I am not the best example when it comes to a typical email reader.
I open every email that lands in my inbox. I don’t use Google’s system of separate tabs for Primary, Promotions and Social emails.
My inbox is a to-do list of sorts. I get edgy when emails remain in the inbox unread. It means there is something to be dealt with.
Inbox Zero is not something I celebrate, but the daily norm.
And yes, I know very well that I am something of a novelty (or a freak?). For the vast majority of people, Inbox Zero remains something of an urban legend (“My friend’s cousin once had nothing in her inbox…”)
And they most certainly do not open and file away every email they get.
I know that because I send emails to them. My clients send emails to them. And these emails never get opened all of the time.
In most email inboxes, chaos reigns.
Emails mean work. They battle with tweets and WhatsApp posts and SnapChats, which have the double bonus of being shorter and more interesting.
What happened to all those hilarious email forwards I received on a daily basis? I haven’t seen one in years.
With everything else going on, with all those work emails to answer, all those hilarious social media posts, emails have a tough job.
Getting your marketing message out there by email, getting it read and getting people to act on it is a challenge up there with Leicester City challenging for the Premier League title.
But, just like Leicester City, great things are possible when you get the formula right.
The right offer. The right copy. The right subject line.
And, most importantly, when you are consistent.
Sending consistently good emails is one of the most important elements of success in any email marketing campaign.
Leicester City only won the Premier League because they were consistently good. You will only win with email marketing when your emails are of a consistently high quality.
But whatever the contents of your emails, there is one thing standing in your way to them getting read: first they have to be opened.
And to be opened, they have to get noticed by standing out from a chaotic wall of subject lines all screaming for attention.
And that means your subject lines have to stand out and inspire the recipient to open them.
So how do you go about writing subject lines that get your emails opened?
A Few General Guidelines for Clickable Subject Lines
There are a lot of types of emails you can send (see the end of this blog for a quick run-down).
And they all have different guidelines when it comes to subject lines. So let’s start by looking at subject lines in general.
Stick to 50 Characters
There is a lot of debate over whether a subject line should be short or long. But in this mobile-obsessed world, I would err on the side of short.
What does short mean?
Under 50 characters is ideal. At this length, most of the subject line will be displayed on smartphone screens, so this is playing it safe.
Having said that, and frustratingly for those who seek definite answers, long subject lines also seem to perform well.
However, the source above states that this varies by sector, so it’s impossible to say whether a longer subject line will work best in your case.
The answer? Test what works for you. There is nothing to stop you split testing the same email with a long, short and medium length subject line.
But if that’s not an option, I’d opt to keep it short.
Front-Load the Subject Line
Make an effort to get the most important words right at the start of the subject line. By waiting to the end, you risk the key words being cut off.
But more importantly, recipients will often scan the many emails in their inbox, reading no more than the first two or three words. It makes sense to make these the most impactful.
You could also use action verbs at the start. ‘Go’, ‘Run’, ‘Eat’, ‘Drop’ – anything that inspires an action.
This sounds better, makes the subject look more interesting, and could well inspire more opens.
Add Some Intrigue
We’ve all seen those click-bait headlines around the internet. (’10 INCREDIBLE Ways to Make Money (You Won’t Believe Number 8!’)
Yes, they get clicks. But the problem with these (and one of the reasons Facebook recently cracked down on them) is that they don’t deliver on the promise.
Your email subject lines can be improved by adding curiosity – but you must still ensure they fulfil the promise in the content.
One simple way to do this is to come up with a subject line that suggests the content of the email is worth reading, but which doesn’t give the game away.
‘A quick way to double your revenues’ inspires curiosity. It is intriguing, and the reader is left asking: ‘What could this quick way be?’ They have to open the email to find out.
But if you said ‘PPC ads are a quick way to double your revenues’, you’ve just given them the answer. The reaction to this might be ‘Oh, that’s nice’, before moving onto the next email.
Personalise (With Care)
Personalisation is one of the conversion-boosting benefits of emails.
‘Here’s your free report Jon’ is likely to catch my attention. It mimics someone writing to me personally, and everyone spots their own name.
It can be a bit creepy – especially if overused.
Personally I usually opt for ‘you’ and ‘your’ over the name of the recipient most of the time, but sometimes adding a name does increase opens.
Just use it sparingly, and don’t start all your subject lines with their first name.
Add Urgency or Scarcity
The fear of missing out is a strong psychological principle – and a popular tactic of sales copywriters.
It works with the two concepts of ‘urgency’ and ‘scarcity’, and you can put these to use in your email subject lines.
Urgency can be created by adding a simple ‘Today only’ for a special offer. That’s intriguing – and the recipient has to act soon to avoid missing out.
Scarcity could be something like ‘Only 50 available’. Again, it inspires the same reaction of ‘I’d better get in quick before someone else snaps them up.’
If you can fit one of these into your subject line, you could be onto a winner.
Say What’s Inside
A quick point here – try to keep it clear and simple. Assume that your subject line may be competing with dozens of others in the inbox, and it has to make its case in about one second.
That means you should get across what you want to say quickly, clearly and without being longwinded or trying to be clever.
Often being clear is the best option.
Just say what the recipient will find inside, especially if there is something that they are expecting, like an ebook.
Make It Exclusive
It never hurts to make your subscribers feel special to be on your list, and you can do this through the language you use.
Even something as simple as saying ‘exclusive invite to subscribers’ can get your email opened.
This builds trust, and emails are about relationship building and loyalty. This is a great way to do that at the same time as getting more emails opened.
Other Important Stuff
As well as the subject line, make sure the sender’s name is a real name. On mobiles especially, the ‘From’ name is often the first thing you see.
If people don’t recognise the name, they are less likely to open it.
Likewise, if it’s a company name rather than a real person’s name, they will instantly know that it is a marketing email. People want real people to communicate with them, and using a real name can help.
In addition, use the subject line to show your personality. Use little jokes, casual language and – depending on your brand image – even make deliberate grammar mistakes or miss out a capital letter.
These can all help to imply that you are a real person reaching out rather than putting together a carefully crafted marketing message.
But go easy on the exclamation points (!!!). And avoid lots of CAPS. They sound like you are shouting.
The preview text is another thing to think about. This will show up as the first few words of your email following the subject line, so make them count. This is not always possible, but sometimes you can set the preview text using a tool like HubSpot.
Specific Types of Emails and Subject Lines
The above tips are relevant for any type of email. But make sure you write the subject line for the type of email you are writing.
This should make sense, but it’s often forgotten. I will write separate blog posts on these types of emails, but here’s some guidance in brief.
Cold emails – when writing cold emails, the subject line is more important than ever. You may be reaching out to a potential client or someone you want to partner with.
Personalisation can work here because you will usually be sending each email individually rather than sending hundreds at a time. So craft your subject line for that specific person.
Make it intriguing enough to open without giving away everything, and try not to make it too sales focused. A friendly tone can help to form a connection and encourage an open.
Reengagement emails – these are for people who are on your list but are not active. Perhaps they haven’t opened an email in a long time. Before unsubscribing them, consider writing with a subject line such as ‘Where have you gone?’ or ‘We miss you!’.
Cart abandonment emails – the language you use here depends on your brand image. For example, something like ‘Darn it, you nearly got there’ could work well with your target audience. Alternatively, ‘Your order’s waiting’ could help to give them a push.
Make the Subject Line Do Its Job
The subject line has a specific job to do. Actually, it has a few. To get opened is clearly the primary aim, but it must also set expectations.
Getting opened means nothing if the opener just bins it straight away when they realise they were tricked
Work at your email subject lines. Test them. Find out what works for your subscribers.
This blog should give you some inspiration for writing your next subject lines, but always try to split test your subject lines against each other, and find out what works best for your campaigns.