The Difference a Word Makes (Or Doesn’t?) in a Subject Line

(Note: You have to read this in your best Movie Trailer Voice.)

In a world where subject lines dominate … can one word truly make a difference? One copywriter sets out to learn just that …

Okay, you can go back to your normal voice now. This probably doesn’t actually rank up there with the most dramatic endeavors I’ve ever encountered, but was a pretty interesting test for future reference, and I’d love to know if anyone has done similar experiments and gotten similar results.

Last week, we started promotion of our annual Integrated Marketing Virtual Conference for 2015. First, I just want to note that for the first time, we incorporated video into our regular email campaign. We had Thorin, the editor-in-chief of Target Marketing, record a short “video invitation” to the virtual event, and linked to the video in the email blast.

It was an easy and engaging way to promote an integrated marketing event with, well, integrated marketing. I’ve included it here so you can see what it looked like. All in all, a very successful effort.

Video Email for IMV15

But, as always, without a good subject line no one would even make it to the well-designed HTML. So our question was, how much of a difference might it make to tell the recipient outright that they’d find a video in the email? Would it make a difference at all?

A/B tests to the rescue: We tested two subject lines, evenly split, and they were identical aside from one word.

Version 1: See why you need to be there for IMV 2015!

Version 2: See why you need to be there for IMV 2015! [Video]

Any guesses as to which did better? I assumed Version 2 would have, reasoning that people might be more excited to watch a video clip than read what might just be a block of text.

Here’s how it actually shook out: Version 1 (See why you need to be there for IMV 2015!), nudged its way to victory with an open rate .6% higher and a viewed image rate also .6% higher than version 2 (See why you need to be there for IMV 2015! [Video]). Their click rates were exactly the same.

So in actuality, more people were compelled to open an email that did not tout some sort of video. My theory is that it may have simply read a little more like a casual greeting, and a little less like a promotion. However, I also feel these numbers are just a little too close to draw a firm conclusion, and this question would be best answered by looking at the results from at least a few more attempts of the same experiment.

Have you noticed a difference in subject lines that mention video (or any other specific form of media,) vs. those that don’t? I’d love to hear what you’ve tried and observed.

(In the meantime, don’t mind my little shameless plug — please check out Integrated Marketing Virtual Conferencelive from your desk on August 13, and totally free!)

2 thoughts on “The Difference a Word Makes (Or Doesn’t?) in a Subject Line”

  1. I just read a report by Hubspot that said tweets with [video] or [inforgraphic] performed better than those without, but I guess in email, the behavior could be different.

  2. Do more testing. Just running it once is not be enough. When I look for trends I look across hundreds of samples. There may be other factors such as time of day the email was sent, context relative to the rest of the headline, the audience you’re targeting and they’re interest in videos or infographics, etc. The other thing to look into is if the difference between the two results are statistically significant.
    When I read a statistic or some insights on post performance I look at it as a good starting point to ask if my content performs similarly in the channels I use. I find that some words or phrases that work poorly on Outbrain may perform well on other channels such as LinkedIn. I generally look at a dozen tests as a way to inform my hypothesis but I don’t feel comfortable with it until I have a much larger sample.

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