Developing Subject Line Versions

A simple process with tips for developing subject line versions and improving your message testing results.

Frank Flavell avatar
Written by Frank Flavell
Updated over a week ago

At Motiva, we've formalized a simple three step process to help you systematically develop subject line versions, or versions of any content, for message testing.

Step 1: Research Your Audience

Start by looking at the group of contacts who will receive the subject line. Your contacts are people with interests and concerns. What do you think will be their perspective on your email topic? If they don't care about the topic, then they aren't going to open it. Try answering the following questions about your contacts to help you write a subject line that matters to your contacts.

  • What are your contacts' defining features? For example, what are their industry, job title, company size, location, etc.

  • Are there clear subgroups within the larger contact segment?

  • What are the similarities and differences between these subgroups?

  • What other content do these contacts engage with?

  • What do these subgroups care about in regards to your email topic?

Step 2: Brainstorm

Use what you learned to approach the topic of your email from the different perspectives represented in your contact segment. Set a timer for 15-20 minutes and write down as many different subject lines as possible that could potentially appeal to these different perspectives. For example, this could mean identifying specific keywords and phrases associated with a contact perspective and incorporating them into your subject line.

Write subject lines that are distinct from each other based on certain characteristics:

  • Sentence Type: Simple, Compound or Complex

  • Length: Short or Long

  • Statement Type: Declarative, Imperative, Interrogative or Exclamatory

  • Tone: Casual/Friendly, Urgent or Neutral

Step 3: Select the Best Versions

Once you've compiled a list of possible subject lines, choose 4 or more high quality versions which truly represent the topic of the email from a variety of different perspectives and linguistic characteristics. Subject line versions should be distinct from each other so you can learn exactly what subject lines engage and do not engage your contacts.

Choose radically different versions from what you normally send. Your current writing style is achieving a specific level of engagement. Trying new styles is the only way to optimize your content and achieve higher engagement.

And remember that the risk of experimentation is low because Motiva's automated message testing quickly removes low performing content versions from circulation and prioritizes higher performing content. We've got your back.

Considering Preheaders

The preheader is another open rate variable and an excellent opportunity for message testing. The preheader is the text which appears directly after the subject line within inboxes and provides an additional hint to the email topic. Change the message in the preheader and consider how it can work with and support your subject line versions.

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