Quist: The word Halloween in Subject Lines is Bad for Open Rates – Spooky


Everyone loves Halloween!

Well perhaps not everyone but, judging by the number of Halloween themed offers and Subject Lines to be found at this time of year, marketers certainly seem to. There seems to be consensus that incorporating the Halloween theme in a Subject Line is a good thing. But what if I told you that including the word Halloween in your Subject Line was bad for your Open Rate?

I realise there is no shortage of articles of this type; “50 Scarily Good Subject Lines for you to learn from” out there, unfortunately, none of these articles are backed by any evidence at all. They are just someone’s opinion and as such need to be thoroughly tested before adopting any of the recommendations offered.

At Alchemy Worx we use Touchstone which uses AI to replace Humans when AB Testing Subject Lines, this means we can test as many Subject Lines as we want without burning out our client lists. It also means we can tee up winning Subject Lines well in advance. There is nothing to stop you or us testing a Valentine’s day Subject Line idea at Thanksgiving. In fact, our Black Friday Subject lines are already tested and the winners are good to go.

This year as we started to test Halloween Subject Lines, we found Touchstone was predicting that most of the ones we tested would perform well below average for Open Rates, no matter what we tried. Which brought us to the realization that it might be the word Halloween itself causing the bad Open rates.

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth” Sherlock Holmes

We therefore decided to dig deeper into this theory by using Touchstone to test over 100 Halloween themed Subject Lines that had been recommended by expert blogs or we had seen used. This is a summary of what we found.

The following 2 screen grabs show a representative sample of a 10 way Subject Line Test on the impact of the word Halloween.

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It turns out that the word Halloween on its own really does have a strong negative effect on Retail Email Open and Delivery Rates as you can see from the summary chart below.

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We also noticed something rather Spooky. The negative effect of the word Halloween was reduced if the word Happy was included. Wishing email subscribers a Happy Halloween seems to make them more likely to open and less likely to cause issues with deliverability than just sending them a Halloween deal. As you can see below Happy Halloween! 33% off our Spookiest Styles, beats It’s Halloween! 33% off our Spookiest Styles and Happy Halloween! Our treat to you beats Happy Halloween! Our treat to you. Who would have thought! It still doesn’t make it a good word to use, but offers hope to those who actually do have to use the word.

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There wasn’t enough time for me to analyze the effect of every Halloween word for its impact on Open, Click and Delivery rates, but I can share one more thing we discovered. It turns out that when used in a Subject Line, Spooky without the word Halloween to drag results down is a word that can have a very strong positive effect on Open & Click Rates and Delivery rates.

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We also found that in every case the impact of these words varied by sector for example using the word Halloween is worse for Travel than Retail.

The takeaway for this article is this. Never assume that because everyone seems to use a word or concept in their Subject Lines or an expert says that a Subject Line is good that it is true. Always Test.