The subject line is arguably the most critical part of any email. In many cases, it determines whether or not your email is even opened. Think about your own inbox - what kinds of emails get your attention, which ones do you actually open, and which ones are moved straight into the trash? Your customers are the same way. Their inboxes are overflowing, and you need a solidly crafted subject line to stand out. When I am writing emails for clients, I usually leave the subject line for last because believe it or not, it can be the piece that takes the longest to get right! Here are some tips for how to write better email subject lines to boost open rates.
Keep it short, compelling, and authentic.
The subject line has a big job to do, and only has a few words to do it. In fact, five to seven words with 45 to 50 characters is an ideal length. How can you craft such a short but effective subject line? Be brutal: remove any non-essential words and position the most important information toward the front of the subject line. Use power words while maintaining a tone that is authentic to the brand you’re representing, and above all, don’t bait and switch. Your subject line should accurately reflect the contents of your email. The bait and switch is a great way to get your readers to mark your email as spam. Depending on what kind of email service you use, that could eventually lead to your removal from the system.
Communicate action and urgency, but be clear and stay on brand.
Reflect the tone of your organization, and tell your readers what you want them to do by using action words that speak directly to them, such as:
Include a sense of urgency with words and phrases like:
Describe the negative consequences of inaction. (Don’t overdo this, though. Fearmongering can backfire.)
Don’t discount the preview text.
Preview text is a snippet from your email and is the first line that appears in the preview pane of the reader’s inbox. Not all of your readers will see it, but it’s worth making the most out of that space. Rather than just leaving whatever content is automatically pulled into the preview text space, take some time to compose a succinct sentence that supports the subject line and tells the reader why they should open your email. Again, position the most impactful words towards the front of the sentence so if it is truncated, the important part will still be visible.
Avoid spam triggers.
Using any of these could send your email into spam and put you (the sender) into a permanent email timeout.
- ALL CAPS
- Excessive punctuation!!!!!
- Spammy words and phrases such as: Free, Act Now, Buy Now, Offer, % Off, Reminder, and Limited Time
Test before you send and analyze results after.
- Use an A/B tester to try out a couple of different subject lines. Select a percentage of your list to be part of the test. Half the test group will receive the email with subject line A, and the other half will receive subject line B. After a testing timeframe (two hours is typically sufficient) the version of the email with the higher open rate will be sent to the remainder of your list.
- An email subject line tester can help you develop more effective subject lines. We like to use SubjectLine.com.
- Test your email in different browsers and email clients such as Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, and AOL to make sure it isn’t landing in any spam folders. If it is, check your subject line and content for spam triggers.
- Finally, after sending your email, log into your email client and review open rate over a period of a few days. We usually check open and bounce rates the day after an email goes out and again three days later. This will help you understand which days and times are best for your readers to hear from you, what kinds of subject lines work, and which ones fall flat.
Other helpful hints.
- Personalize the subject line to the reader when appropriate. Some studies have shown personalized emails have an open rate six times higher than those that did not include personalization.
- Use the subject line as a lead-in to an announcement.
- Ask a question to pique people’s curiosity
- Be funny. (Tread carefully here. Make sure you stay on brand.)
We hope these tips help you to write more powerful email subject lines and that you notice an increase in your open rates as a result. We think you’ll find that these habits become second nature over time and actually make coming up with catchy subject lines easier. Are there any other tips you’d add to our list? Speak up in the comments!