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The ‘F’ word: our email marketing subject line winner


Posted on November 15th, by Bill Vallis in News. No Comments

Campaign challenges email subject line myth

The Four Peas has recently implemented an email marketing campaign for Shaw Trust, the leading UK back-to-work charity. The crux of the digital marketing message was this: Shaw Trust offers employers a free recruitment service. But we all know you should never say ‘free’ in an email subject line.

Shaw Trust email campaign by The Four Peas

It’s not often in business that ‘free’ means exactly what it says, but in this case it’s genuine – as employers like Premier Inn, Sainsbury’s and Pizza Hut will testify. So naturally, any email marketer worth their salt would make ‘free’ the focus of the Shaw Trust campaign subject line, right? Well, not necessarily…

Don’t do it!

If you follow digital marketing industry debate, you’ll have read plenty of advice on use of the word ‘free’ in email subject lines. And most of it concurs with the views given in this Mailchimp blog post, stating that ‘free’, “tends to trigger spam filters”.

It seemed ridiculous to us that where the word ‘free’ is absolutely legitimate and of genuine value to the audience, it should nevertheless be treated as a pariah. Which was why we were intrigued to find an article titled “7 email subject line myths exploded”, by Smart Insights’ Tim Watson.

Do it!

Tim Watson’s advice is that paranoia over ‘free’ is one of the most persistent old wives tales in digital marketing. He even implores us, “Go ahead and use free and other sales trigger words, even put free in upper case too.” Because it’s sender reputation that determines spam, not use of individual words…

So, after first sending the email to employers with the subject line, “Recruiting Christmas helpers? Try Shaw Trust’s dedicated service”, we resent the same email a week later to the recipients who had not opened it the first time. And this time, we went for it, and used the ‘F’ word – “Free Shaw Trust recruitment services? It must be Christmas”.

13% CTR uplift: result

The email was identical across both sends – only the subject line changed – and it was sent at exactly the same time of day. We saw no evidence of greater susceptibility to spam filtering, either.

The result? Click through rates rose by 13% – even though the audience had previously rejected the opportunity to open the same email.

Now, we can’t say that these b2b email marketing results prove a general truth – it was a single campaign, after all. But based on this experience, we’d have to say that fear over the use of ‘free’ in email subject lines seems to have been exaggerated.

The test is, is ‘free’ really true for your campaign? If it is, then ‘Fxxxxxx’ go for it in your subject line!

For effective email marketing programmes, contact The Four Peas.

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