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  • Writer's pictureAlex Ford

How to Write Effective Email Subject Lines

You know that saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, I have a confession to make. I frequently judge books by their covers. I know, I know – but I can’t help it! The cover is the first thing I see and I have a few seconds to decide if I want to look inside before moving on to another book..

The same can be said about emails and their subject lines. I’ll glance at a subject line to determine pretty quickly if it’s something I’m going to open or just delete without a second thought – and I’m not the only one.

Crafting an engaging subject line can be tricky, but with a few tips you’ll be on your way to better open rates (which you need for clicks and conversions)!

Adhere to the Three C’s - Clear, Concise, and Clickable

As I mentioned, you don’t have a lot of time to grab someone’s attention in their inbox so it’s important to hook them as quickly as possible. Clear & concise go hand in hand as subject lines aren’t the place to be long-winded - think of what you want to say and then think of how you can say it using fewer words. Trim the fat for clarity and try to keep it within 50 characters when all is said and done. A large percentage of people tend to read emails on their phones and you don’t want your message to get cut off!

What qualifies as “clickable” may vary depending on your audience. Generally speaking, using intrigue tends to work well. Make them curious and give them a reason to open the email. Try posing your subject line as a question rather than a statement - so for instance instead of saying “Haircuts for your face shape” try saying “Does your haircut suit your face shape?” Not only is the question format a bit of a disruption, but it also makes the reader want to find out more.

That said, there is one C you definitely want to avoid - clickbait. There should be a direct connection between your subject line and the content of your email, and ideally everything should be relevant to your audience. Clickbaiting your audience will lead to a loss of trust and potentially higher unsubscribe rates and spam reports.

Provide Value

You want people to open your emails, right? We’ve already gone over giving them a reason to do so. However, sometimes you come across those who think “what’s in it for me?” Including a value proposition can be a great way to catch someone’s interest. For example, if you’re offering an incentive to fill out a survey - lead with that. Rather than saying “We’d like your feedback” try instead “$5 for your feedback.” This works well for free items, coupons, and anything else that the reader would value.

Obviously, never make any false promises and only offer what you can actually deliver. Ethics and legalities aside, you again want to keep trust high and unsubscribes/spam complaints low. Speaking of spam, it’s important to be careful and avoid common spam triggers. When hyping up deals it can be tempting to get a little carried away when pushing enthusiasm. Never use all caps and keep the exclamation points to a minimum.

Instill a Little Fear (of missing out!)

For better or for worse, a solid motivator for many people is fear. Not so much fear that comes from danger, but more so the fear of missing out, or FOMO. The best way to get someone to act on FOMO is by creating a sense of urgency. Let them know how much time they have to act, tell them what they stand to lose if they fail to act, and convince them that everyone else is acting. Which sale email would you open first: “don’t miss our sale” or “sitewide 50% off today only”?

This loses its impact if you employ it too often. If everything is “limited time only” every few days, the audience will catch on and start to ignore your messaging. Don’t be the person who cried wolf! It’s fine to have special offers more than once in a blue moon, but just make sure your messaging reflects appropriately on your schedule. If you plan to do it just once a year, leverage that! Just make sure any statements about frequency are truthful.

These are only a few things to consider when crafting your subject lines. Of course what works well for one list may not work for another so it will take a bit of trial and error to find the sweet spot to best serve your needs. If you plan to switch up your subject line strategy, make sure to A/B test. You can play around and figure out what your specific audiences respond the best to and continue to optimize from there. I hope this helps!


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