Get It Read: 7 Tips for Writing Better Email Subject Lines

email subjectA while back, I wrote several posts on email marketing, outlining why it’s worth your time and how to do it better (see the links at the end of this post). One of the most important parts of email marketing, which I didn’t cover, is writing effective subject lines. If you can’t get people to open your message in the first place, then all of the time you’re putting into creating a great message is wasted.

So, how do you write email subjects that get your recipients to open your message, when there are potentially hundreds of other messages competing for their attention? Here are some ways to write more compelling subject lines to help your messages make the cut.

Start with Motivating Verbs

Using your subject line to direct the recipient to DO something through an effective call to action is vital. But, you can’t be verbose. You only have about 50 characters to work with if you want to make sure most of your message displays in the subject line of the recipient’s email client. You should start with the most important words that will make the reader act. Some verbs you may want to try out include: focus, boost, improve, discover and launch.

Answer What’s In It For Me

We’re all busy and many of us struggle with email overload, so it makes sense that we look for the immediate personal benefit we will get if we take time to open a message. Your subject lines should answer the recipient’s question, “What’s in it for me?” Put yourself in the recipient’s position and write a subject that focuses on the benefits…what would make you take time to open a message right now?

Change It Up

If you’re sending a monthly newsletter or other series of related messages, it can be tempting to stick with the same subject for every mailing. But you may get better open rates if you change the subject for each issue. You will want to make sure you are keeping each subject directly related to the content of the email, but add some variety to get the reader’s attention.

Avoid the Spam Triggers

Every ISP has spam filters in place to catch unwanted messages before they reach your inbox. While we certainly appreciate not having to deal with every junk message that comes our way, it’s not a perfect system. There are some words that tend to get caught in various spam filters, so avoid these words in your subject line to bypass the trap:

  • Sale
  • Free
  • 50% Off
  • Click Here
  • Call Now
  • Act Now
  • Order Now
  • Guaranteed
  • Subscribe
  • Opportunity

You’ll want to avoid writing your subject in ALL CAPS or using excessive punctuation (multiple exclamation points, breaking up words with periods, etc.).

Test, Test, Test

Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear formula for writing effective subject lines. Plus, every subject format won’t work every time or with every audience. So test your campaigns by changing up your subject format for every mailing (and even try split-testing each mailing by segmenting your list), and checking your stats to see how the subjects perform. Then tweak and modify until you find a formula that works for your audience.

Toe the Line

It’s a no-brainer that controversy gets attention, so you can generate interest and invite opens by making a debatable statement, asking a risky question or piquing the reader’s curiosity by mentioning a hot topic. Try using controversy and originality to make your message rise above the rest of the noise in the inbox, and get opened instead of deleted.

Skip the Personalization

It may seem that including the recipient’s first name in the subject line will add a personal factor that simply can’t be ignored, but the opposite may be true. In fact, adding this type of personalization may only scream “mass mailing.” Think about it: how often do you send messages to your regular contacts, friends and family that include their name in the subject? I’m betting not often, so keep the personalization to the greeting inside the message and use the valuable real estate of the subject for more powerful words.

What tips do you have for writing compelling email subject lines that get the reader to want more?

Related posts:

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • steve

    Great Post :) Also I find that sending the letter out on a monday or tuesday instead of friday or saturday helps get more views to.

  • Stevie D

    about it: how often do you send messages to your regular contacts, friends and family that include their name in the subject? I’m betting not often, so keep the personalization to the greeting inside the message and use the valuable real estate of the subject for more powerful words.

    Including the recipient’s name in the subject line can sometimes help … if you do it right. If my name is right, that suggests that the sender has got hold of my details from a legitimate source, so it is more likely to be a communication that I am interested in. That’s particularly the case if the subject line is a bit generic, the sort that could be genuine marketing or could be spam.

    But either way, if it’s an unsolicited email, it is going immediately in the bin – I won’t even bother to read it to find out what it’s about, other than to note that I will never buy from the sender.