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Google-Gaming vs. Quality Content: Which is More Important?

By October 9, 2015November 20th, 2015Content Marketing, Digital Marketing, Inbound Marketing, Strategy

In August, marketing software maker Adestra released its 2015 Subject Line Analysis Report. According to the report, the company analyzed 3 billion emails to find “The 10 Best (and Worst) Performing Words in Email Subject Lines.” It found that best performing subject lines are those that contain the words “thank you,” enjoying 62 percent engagement.

I came across the report on LinkedIn, and immediately readers began falling all over themselves talking about how to include the words “thank you” in their subject lines, offering advice and/or bragging about having been smart enough to be using their “thank yous” all along. My first reaction was to do the same–figure out how to include thank yous in my email subject lines.

Alleluia! Now I know how to get my emails opened!

But wait a minute.

The goal of a direct email is not to get your emails opened. The goal should be to get your emails opened by the right people. Just including “thank you” in a subject line, hoping this will somehow trick people into opening your email, is gimmicky and short sighted.

In my experience, it works much better to have a subject line that explains exactly what your email and promotion is about, so that people who want what you are offering them are more likely to open it. For example, a subject line that says “White Paper: How Better Clinical Trial Design Impacts Medical Device Approval” (one I sent) is likely to get opened by people who are involved in clinical trials of medical devices, but not by most others. But isn’t that exactly what I want? (Rhetorical question–of course it is!)

This leads me to a larger question I’ve been pondering for some time. Content marketing is all about attracting qualified leads with relevant, valuable content. Right? That’s one of the things I love about it. As a writer, I find that content marketing rewards quality–people are turned off by the schlock that once dominated traditional, interruptive outbound marketing programs. If you create content that informs, educates and helps people understand a possible solution to a problem they are facing, you have gained invaluable trust. At the same time, there is a great deal of what I call “Google-gaming” involved in content market–using the science of SEO to get your content to the top of the page when searchers are looking for your type of product or service.

The email subject line study got me thinking about this again–you could call it email-gaming, I suppose. Sure, it might be naive to think that just because I write a stunning (thank you very much) article on clinical trial design for medical devices, it will be found by virtue of its high quality writing and useful information. More likely, it will languish on page 27 of search results without the right SEO assistance. At the same time, simply conjuring SEO black magic to make sure a blog post or webpage ranks highly for a search term is only effective if people like what they find when they click on the link.

I tell people every chance I get to quit trying to trick people into buying something they don’t want or need. We’re only wasting our own time, and that of our audiences if we do this. Preposterous, exaggerated claims to transform lives and businesses are the worst–“Learn how this weird trick whitens teeth,” and the like, are just hucksterism. That’s an extreme example. But sometimes I wonder if all our SEO and subject line black magic aren’t trending in the same direction–using quantitative data instead of exaggerated claims to get offers in front of as many people as possible, running up our open rates and click rates, without regard to the quality of the connections that are being made.

The numbers make us and our bosses feel good. Who doesn’t want to report a fabulous open rate for an email campaign? But with millions of marketers out there working to game the system, I wonder how many have the right kind of quality content at the other end of the work flow to truly engage quality leads.

What do you think?

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