The most important real estate in an email message is the first thing readers see when the correspondence first pops into their inboxes. This tiny but significant parcel in your email message can help tilt the balance in your favor when readers are zipping through their inboxes, deciding which messages to open and which to delete.
Email users are now more sophisticated in the ways they read, sort and deal with email. They behave much differently than they did even a couple of years ago. With an ever-crowded inbox, email clients are giving users more ways to make quick decisions on what to read.
Snippets: What they are and what they do
The top-line, or snippet, is the first sentence in your email that gets displayed after the subject line. Typically, the inbox will display the copy in the first line of an HTML message or the first sentence of a text email.
Too often, snippets include a request to add the sender to the reader's contact list or direct readers to click a link to view the web version of an email. These are valid services, but they do not belong as top line items.
Instead, use this coveted space to build value, interest and excitement in your message. A correctly worded snippet builds on your subject line and helps your readers, especially mobile readers, decide whether to save the message or to read it immediately. A good snippet also gives you the chance to build brand recognition and relevancy beyond the subject line alone. This helps readers make that snap decision on what to do with your message when they are in the midst of "inbox triage."
Readers are no longer sitting at their big desktops scrolling patiently through their never-ending inboxes. They're stealing moments on their cell phones, BlackBerries and other handhelds, bent on clearing out anything that doesn't grab them immediately.
Typical snippets: Value builder or lost opportunity?
More often than not, snippets say something like this:
- "View this e-mail with images."
- "Having trouble viewing this email? Click here."
- "If you cannot see this email, please click here."
At face value, these seem to be perfectly fine. But statistics show email recipients simply aren't clicking through to the web versions in enough numbers to make this a valuable use of the space. Furthermore, none of these sentences state the purpose or offer from the email, leaving the reader to decide based on the subject line alone.
Here are a couple top lines that have a little more value because they speak to a need or issue in an effort to engage a reader:
- "Today's Stats Article: Top 10 Search Terms in 10 Categories, September 2008"
- "[Event name] registration deadline and special discount code below."
- "A special thank you from [brand name]."
- "January Newsletter -- How to get a free pass, trail run shoes, top 10s"
- "Choose from our entire 2008 collection at [brand name]."
3-step extreme snippet makeover
To make that top line work harder, both in the email inbox as a snippet and as the first line of your email, it is best to create a new one for each message.
- Retail email: Repeat your offer, whether it is discounts, free shipping or an invitation to view a new product with a link to the web version.
- News publication: Put a headline (top story, quirky tidbit or company announcement) in the snippet.
- Transaction confirmation: Refer to the action and thank as appropriate (no link needed).
Although creating a fresh line will take a few extra minutes each time, the lift it gives your email messages with an enticing snippet in the inbox should more than enough repayment.
Before you go live with your revised top line, see how it will appear in different desktop and web email clients and on different platforms such as PC, Macintosh and mobile.
3. Test, test and test again
Conduct an A/B test, sending your standard email message to one half of your database and the revised version to the other half to see if you notice a lift. Keep trying with your next two or three deliveries and keep an eye on your open rate. Also, watch the click rate on the top link to see if it's getting the attention you want.
Why optimizing the top line is required now
The important lesson is this: You cannot afford to waste a single line in your email message, whether it's a gorgeously designed, artistic-quality HTML message or a plain-text, no-nonsense email. The top line is your opening shot to tell the reader your message has value and should be seen. If you aren't optimizing this line, you're throwing away another opportunity to make your message stand out in the inbox.