It’s a common marketing truth that if you get the subject line wrong, the rest of your message, no matter how interesting or well written, may not matter. In fact, without a compelling subject line, your email campaign is most likely going nowhere.
Since this topic comes up in conversation quite a bit, especially with my marketing-focused friends and colleagues, I’ve outlined my top tips for creating effective email subject lines below:
- Always include one: if you’ve ever received an email without a subject, you were no doubt confused, annoyed – or both – and assumed that this was an embarrassing error or the doings of an inexperienced or bungling communicator. A subject line is crucial, as it often determines not only whether an email is opened, but also how the recipient will respond. An email with a blank subject line will likely get lost, deleted, or, at best, start the reader off on the wrong foot.
- Draft it first: Don’t make the mistake of creating your subject line as an afterthought added at the last minute before sending. On the contrary, writing it first allows you to focus, prioritize your message and think about the potential outcome, next step or desired call to action. Doing so upfront will not only set the tone for your message, but also ensure you don’t leave this task to the end – or worse, forget to write one at all.
- Keep it short and put the keywords up front: The typical inbox shows about 60 characters of an email subject line; mobile devices show only 25-30. While there is always debate among marketers about the “perfect” length of a subject line, the bottom line is you will only have about 6 to 8 words (less for mobile devices) to get right to the point and pique interest. Eliminate unnecessary words (e.g. “hello” or “reaching out”) and put the most important words at the beginning, as mailboxes will inevitably cut from the end.
- Be clear and focused: The email subject line should communicate exactly what the email is about so the recipient can prioritize it – or at least not delete it immediately. Vague subject lines (e.g. “Got a minute?”) should only accelerate hits of the “delete” button. Within the subject line, marketers should focus on one call to action (e.g. “register”). The subject line might consist of a single takeaway (e.g. “proven tips”), indicate how the reader can make use of it (e.g. “get better leads”), and specify how it will be delivered (e.g. “complimentary webinar”).
- Create urgency: People who receive lots of email often prioritize messages by “immediate action required” or “read later;” the latter category often doomed to never getting opened. Setting a deadline and/or establishing urgency (e.g. “limited space” or “registration ends this Friday”) increases the odds that readers will open, read and respond to your message, as they don’t want to risk missing out on a valuable offer.
- Name drop: If you’ve been referred by a mutual colleague, put her name in the subject line to grab the reader’s precious attention from the get go. It is no doubt too valuable to save for the content of the email that might not be opened or seen. Be sure to include the full name – using “Dave” alone, for example, might not be enough to garner recognition. Finally, in the age of receiving hundreds of generic emails a day, featuring the recipient’s name in the subject line could be a novel approach (e.g. “Mary: see how your campaigns compare to…”) to increasing interest and opens.
- Be a pro: Despite the desire for attention, being professional is still a requirement for email subject lines. DON’T USE ALL CAPS, or begin a subject line with a thought… to be finished at the start of the email message. Do not use slang or text words (e.g. “ur”) and avoid exclamation points! Don’t include cliché phrases (e.g. “act now”), which may only fast track your email directly to the spam folder. Do use dashes or colons (correctly) to separate thoughts. And be sure to re-read your subject line (e.g. is the correct name inserted?) or, better yet, have it proofread along with your entire email message.
Email subject lines need to have enough information to set expectations and pique interest, but not so much that readers stop reading or ignore the message. Applying these tips should ensure your email campaigns don’t start off on the wrong foot, and ultimately, lead to better business outcomes.
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