Four weeks ago we kicked off our Subject Line Slam Dunk tournament — NCAA knockout style — to A/B test eight subject lines for an upcoming email campaign. We wanted to know what you want to read. Are emojis the key to stellar open rates? Is short and sweet truly the key to great copywriting? Or is humor the X factor in growing that coveted CTR (click-through rate)?

After three rounds of testing, we had a winner. And it wasn’t what we expected.

The Prelims

In our first round, we picked our elite eight subject lines from a list of over 50 ideas from our copywriting team. Ideas ranged from the very basic “Email better for less” or “Pro email marketing at your fingertips,” to the very sporty “No email airballs” and “Want to be a winner? Go Pro and send emails like a champ.” Ultimately, we settled on a selection of straightforward and basketball-related phrases to see what best hit the mark.

Once our brackets were set, we published them to Facebook, promoted it across our blog and social channels (FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter), and then sat back and waited for the results. We theorized that the more creative sports-themed catchphrases would grab attention, and emojis would be our winners. In our prelim round, results were as expected. The more creative lines shined and, even though some of the subject lines were longer, our voters responded to the themed content rather than the more concise copy.


The Semis

For our second round, we weren’t sure what to expect. Which of our favorite four would reign supreme? Would emojis win the day?

The face-offs were set and after another week of voting, we had our final two. One matchup was a landslide, while the other came down to a nail-biting finish.

We had our finalists…. Now it was time for the ultimate A/B test.

The championships

Our final two subject lines both were basketball-related, had thirty-odd characters in them, and perched on the creative side of subject line spectrum: “⏱ Beat the buzzer — 30% off starts now!” versus “Alley-oop! Send emails like a Pro.”

Just like our VerticalResponse Pro A/B testing feature does, we sent our final two subject lines to 25 percent of our contact list. Half received the emoji copy and half the alternate catchphrase. Within the first couple hours of the campaign, our system identified which email had more opens. It automatically used the winning subject line on the remaining 75 percent of our contacts, boosting the overall open rates for the entire campaign.

What did we learn?

In the end, creative writing and a clear offer drove the best results. While emojis won the popular vote in the Prelims and Semis, many email providers still do not display emojis properly. Most major email platforms and browsers will display these icons and designs, but many other systems may still show a blank symbol: 

Remember, it’s always important to test your campaigns. You might have created a winning formula, but the best email marketers continue to test those templates, and make changes to optimize performance.

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