead to lower open rates and an increased number of unsubscribes. A well segmented and utilized list will help you avoid these types of email faux pas:
  1. Sending large donations requests to small dollar donors and activists.
  2. Inviting media to private fundraising events.
  3. Distributing press releases to grassroots activists.
Your fist action is to take your email contacts and organize groupings based on the nature of their relationship with the campaign or where their information was collected. A person can be a member of multiple segments if applicable. Example segments include media/press contacts, donors, volunteers, or even petitions from the county fair. Depending on the source of this information, obtain and track as much additional data (name, address, zip code, etc.) for each subscriber as possible without scaring them away. This data can be useful, particularly for federal and statewide campaigns.

Additionally, with a good email contact system you can create ďdynamicĒ segments. Utilizing logic you can organize email contacts that exhibit, or donít exhibit, certain characteristics from any or all segments in your database. Here are some examples of how you might utilize ďdynamicĒ segmenting to micro-target custom messages to a specific universe:
  1. Announcing a campaign rally to all Ďsupportersí with zip codes within 15 miles of the event.
  2. Resending an email to subscribers that didnít open the first send.
  3. Sending an end of quarter fundraising appeal to all previous donors plus subscribers who have previously clicked on a donation solicitation.
  4. Targeting an NRA endorsement email to email addresses collected at gun shows along with subscribers who have opened previous 2nd Amendment themed emails.
List Maintenance
You must maintain the health of your list in addition to continually collecting subscribers and adding them to segments. This can be achieved by monitoring list and email performance to ensure optimum deliverability. With a sufficiently large universe of subscribers you can test the success of two email subjects to sub-segments of your overall target segment. This will help to determine which is more likely to be opened based on observed results. There are a few other metrics to monitor, review, and refine to keep a healthy house file:
  • Overall list size: Is it growing or declining? Why or how?
  • Deliverability: Are your emails getting bounced by recipient email services? Are characteristics of your email causing them to be flagged as SPAM?
  • Open rate: What percentage of recipients opened your email? How do different emails, times, and subjects affect your open rate?
  • Clickthrough rate: Of opened emails, what percentage of them have a link clicked? Why?
By slicing and dicing your email contacts you can develop a robust messaging system that will allow you to effectively communicate with various stakeholders. You should maximize your resources by segmenting your lists, tailoring your target audience to your message, and monitoring the listís vital signs to keep it healthy. I have no sympathy for those who squander perhaps the greatest natural resources in a campaign with neglect. If you and your campaign arenít focused on these things, you should be. You should start right now!

Five quick tips for sending out good emails.
Posted December 17, 2010 by Kurt Luidhardt

Subject Line, Subject Line, Subject Line

The most important thing? An interesting subject line. Something unique, exciting and unexpected. That means no "Luidhardt Newsletter: Volume 1" and no "End of Week Volunteer Email."

There is no secret to the best day to send emails

Some people seem to think that Tuesday is the best day. Or Wednesday. But at The Prosper Group weíve had success on every day of the week when sending to opt-in lists. The most important factor for our clients has been the relevance and timeliness of the content. If you are sending an email out blasting your opponent for a comment at a debate it will be best received immediately after he said it- not the following Tuesday.

The only exception to that rule is when sending emails to rented lists, which we find perform better during weekdays.

Donít bury the lead

Get to the point. Quick. In the first paragraph. Remember, most people have VERY short attention spans. Donít make them read to the 5th paragraph in order to figure out what you are after.

Newsletters stink

Nobody reads them anyway. Thatís so 1997. Write more emails in the first person. If you are going to do a newsletter, certainly donít tell people that it is.

Donít be too flashy

Too many graphics in your email will keep individuals from being able to open up much of it- particularly on their Blackberrys or iPhones. Others also have html turned off by default in Outlook. Stick to plain text as much as possible and keep images to a minimum.
The Sharron Angle campaign used The Prosper Group's Genius Mailer system to send out to our email list of over 100,000 opt-in names. We found the system easy to use, responsive and quick enough to handle the volume, and deliverability was strong.

Jordan Gehrke
Deputy Campaign Manager, Sharron Angle for U.S. Senate
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