How could something so small make or break an email’s success? Because many recipients use the subject line to decide whether to open or delete an email.
This makes subject lines tricky little devils and challenging to write. A good one can get your email opened in a flash, while a bad one could spell oblivion in the trash or junk file.
Because so much is riding on your subject line, here are a few good rules for crafting a good one. Be sure to review them before you send your next email campaign.
If you want to write a better subject line, pick up your local paper. The headline usually highlights a story’s most important fact in a limited space. A subject line, in turn, should clearly state what your reader can expect from your email, what’s in it for them or what you want them to do as a result of the email. However, there isn’t enough space to do all of them all the time. Look at the newspaper headline to see how it interplays with the story.
Rule 2: There is no sure-fire formula
What works in one campaign might bomb with the next. A discount offer should be worded differently from an upsell, and both are different from a breaking-news announcement.
Even if you are sending out emails to promote similar campaigns, you shouldn’t recycle a subject line from a past campaign. You need to stand out each time, yet be familiar to the reader, too.
Rule 3: Support the “from” line
The “from” line tells the recipient who sent the email, and the subject line sells the recipient on opening. If your “from” line lists your company name, you don’t have to repeat it in the subject line, which frees up space in the subject line.
Rule 4: List key info first
Some email clients allow more characters in a subject line than others, but most give you at least 50, including spaces. So, load your key information in that first 50. Also, make sure the cut-off doesn’t occur in a crucial word, such as a price or date. One way to really see how your subject line will work in your recipients’ inboxes is to send yourself an email with your proposed subject line!
Rule 5: Urgency drives action
Set a deadline: “Order by midnight tonight;” “Last day to ensure Xmas delivery.” Use urgency and deadlines as part of a planned series of emails as well. For example on Monday incorporate “5 Days Left...” and then on Thursday follow it with “Only 24 Hours....”.
Rule 6: Watch those spam filters
There’s a fine line between “catchy” and “spammy.” Run your copy through a content checker to identify any spam-like words, phrases or construction. The content checker will tell you which phrases to avoid. Two tricks that could trip a spam filter: subject lines in all capital letters and using more exclamation points than necessary. (Both look unprofessional, too.) In fact, we recommend against using exclamation points at all if you can avoid it.
Rule 7: “Free” is not evil
Yes, you can use “free” in a subject line. Just don’t make “free” the first word, use it in conjunction with an exclamation point or spell it in all caps (could get your email filtered). People still respond to “free”; so, the increase in orders or other actions will almost always outweigh the messages lost from filtering.
Rule 8. Lead, but don’t mislead
Don’t stretch the truth in the subject line or promise more than the email can deliver or make grand claims that readers will find hard to comply with in order to get a special offer or benefit. Readers will distrust you (and reach for the report-spam button) if your subject line doesn’t reflect the email content.
Rule 9. Can you pass the must-open/must-read test?
The days when people opened absolutely everything that landed in their inboxes are long gone. Now, you have to intrigue them. Appeal to their need for information, to be an insider who is “in the know.”
Run a simple test on yourself and others on your team – does the subject line pass these two tests?
- The must-read test. If a subscriber doesn’t open the email they will feel like they are out of the loop and may have missed an offer that they will regret not taking advantage of.
- The unbulk / bulk-folder test. If for some reason, your email goes into the bulk folder, does the combination of from and subject line wording inspire trust and intrigue to get the recipient to move it into their inboxes?
Yes, this seems like a lot of fuss over 50 little characters. But those 50 characters may have a significant impact on your email’s success. Therefore, it pays to get them right.