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Conventional wisdom says that personalizing your email marketing subject lines, such as putting someone’s first name in the subject line using tags or other automations, increases the open rate for that email marketing.

In fact, if you do a web search, such as in Google, for “email subject line personalization open rates”, you will find over 16million results, most of which tell you that personalizing subject lines in your email marketing will boost your open rate. That may have been true several years ago, but not necessarily so much now.

In fact, anecdotally we have known for a few years that personalization in a commercial email’s subject line can suppress your open rates!

Why would this be the case, when for years email service providers and email marketers have been telling you that using peoples’ first names in your subject lines will increase open rates?

Back when the technology was novel, your email would stand out if you used a recipient’s name in the subject line of your email. The recipient would see their name and be a tiny bit thrilled to be getting “personalized” email. However, over time, the email-receiving public – i.e. your email marketing’s market – has come to recognize this one true thing: if their first name is in the subject line, and it’s not from a friend or acquaintance, then it’s someone trying to sell them something. And that turns them off. It’s like putting a big “I WANT YOUR MONEY” in the subject line.

We recently created a survey, hosted through a non-email related site, asking this question:

“Does your name in the subject line of an email marketing message or email from a business make you MORE or LESS likely to open the email?”

The choice of answers from which to choose were:
More likely
Less likely
I don’t care because I almost never open marketing email regardless
I don’t care because I almost always open marketing email regardless
email subject personalization survey

email subject personalization survey

The Results

6.41% of respondents said that their name in the subject line made them more likely to open the email

43.59% said that their name in the subject line made them less likely to open it.

Another 43.59% said that it didn’t matter because they almost never open marketing email anyways. (This means that you need to really find a way to make your email stand out, but personalizing the subject line is not necessarily the way to do it.)

Granted this was a small sample (~80 random people), however this is also what we hear anecdotally whenever we are part of an industry group and we ask the question.

Now, of course, each industry, each market within an industry, and each business serving that market, is different. So what is true for someone else may not be true for you. Or…it may be. The great thing is that it’s very easy to test! Send some email marketing with personalization in the subject line, and some email marketing without, and see which has the better open rate. Then report back to us!

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