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Listening to advice

Are you open to advice? Or do you take it as some kind of affront or an irritating distraction? Or do you take advice on board, give it due consideration, and make changes where necessary? I like to think of myself as the latter, but normally I have to be told more than once…

By James Evelegh

About a year ago, one of our contributors (thanks Jo) gave me some unsolicited advice.

Had I thought of varying the subject line of InPubWeekly, to include some of the week’s main headlines? It might help, she said, boost open rates.

Err… thanks but probably not the right approach for us. A weekly email newsletter, with respectable open rates already, needed to be instantly recognisable for what it was. It needed a standard and consistent subject line to aid recognition. Mess around with that, and it might be mistaken for just another marketing email and ignored / deleted / unsubscribed from.

And by putting the edition number clearly in the subject line, it would help readers organise and retrieve information from back-editions.

So we continued as we were, continuing to make tweaks here and there which lead to marginal increases in open rates and click throughs. But nothing dramatic. A fraction of a per cent here and there.

Then, a couple of months ago, my colleague (thanks Martin) suggested the same thing.

Ummm. Perhaps it might be worth taking a look at subject lines after all. But did I really have the time to do an A/B split test? Never done one of those before. Sounded complicated and involved. Leave it for the moment.

Then, I was at the SIIA Digital Content & Media Summit in September and I sat in on a session where one of the speakers (thanks Parry) said that “putting multiple stories in the subject line had a great effect on open rates”. As simple as that. I could put it off no longer.

That Friday, I did my first A/B split test (incredibly easy, by the way, if you have a half decent email service provider).

Half the newsletters went out with our traditional subject line: InPubWeekly - Edition 159 - 27 September 2013

The other half went out with the following subject line: UBM sells Property Week, New CEO at Newsquest, Grazia launches shop-able app, Jo Smalley promoted at IPC…

For this segment, I also changed the ‘From’ details from ‘James Evelegh’ to ‘James @ InPubWeekly’, so the recognition factor that I worried about previously, was not a problem.

The difference was immediate and incredible. Open rates were better on the multi-subject line half by 13% and click-throughs were up by 65%.

Jaw dropping stuff. No single previous change had had anything like such an impact.

Since then, we have continued to use multiple stories in our subject lines and the results have not dropped off but continued to improve.

I learnt four important lessons:

1. Multiple stories in the subject line DO work.

2. Be open to advice. You don’t have to take it, but if you respect the source, then give it proper consideration – promptly.

3. A/B split testing is a piece of cake.

4. And, finally, I’ve come to realise, with a heavy heart, that email newsletters are not like back copies of printed magazines. There is no equivalent of a leather binder. Email newsletters are consumed and discarded. They need to work in the moment, there is no shelf life…