An email subject line is one of the most important factors in determining whether or not someone reads your message.
That choice is not some deeply considered evaluation, but is done instantaneously and against the backdrop of competing interests that can range from the recipient hastily scanning through other emails to glancing up from her IPad to see if the barista has her latte ready. It’s a two-second decision that hinges primarily on the subject line.
In this article, I share five tips for writing better subject lines that can improve your email marketing success.
1. Make It Relevant to the Audience and the Moment
The relevance of your subject line is both entirely subjective and completely under the control of the recipient, depending on when she receives the message and what else is going on in her life at the moment.
Think of it like inviting a colleague to lunch. Its 11:40 a.m. and you pop your head into the next cubicle and say, “Hey Bob! Have you tried that new Italian place?”
At that moment, the message is relevant for Bob, and the likelihood that he will respond favorably is high. But ask Bob the same question at 9:00 a.m., just seconds before the major client meeting, and his response is likely to be dramatically different.
2. Make It Fit
Your subject line needs to be short enough to be read in a single glance. An easy standard to follow is whether the recipient can read it on a mobile device, without having to hit the “read more” link. If not, it’s probably too long.
Admittedly, this is not always easy, as you also need to ensure that the reader has enough information to make an educated decision. Still, a growing number of emails are being read and responded to on smaller platforms, and often in the middle of other activities. Even if people view messages on a regular computer screen, the practice of keeping it short can get it noticed and read more quickly.
Even if people view messages on a typical computer screen, the practice of keeping it short can get it noticed and read more quickly.
3. Make It Clear
Subject line clarity is just as essential to getting your message read as being relevant and making it fit. The subject line is no place for vague phrasing or slick pitching. People are busy and need to make a decision right away. If your subject line is unclear, you run the risk of being ignored.
That is not to say the message has to be a boring recitation of facts alone. Creativity is always important. Just don’t be so clever that recipients fail to understand your meaning or intent.
4. Make It Trustworthy
A person’s email inbox is considered a very personal space, not unlike her home. Certain rules of conduct are unspoken, yet expected.
Always tell the truth about why you are there. Never state something in the subject line that turns out to be untrue, or not as true as you might have suggested.
People hate being “played,” and there are some very negative associations with people who conduct business that way. It’s better to have your email screened as irrelevant than to draw the recipient in, only to discover that the message is not in keeping with what you indicated in the subject line.
5. Make It Actionable
In many cases, the subject line may be the only thing your recipients read. Certainly, you want them to delve deeply into the message, but if they don’t, try your best to plant at least a kernel of information in their minds through the subject line.
Compare the subject line “It’s Our August Blowout Sale!” to this one: “2 for 1 Kids Sandals Tomorrow Only!” The first message might work but does not lend direction on what action you want the reader to take. The second subject line is clear: Tomorrow is a great day to get your sandals.
Or, compare “Hometown Chamber August Newsletter” to “Senator Jones to Speak at August Banquet.” The first line merely repeats the obvious — that it’s August, and there is a newsletter. The second is much more precise, meaning the reader is more likely to look at his calendar and call to reserve a seat.
The following graphic, from Constant Contact, lists some helpful examples of subject line dos and don’ts.
The key to writing effective email subject lines is no different than any good marketing practice. Think of what matters most to the reader, and the chances are your subject line will reflect that, leading to greater email marketing success.