Announcing the Winner of the Email Subject Line Copywriting Contest!

image of blue ribbon prize

A couple of weeks ago, our friends at MarketingExperiments had the nifty idea of running a copywriting contest to find the best subject line to promote their upcoming landing page optimization conference, the Optimization Summit 2012.

We got 492 comments with your ideas for subject headers.

Some were clever, some funny, some serious.

Some of them shouted for attention, others delivered a quieter message.

(We even had an entry using Sean Platt’s “can’t miss” multi-purpose email subject header.)

We know you’re impatient to find out the results, so let’s get right to it.

The first thing we did was to narrow the hundreds of entries down to a few dozen strong entries:

The first cut

Yes, we really did read every entry!

Obviously, this part of the process was highly subjective. We selected the first cut based on what we’ve seen work best with our own email marketing. That means we looked for email subject headers that caught our attention, that made a compelling promise, that were congruent with the message body (which, as you may remember, had already been written), and that didn’t look like spam.

Because MECLABS wanted to test varying approaches, we broke the best entries into three rough categories — subject headers based on Curiosity, headers based on product Benefits, and headers based on Fear. As you’ll see from our runners-up, the strongest headers often had elements of more than one of these factors.

There were a lot of headers that probably would have been effective, but that we did not include because we felt there would be a disconnect between the promise of the headline and what was delivered in the body of the message.

For example, we really liked the header “Testing — does this link work for you?” (We defined that one as a Curiosity headline.) But MECLABS had some concerns that the element of trickery would annoy their subscribers and lead to unsubscribes … definitely not the result we were after.

And, of course, CAN-SPAM and other anti-spam laws specifically prohibit email headers that are misleading. So if it could be interpreted as deception, we ruled it out.

We also looked for headers that felt in line with MarketingExperiment’s brand and with the voice that was used in the body of the email. Some of the headers submitted might have worked brilliantly … for another brand.

The runners-up

In the “Curiosity” category, we ended up going with Vince Robisch‘s entry:

Quarterbacks aren’t the only changes being tested in Denver.

Denver’s new quarterback has been hot news all over the country, and this header created a good “itch that needs scratching” — just what are those other changes being tested? In copywriting terms, this is known as entering the conversation already taking place in the prospect’s mind. MECLABS also liked the tie-in to the city where the conference was being held.

In the “Benefits” category, we decided on Shaun Connell‘s:

A scientific way to increase your conversions

This header includes both a benefit (improved conversion, which we know is highly desirable to MarketingExperiments’ audience), and also hints at a feature — at how we intend to get to that benefit, with the word “scientific.” This header also harnesses some of the power of curiosity as a secondary element — the reader has a reason to keep reading: to find out what, specifically, that scientific way might be.

Finally, in the “Fear” category, we liked Christine Parizo‘s:

Do your landing pages pass this test?

This is a solidly specific headline — the readers knows that the message will be about landing pages. Passing (or failing) tests is a common anxiety, and in a competitive economy, no one wants to have the landing pages that fail the test.

The word this is important (in fact, there was another entry for “Do your landing pages pass the test?”). That slight added element of specificity enhances reader curiosity to generate those clickthroughs.

The other subject headers

You may remember that our three email headers were going head-to-head against three headers chosen by the readers of the MarketingExperiments blog.

Those three headers were:

  • [Optimization Summit] 3 Days to a Better Website ($300 Off Coupon Inside!)
  • Learn 3 tips that made 10,000 landing pages extremely successful
  • Optimization Summit 2012 – Speakers List Up Now! + Save $300 Today

And the winner is …

Christine Parizo with “Do your landing pages pass this test?”

Christine will be winning a free ticket to Optimization Summit 2012, plus a free MarketingExperiments Landing Page Optimization Online Course. Well played, Christine!

And just because we like to give stuff away, all six runners-up (including the three contestants over at MarketingExperiments) will receive a 90-day free membership to Third Tribe Marketing, our private community of online businesspeople. (We’ll be contacting those runners-up today with details.) The Third Tribe is currently closed to new members, but we know that six strategic, savvy marketers like these will fit right in.

You can see the results of all of the headers below, in a screenshot from the MECLABS Test Protocol, an internal tool they use to manage and validate all of their tests

image of landing page test results
Click image for larger view

For more details about the results, head on over to the MarketingExperiments blog.

What do you think?

Would this have been the one you’d have predicted to win? Anything that surprised you in these results? Let us know in the comments.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media. Follow her on twitter @soniasimone

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Reader Comments (36)

  1. says

    Congrats to Christine Parizo !

    I missed the opportunity to participate in this contest. Next time, i will try to make my presence.

    “Do your landing pages pass this test” is a nice questionnaire subject header that triggers the user to think “damn, what test is that?”.


  2. says

    Is 0,5%-1% ctr average? Atm I have much smaller list (like… 1000 times smaller?) and I’m curious, will my CTR fall so much in future or is it specific for companies and not for bloggers?

    • says

      In my experience, you really can’t say “average.” It depends on a combination of factors — how engaged your list is, how old your list is, how you entered into the relationship, what kind of content you sent at the beginning of their subscription, how passionate your audience is about your topic.

      Compare yourself to yourself. Do remember that mature lists will always see some fall in CTR, because there are folks whose interest has drifted elsewhere, but they haven’t unsubscribed.

    • says

      CTR can be a misleading metric… be cautious.

      Measure sales and money in bank account.

      Example… some bloggers give a snippet in their email and say read more click here… that might tell you something if they click it about how compelling your snippet was.

      But you could also do something like, CLICK HERE and to get my Free Secrets That Solve All Your Problems In World Download… You might make a great offer and give something away for free and get a high CTR, but does it achieve our objective.

      Long way for me to get to my point… don’t play to not lose with email marketing. Getting caught up in unsubscribes and opens and CTR… Play to win… Getting people to respond, react and buy your products and services.

  3. says

    As with Jacob it’d be good to know what the stats mean. I’d also be interested to learn on what criteria you chose the initial finalists, especially as the curiosity entrant got kinda spanked by the others.

    • says

      That’s no surprise. A solid, specific subject line beats clever any day.

      The initial finalists were chosen subjectively, as Sonia said in the article:

      Obviously, this part of the process was highly subjective. We selected the first cut based on what we’ve seen work best with our own email marketing. That means we looked for email subject headers that caught our attention, that made a compelling promise, that were congruent with the message body (which, as you may remember, had already been written), and that didn’t look like spam.

    • says

      Curiosity headlines rarely do well. Writers love them, but readers tend not to respond. That’s not something we invented or discovered, serious copywriters have been preaching it for more than 100 years now.

      We’ve seen it over and over again when one of us falls in love with a clever headline idea. :)

      • says

        Thank you all for pointing out how soundly I was spanked!! :) The curiosity headline is sometimes used to stand out rather than for business results. It worked here for getting noticed in the contest but not for beating the more specific headlines. I completely agree with Brian, Sonia and the numbers on how to value “clever”.

        I was selected to speak at a conference once with the session title of “This Session Speaker Smells Fantastic!”. It stood out and got the best turnout of the 3 concurrent sessions BUT it had a description to go with it that made it more specific. Anyway, congratulations to all the others and thank you for the Third Tribe membership!.

  4. Andy says

    I’m also trying to understand these stats. I’m assuming the key measurement is the open rate (in order to measure the best subject line) but don’t obviously see that in the table…

  5. says

    It’s good to know the importance of every word for example “the” and “this”

    Jackie Barrie says:
    March 21, 2012 at 8:39 am
    Do your landing pages pass “the” test?

    Christine Parizo says:
    March 21, 2012 at 9:29 am
    Do your landing pages pass “this” test?

    I need some ideas so I will read the 492 comments, thank you all

  6. says

    I read the whole email and was right on with the same choice and I fly by the seat of my pants on things like this, so I’m pleased as punch! I also use all my Mother’s old idioms!

    Also, liked this as second: “Learn 3 tips that made 10,000 landing pages extremely successful”

    I’d click on your winner and this second immediately. Just saying!

    • says

      You have good instincts! The second one you liked was close enough (in clickthrough rate) to be statistically insignificant, so the MECLABS folks decided to award two prizes.

  7. says

    Of the three finalists, I definitely agree with the choice of winner. The quarterback reference, while relevant in some circles, is not universal. By the same argument, neither is the scientific option – I would assume it leans more toward those who are skilled AND serious about their stats. The winning options applies to all. In fact, I think I’m going to go back and read the contest email body, just to remind myself what test it is I should be passing… Feeling a little worried, suddenly.
    The finalists are obvious choices, each with their own style and appeal. I’m wondering if you could do a quick post of the not-quite successful entries – not the ‘bad’ ones, as we all already know what those are; we see them daily. But the ones that seem good, but don’t quite cut it. And why.
    Terrific competition – appreciate the insight – and congratulations to Christine Parizo and the other finalists!

    • says

      Alexandra, I think it would be great if people pasted in some of the headers that *weren’t* runners-up, and I’ll give my thoughts about why not.

      They can be your entries or someone else’s, but anything you’d like to learn.

      Keep in mind that, unlike the testing we did on the six finalists, these are all a judgment call based on what I’ve seen work & not work. Another judge might well have chosen different finalists — there were certainly lots of good entries.

  8. says

    I was delighted to see one of my submissions in the group. I’m already a Third Tribe member though. I guess we copywriters know great things when we see them :) Congratulations to Paul and Christine!!

  9. says

    Congratulations to Christine Parizo!

    @ Simone

    Thank you for lifting the curtain to the decision-making process. This post contains invaluable criticism and gives us insight on how we can improve our own headline writing skills. I look forward to more reader interactive posts in the future. This headline writing competition was fun!

  10. says

    This sounded like a really great competition. I am really not familiar with these MecClab statistics but they are definitely worth looking into. However, I do agree with previous commenters that we would need to know what the stats mean to really benefit from it. Even if you understand what they mean, actually deciphering the data could be tough.

    In any event, congrats to all those who worked on this contest!

    • says

      I’ll get you an address. 😉

      OK, the entry was:

      I Got CopyBlogger Brian Clark To Read My 50,000 Headlines. Join Me?

      The primary reason this wouldn’t have been chosen is that the email is going to the MarketingExperiments list, not to Copyblogger. Lots of their folks don’t know Brian or Copyblogger.

      It would also be hard for the reader to translate the headline into something that benefited them. This is the problem with curiosity headlines — they usually don’t clearly communicate a benefit to the reader.

      Finally, 50,000 isn’t a credible number. :) If it had been 4.823, the entry would have been stronger. 50,000, both because it’s large and because it’s a round number, isn’t as compelling as a number that isn’t so “neat.”

      • says

        What?! There are people who don’t know Brian / CopyBlogger? I don’t believe that! 😉

        Thank you Sonia, great points. I appreciate your smart assessment!

        “Why a world famous copywriter reads thousands of my headlines”

        • says

          I think that’s sort of a fake benefit. The MarketingExperiments customer wants their work to convert more customers, they’re not necessarily going to be strongly motivated by another copywriter — even a successful one — reading their headlines.

  11. says

    Yes! I picked this one to win. I’m not sure I can be scientific in explaining my rationale. It simply spoke to me. It was simple and clear, and I knew I’d be clicking through to something I could use. Some of the other ones sounded too commercial/gimmicky. I think we’ve an innate distrust of “$300 off” types of promos. Anyway, it was a winner — and thanks for the post.

    • says

      I agree, Claire. It didn’t shout, it wasn’t hypey, but it spoke clearly and well, and you knew you’d get value on the other side of the click.

  12. says

    Very interesting. I too though Christine’s subject line was the most honest one. I like the one from Shaun’s as well but the “scientific” could actually end up working against you.

  13. says

    Hi Sonia,

    Very pleased to see you considered mine – “Testing — does this link work for you?” I do see the misleading angle… however I see it more as clever since every bit of it relates to testing a landing page. It feels a little misleading but it’s not 😉

    Great idea for a contest btw.

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