Thursday, June 26, 2014

Is Your Email Subject Line Creative... or Deceptive?

Is Your Email Subject Line Creative... or Deceptive?

"It is unlawful for any person to initiate the transmission to a protected computer of a commercial electronic mail message if such person has actual knowledge, or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circumstances, that a subject heading of the message would be likely to mislead a recipient...regarding the contents or subject matter of the message..."

How's that for some legalese? That's the actual language from the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (PDF), the law that establishes the rules for commercial email in the United States.

I'm not an attorney, but the intent of that language seems quite clear to me. Put in non-Franken-speak, it can be boiled down to this: Don't send an email with a deceptive subject line.

However, like many laws, it's all about interpretation.

So where does the line get drawn between a creative, compelling email subject line and one that is deceptive (and possibly illegal)?

An interesting conversation has been going on among email marketing folks lately around this very topic. I've argued that there is power in a compelling subject line: If you want people to open your emails, your subject line has to stand out in their (likely crowded) inbox.

That's not to say a "boring" subject line can't also be effective.  Chris Penn proves that point with his weekly newsletter, the subject line of which reads, "Almost Timely News from @cspenn for date." The only part of his subject lines that changes week to week is the date, and his open rates have been hovering around 13%.

But a creative, compelling subject line certainly can get your attention. Urban Outfitters is one of my favorite examples. YOLO OMG WTF Sale! was the subject line of a recent email it sent to its list.

Subject lines that stand out are not limited to B2C email. Even the President of the United States—well, his team—crafts some unique, catchy, subject lines. The Obama Campaign released some of the data behind its email marketing messages. Subject lines such as "Join me for dinner?" "It's officially over," "It doesn't have to be this way," and "Wow" were among the ones that the campaign used.

Extensive testing found that a casual tone was usually more effective. "The subject lines that worked best were things you might see in your in-box from other people. 'Hey' was probably the best one we had over the duration," according to Toby Fallsgraff, the campaign's email director. So, were the Obama email subject lines creative or deceptive?

Copyblogger decided to test out "Hey" as the headline in a blog post—one it also repurposed as an email with the same subject line. (Be sure to read the comments in that post, too, as there are quite a few insightful nuggets there.) Suffice it to say, it's not always about the subject line. In many cases, the from name—literally who the email is from (the sender)—can be the difference between an open and an ignore/delete/mark as spam.

Back to email subject lines: Where is the line between deception and creativity?

Is an email that includes "FW" in the subject line, even though it wasn't actually forwarded, creative? Or, is it merely deceptive? What about if that email with "FW" in the subject line were actually forwarded—but from someone within the same company—and therefore made to look real? Is that a creative use of the subject line, or is it a deceptive gimmick?

A friend recently forwarded to me an email from Oxfam that had the following subject line: Did I leave my jacket at your place?

When you open the email (see below), the first line after the salutation reads, "It's Aziz Ansari. And of course I didn't leave a jacket at your place. I've never been to your home." It continues, "But I'm glad you opened this email, because I actually want to talk to you about something much more important."

Was that subject line creative, or was it deceptive?

A Few Tips on Creating Compelling Subject Lines

As you can see from those examples, the line between creative and deceptive can be a fine one. In many cases, it depends on who is reading your email. Much like the language around subject lines in the CAN-SPAM Act, "creative or deceptive" is up for interpretation.

However, you do have a few ways of ensuring that your subject lines fall closer to the creative side of the spectrum:

1. If the subject line is aligned with the contents of the email, it's probably closer to creative than deceptive. In the Urban Outfitters example (YOLO OMG WTF Sale!), the image and the copy of the email speak directly to a big (crazy!) sale. The Copyblogger subject line (Hey...), is a little bit less clear. Though the email does talk all about headlines and subject lines—and references "Hey... "—it is not really about the word "Hey." The Oxfam subject line (Did I leave my jacket at your place?) clearly had nothing to do with the contents of the message, as Aziz himself said!

2. If the subject line has you thinking (or shouting!), "I can't wait to open this email," it's probably closer to creative than deceptive. Again, look at the Urban Outfitters example. I don't know about you, but I could not wait to open an email that used not one, not two, but three popular acronyms followed by "Sale!" The contents of the email did not disappoint. On the other hand, I did not have the same reaction after reading "Hey" from the Copyblogger email... though I did open it.

3. If the subject line has you thinking one thing, yet when you open the email you are disappointed... it's probably closer to deceptive than creative. The Oxfam subject line fits that description—for me. I really thought someone had left their jacket at my house. Then, again, my wife and I had had guests over the night before. I felt a bit deceived when I opened the email and learned what it was really about.

Before you send your next email marketing campaign, consider the subject line you are using. Will it have your subscriber jumping out of their seats to open? If so, when they open it, will they still be equally as excited? If so, it's likely you have yourself a creative subject line.

If you would like to talk more about how to create and analyze your subject lines for your email campaigns, please give me a call at 440-519-1500 or e-mail me at
X2 Media can help you target your content and get your message to the audience in a way that it is not only seen and heard, but remembered.

Until next month….remember, “you don’t get a 2nd chance to make a 1st impression”. Always make it a good one! From X2Media I would like to thank you for your time.

John E. Hornyak
X2Media, LLC

Six Reasons Your Website Will Fail

Six Reasons Your Website Will Fail

Although the dawn of the Web was nearly two decades ago, many small and midsize businesses (SMBs) still have a limited, ineffective online presence. That wouldn't be much of an issue if the Internet hadn't long ago replaced hardcopy Yellow Pages as the go-to source for business information.

vSplash's SMB DigitalScape data, based on an analysis of 1 million SMB websites worldwide last year, provides a clear demonstration of how poorly equipped SMB websites are for the digital age. 

Let's go through the most alarming findings and examine the top reasons SMBs are failing online.

1. Not Built Right (for Mobile Devices)
93.3% of SMB websites are not mobile-compatible and will not render successfully on mobile devices, including smartphones.

The gap is widening between consumer adoption of digital platforms and deficiencies in SMBs' digital presence. As Internet-content consumption is fast moving away from desktops to portable devices, ensuring your website is optimized for the smaller screens of tablets and smartphones is critically important.

People will often be looking to access your site on the go, and ensuring your website is mobile compatible will help introduce your business to the rapidly growing mobile market.

2. (Anti-)Social Media
80.5% of SMB websites have no social media links—Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, foursquare, etc.

If you're ever questioning your business's lack of fans or followers, you probably haven't connected your social media accounts to your website—potentially your biggest source of traffic to your social presence. Social marketing can be a powerful tool, but not if there's no audience to engage with.

Ideally, when managing a part of your website (e.g. writing a blog post or adding a team member), your website content management software should be intelligent enough to automatically push that out through the social media sphere.

3. E-Fail
74.7% of SMB websites lack an email link on their homepage for consumers to contact the business.

What is so convenient about email is its instant delivery and (often) instant gratification. But not having an email link on your homepage eliminates that convenience. Plus, think about the opportunities you're missing: Questions from customers, or potential partnership opportunities from companies, don't ever reach your inbox.

4. (Lack of) Information, Please
65.7% of SMB websites lack a form-fill option to enable consumers to request information.

SMBs should build default information inquiry forms right into their site, but only one-third of them are taking that necessary and helpful step. Those forms need to be already connected to a CRM, an email system, and an ecommerce system so that the lead is not just being collected but also prepped for the SMB owner to communicate with in an effort to generate business via that lead.

5. E.T. Can't Phone Home
60% of SMB websites have no toll-free or local business phone number listed on the homepage.

Although email tends to be the preferred form of communication (and, as discussed, most SMBs don't even have that information on their homepage), some questions are better answered by phone. Generating phone calls via your homepage makes customers feel comfortable, while not listing a phone number can cause questions of legitimacy to arise.

6. SEO struggles
56.3% of SMB websites have no keyword info for search engine discovery.

If you have a website and no one can find it, does it really exist? A significant amount of your traffic will be the result of consumers' finding it through search engines.

Keyword research and creation, on-site optimization, and off-site link building in industry directories and other relevant sites are all necessary elements for driving traffic to your website. Those tactics will help make your site search engine-friendly and improve your ranking, allowing your business to gain needed exposure.

Addressing those six areas will allow SMBs to deliver traffic to their website, engage with their audience, and acquire monetizable information. Of course, those six items cover only the basics. SMBs will continue to fail online if they don't generate additional business by bolstering their website with an e-commerce platform, reservations system, ad integration, and other key enhancements.

One last stat: In July 2012, a Wells Fargo-Gallup Small Business Index survey found that 56% of SMBs plan to invest in new website or software in 2013. Why? Deep down, SMB owners know that their website isn't working, but they don't know how to fix it. The lack of a comprehensive software solution is forcing SMBs to cobble together their own multivendor system. Adapting to the increasingly Internet-based economy shouldn't require SMB owners to be Internet and software experts. That is the job of solution providers.

Give Me 10 Minutes and I'll Make You an SEO Expert (Kinda)

Give Me 10 Minutes and I'll Make You an SEO Expert (Kinda)

Are you an Internet marketing expert? We all are. In fact, just a quick cruise around Quora or LinkedIn reveals that at least 1 out of every 4 or 5 people online must be an expert in some form of Internet marketing. Social media, SEO, community management, we've got "experts" and "gurus" covering every angle of online marketing.
Want to be just like them? 
I'm going to give you the quick-and-dirty guide to being an SEO "expert." Remember, being an expert merely means you have to know more than the people around you. This will certainly accomplish that. Now, although I was being a little cheeky earlier when I said this would make you an expert, the building blocks are all here. If you take it upon yourself to study these points further, you certainly can be a "real" expert rather than someone who just plays one on the Internet.
Nearly every idea in SEO can be thrown into one of the following six headings.

1. On-page Optimization
It all starts here. You can't build a successful SEO campaign without optimizing your page per SEO best-practices. Remember, this list is merely something for you to follow up on, so we're going to run through the points quickly:

  • Keywords—Research them and find the best balance between competition levels and the amount of traffic they'll bring you. One to two (max) keywords per page. Be sure to use them in...
  • Title tags—Each page should have its own title tag. Don't try to rank for your URL or business name, as that should come naturally.
  • Meta descriptions—Use them to describe the page and get readers to click when they see the description in the search results. You should probably use a keyword.
  • Meta keywords—Skip 'em. For the most part all they're doing is telling your competitors what you're attempting to rank for. Not really worth the time.
  • Robots.txt—Tell search engines what to index and what not to. Also set up your URL structure so that the "www" and "non-www" version of your site redirect to one or the other. Otherwise it's viewed as two separate sites (c'mon Google, get your act together).
  • Analytics—Install!
Obviously, this isn't anywhere near all of the steps you need to optimize your page, but it'll certainly get you started. Remember, I'm not giving you the fish, I'm teaching you to fish.

2. Content
It's king; plain and simple. If you aren't producing high-quality content, then you're going to be way behind your competitors that are. Google updates have ensured that low-quality content is no longer enough to secure favorable rankings. In fact, low-quality content could get you pushed so far down in the search results that even Matt Cutts himself couldn't find you.
Remember, content doesn't necessarily mean written word. With the rise of the term "content marketing," I'm always baffled at the people who think content simply means writing blog posts.
Content is also...

  • Video
  • Podcasts
  • Infographics
  • Smoke signals
  • Ad copy
  • Social media posts
  • Blog posts
  • Shared images (Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, etc.)
3. Links
Links are important, but not as important as they used to be. In the future, they'll be even less important than they are now.
Links are a quality-over-quantity thing. One link from a high quality source is worth more than dozens of links from a spammy blog. Remember that, and it'll serve you wisely.
Tip: Avoid SEOs selling 1,000 backlinks for $5. These are terrible links and can do more harm than good.
In general, if it seems way too cheap, there's probably a reason for that. Real SEO takes hard work and a lot of hours. I couldn't get you one high-quality link for $5, let alone 1,000.

4. Social Indicators
According to Search Metrics, Facebook shares are second to backlinks among search engine results placement ranking factors. We've also seen Google experiment with indexing Twitter, and use its own social network, Google+, to determine where sites should be ranked in the search results.
Social is a huge factor now, but it'll be even bigger in the future. Pay attention!

5. Mobile
According to... umm... everybody who has ever spewed this statistic, mobile Internet use is set to overtake desktop and laptop use in 2015. In some countries—in the developing world—it already has.
So what's this mean for you? It means you need to optimize your site for mobile. Responsive sites are the new "thing," but you can also use a traditional site and make a mobile version of it. The point isn't how you get to the finish line; the point is realizing that you have to get there eventually. Pick a way to make sure your site is mobile friendly and run with it.
Also, you might want to take into consideration some mobile search statistics that I just so happen to have right here:

  • Over 50% of traffic on mobile devices starts with a search engine.
  • The most common searches on mobile are for local business.
  • Searchers are typically looking for an address, phone number, hours of operation, or a menu. Give it to them.
6. Analytics
This alone could be several books, DVDs, college courses, etc., so please don't expect me to do it justice in a single blurb.
Analytics are Google's answer to the Internet marketing question: "How do I track my results?"
There are simple stats that everyone uses, like...

  • Pageviews
  • Unique visitors
  • Average time on site
  • Bounce rate
But analytics is way more beastly than a simple tool that tells you how many people like you and how much they like you. Bigger corporations have entire teams working on the stats they gain from analytics and analytic-type software.

Final Words
Do you feel like an SEO expert yet?
Man, I hope not.
The information I gave you was is basic as it gets, and it's something anyone can pick up in.... oh... about 10 minutes by reading an article. Real SEOs live and breathe their craft. They know the ins and outs of the industry, and they are constantly adapting to the natural ebbs and flows of the niche.

So start with this article and use it to guide your searches for information. Dive in-depth to each of these topics and you'll find answers, as well as new questions. Once you run out of questions, wait a few minutes until something changes... then start the process again.
Welcome to the world of SEO. You're now an expert.