Don’t Get Caught Up in “Best Practices” – Even Short Subject Lines

There are a lot of online marketing best practices that float around that people take as hard and fast rules.  This can be a big mistake.  Best practices are great guidelines.  They are often a head start for people that are just getting started.  But it’s like pre-school, it lays a foundation so that we’re prepared to actually learn.  Use best practices as guidelines but use metrics and common sense for making the best online marketing decisions.

A recent article from Marketing Experiments is a good illustration of best practices taken too far.  I’ve recently heard this same principle taken even farther.  The new best practice for email subjects being promoted is 5 – 8 Words maximum with 5 as a target.  This has runaway best practice written all over it.   I’m used to recommendations trimming down subject lines.  I’m still getting used to the idea of suggesting more text to at least explain what an email is.

The reason short subject lines became a best practice is that many people were jamming a bunch of descriptive text in subject lines.  Long subjects actually were registered as a knock against an email in spam filters.  I guess like many things, best practices will swing from one extreme to another.

The reasons behind the short subject best practice are that people don’t have time to look at longer email lines so they’ll skip them (this idea is well grounded at this point) and it’s better for smart phone viewing (newer idea but as smart phone usage grows the current minority will be more prevalent and need to be taken into account).

Two good points but an extreme solution.  To me it’s like saying, “I’m tempted to steal, so I cut off my arms.  Sure I could have cut off just the hands but this seems fool proof.”  Was therapy or group support never an option?

So here’s a more moderate solution.  How about a very short (no more than five words) intro so that smart phone users get the idea of what it is.  Then add a second piece to the email line that describes the email (but stays under 10 – 12 words).  Something like Marketing Experiments did is perfect (the 5 words in parentheses would appear for smart phones, the rest is a short descriptor for those that view it):

(IADC 2011 – Exclusive First Look) at New Products, Technology and More

In this way we serve both audiences but provide flexibility.  Maybe I’m guilty of just reshuffling the best practice, but it seems like a distinction to me.  As is stated in the linked article, if a subject is so short that recipients don’t know what it’s about, that’s going to have adverse effects.

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