12 Tips for Amazingly Effective Email Subject Lines

Getting your customers and prospects to open an email can be extremely challenging in today’s crowded email inbox. More than 100 billion business emails are sent daily. Many of us get hundreds of emails every day. Which ones will make us click? Which ones cause us to hit the delete button before giving them a second glance? We all know what works on us. But putting this knowledge into practice for our audience can be a challenge.

Overstock.com's effective email subject line

Effective Email Subject Lines Impact Open Rates

That’s why it’s important to focus on the big attention-getter when it comes to open rates – subject lines. In general, they should be:

  • Succinct
  • Benefit-focused
  • Accurate about what’s inside the email

A great subject line can also be clever – and maybe even a bit unusual. Keep in mind, these are not hard-and-fast rules. Your audience will tell you with their clicks what works and what doesn’t. So use these guidelines to get started, but always test your subject lines first to find out what works for you (and for your audience).

12 Tips for Great Email Subject Lines

1. Focus on the benefit. Why should your reader care? Don’t make them guess. Announcing you’re putting on a customer appreciation event is all well and good, but make sure you mention a reason they should come join it before you get into the details.

2. Keep it active: Start with an action word like “save,” “get,” “watch,” or “join.”

3. Make it short: A good subject line gets the job done in 50 characters or less, because otherwise it can get cut off based on email platform and device.

4. Provide the important information up front: Always try to “front load” your email subject lines with keywords so the most important information is right at the start and nothing valuable gets cut off.

5. Connect it with the preheader: On a mobile email reader (as well as some desktop email clients), the subject line can appear above the first line of your email copy. So if these two lines of copy can work together (rather than just repeating each other) it’s win-win.

6. Put a number in it: People like numbers and lists – and the research proves it. Don’t just deliver tips or ideas. Deliver 10 tips or 5 ideas. Numbers promise the reader that this won’t take long and that they’ll get a quantifiable benefit from reading what’s inside. It’s OK to use numerals instead of spelling numbers under 10 out; it makes the number more obvious and saves space.

7. Use your big guns sparingly. That means ALL CAPS, urgency (act now), scarcity (don’t miss out) specific numbers (10% off) exclamation marks (!) and the word “free.” They can be powerful, but when overused, or if used together, they lose their impact. The same goes for symbols and emoticons. They can make you look cheap (and spam-like, to both readers and the ISPs that can block your messages) very quickly, so it pays to know your audience and test before you send.

Modern Email Marketing Techniques

8. Try being timely: You might consider taking advantage of big news or buzz-worthy current events in your email subject line. But be aware that something up-to-the-minute is also something unpredictable. Your “Shovel up these Snow Day Specials” email will be unwelcome if the morning’s flurries turn into the afternoon’s dangerous blizzard. And busy people sometimes don’t read non-urgent emails until days later.

9. Call out their name or location. Personalization can help improve open rates, but using it too much can also reduce your impact. Remember, some people and places have long names that can turn your snappy subject line into a stuffy-sounding novel. And just because you can, doesn’t mean you should add personalization to the subject line.

10. But don’t try to act like you know them. That includes adding a “FW” or “RE” in your subject line or trying to be mysterious (“You won’t believe this…” or even worse, “Hi”). These are bush league tactics that “consultants” want to sell you on, but that never result in meaningful relationships with your audience.

11. Ask a question or pose a problem: If you do this, be sure the answer or solution can be found in your email message. (“Are Your Open Rates Going Down?”). This and other emotional hooks are great ways at grabbing your audience’s attention.

12. Be specific and be honest: Above all, your subject line should tell your reader what’s inside and move them in the process of taking a desired action. You can send an email that says “SUBJECT LINE GOES HERE” and people may open it out of curiosity. But that’s all you’ll get – open rates. And to paraphrase Matt Heinz, you can’t buy beer with open rates. When testing the performance of your subject lines, look at open rates, clickthrough rates, and the overall results of your message.

Email Subject Line Formatting

Do you capitalize every word, or just the first word in the sentence? It really depends on you and your chosen style. We capitalize the subject line as you would a title, beginning everything (except minor words such as the articles a, the, and, with, etc.) with capital letters. Whatever you choose to do, you should be consistent about it. It’s part of your brand’s signature style, and people will come to recognize it.

And speaking of making your brand look good: be sure to double-check your subject lines for spelling errors and typos. It’s easy to forget this step when you’re in a hurry, and one glaring error can make your business look extremely unprofessional in a hurry.

Consider these guidelines as you write your next email message, and remember they’re only guidelines. Your results may vary. Overstock.com uses all-caps in their subject lines all the time because it’s a strategy that works for them. But they know what works because they’ve tested their subject lines, over and over, to determine what gets their audience’s attention.

And that leads me to talk about the importance of testing. Do it, even if its a simple version A, version B test. If you want to step it up a notch, think about what questions you want to answer with testing. For example, do you want to know if:

  • Emoticons work with your audience and what kind?
  • Do long or short subject lines work?
  • What kind of personalization works better, using a first name or a company name?

And the list can go on. Outlining what you want to know helps shape the testing you will conduct, as well as the analysis you do afterward.

Subject lines are one of the most important elements of your email marketing program. It’s your first impression with your audience, and it’s key to determining your email response and engagement. Put in the extra effort for more effective email subject lines with these 12 tips for 2018.

Modern Email Marketing Techniques

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