11 Tips for Writing Better Email Subject Lines

By Ashley Orndorff, aka Marketing Geek businessperson checking email on phone and laptop

Email can be a great tool for connecting with customers, building relationships with them, and also growing your business. But, in order to connect with people through email, they have to receive it and open it first. Several factors affect whether someone opens your email, but the subject line often makes the difference between an open and a deletion. Here are a few tips for writing better email subject lines:

1. Keep it Short and Descriptive

Writing a good subject line is one of the email marketing tips for more effective emails. And, one of the hallmarks of a good subject line is that it accurately describes what’s in the email and is also concise.

There isn’t a lot of space available in someone’s inbox, especially when up to 77% of email opens are on mobile devices, so your subject line needs to get to the point before it gets cut off. If you fill your subject line with fluff and put the important stuff at the end, it’s likely to be too long and people won’t see the most important parts of your message.

Determine the main benefit of your email and figure out how to describe it and entice someone to click in as few words as you can. Keep it simple, keep it short, and keep it descriptive. Sticking to around 56 characters or fewer or 5-6 words is generally a good approach.

You can make your subject line longer as long as you know that whatever you put after 50 characters or so may not be seen by anyone. Also, be aware that a subject line that is too long, depending on its content and other factors, may cause your email to get caught in spam filters.

If you truly have a lot you need to feature, try breaking it up between your subject line and preview text. The preview text is what follows the subject line when your email is listed in someone’s inbox. It can be a useful place to enhance your subject line further.

Here, too, you don’t want to rely on someone seeing it or reading it. But, it does offer a little more space to elaborate or add to what you mention in your subject line. It’s also useful if you want to keep your subject line shorter as an enticement and then offer more description in the preview text.

2. Leave Room for Personalization

When it comes to marketing to and connecting with customers, a little bit of personalization can go a long way. Too much personalization can be creepy, but a little can make your customers feel valued. When it comes to email, including their name in the subject line can increase open rates as much as 20%.

You will want to test this with your emails. Depending on your audience, they may respond better or worse to their name in the subject line. For some people, a name in the subject line may come across as a spam email or marketing email they don’t need and they may respond better to their name in the copy of the email itself.

For others, having their name in the subject line may entice them to open the email more often than a subject line without it. Ignoring personalization is one of the email marketing mistakes to avoid, but your audience may respond to certain types of personalization better than others. So, it’s important to test it to find what works best for you.

3. Avoid Sounding Like Spam or a Pushy Sales Pitch

Email spam and email scams are common. The last thing you want to do is have a subject line that makes your email seem like one of them. Using all caps, especially when offering something for FREE, doesn’t usually entice someone to open an email and can trigger spam filters.

On top of that, people are busy and they don’t want to deal with pushy salespeople. If your email’s subject line comes across as a pushy sales pitch or an offer that is too good to be true, it will likely cause your email to end up unopened and in the trash. You do want to create a sense of urgency, especially with limited-time offers, but getting it wrong can hurt your open rate.

4. Take Inspiration From Top-Performing Subject Lines

If you’re stuck on creating a good starting subject line or looking for new ideas to test, take inspiration from subject lines from top-performing email campaigns. The best email marketing campaigns usually also have fantastic subject lines.

Track down some examples, take a look at the subject lines for them, and see what elements you can test in your own subject lines. In doing so, you can find out what works best for your campaigns and write better email subject lines moving forward.

5. Begin With Action

A subject line is a descriptive call to action for your email. It should provide a clear path of action for subscribers to take and inspire them to click and open the email. Using active voice and starting your email with action verbs helps your subscribers get into an action-taking mindset. It’s also a key factor in writing successful Calls-to-Action (CTAs) for your business.

Not only can it entice them to click and then continue taking action, but it also often keeps your subject line more concise. Depending on the topic of the email, the offer, your approach, etc., starting with an action verb can also create excitement or a sense of urgency.

6. Create a Sense of Urgency

You still want to avoid coming across as too pushy, but you can still create a sense of urgency for sales or promotional emails. Simply including a realistic end date for a special sale, promotion, limited edition product, etc. can create some urgency and be an efficient way to nudge subscribers into action.

If the campaign will feature a series of emails around a limited-time offer or product, you can also count down in the email subject line to continue building an atmosphere of urgency. However, you don’t want to send too many emails or continue to push these emails to subscribers who have already taken advantage of the offer. So, make sure you have a good balance are using behavioral triggers to avoid sending to people who have already converted.

7. Try For a Little Mystery to Pique Curiosity

If urgency isn’t what you’re going for and doesn’t fit with the emails you are sending, you can try a little mystery to pique curiosity instead. Engaging a subscriber’s interest by making them curious enough to open the email can result in higher open rates for your campaign.

Make sure it is descriptive enough while still leaving some mystery and without coming across as clickbait. You may need to test this a few times before you find the right fit. If you’re too vague or obscure, your subject line could make your email look like spam instead of something interesting worth opening.

Also, make sure the content of the email provides enough value to subscribers to satisfy their curiosity and justify the open. If your content doesn’t back it up or match expectations, you may end up with some unsubscribes on your hands instead of increased engagement.

8. Make it Exclusive

People like to feel special. If your subject line can make your subscribers feel special, it can encourage them to open the email and also help build loyalty. Phrasing in your email subject line that indicates exclusivity and something that is only available to subscribers can help you write better email subject lines and increase open rates.

9. Use Numbers Where it Makes Sense

Using numbers where it makes sense can take an email subject line from vague to specific. It can also help you increase open rates and campaign conversion rates. Numbers can be used to create a sense of urgency for a limited number of products, invites, etc. They can also be used to encourage event or webinar registrations, provide an interesting statistic to pique curiosity, and more.

10. Write Multiple Subject Lines and Test Them

Writing good subject lines takes time and effort. There are a lot of tactics you can use to craft a compelling subject line like using numbers, starting off with action-oriented verbs, asking a question, making a joke, and more. Some tactics may be a better fit for some emails over others, but you’ll likely be able to use several of them on an email. The trick is knowing which one to use.

That’s where testing can help you. By writing multiple subject lines before you send an email, you can narrow the selection down to a few of the best. Then, you can run some A/B tests on the subject lines you have to determine which one your audience responds to the best. You can also re-write a subject line and resend an email a few days later in order to reach people who didn’t open the first time.

You don’t want to blast people’s inboxes or send so much email that you get blacklisted from sending, but you do want to test your subject lines and re-send to the segment of your list that may have missed the first one. Depending on how much email your audience usually gets and how often they check their email, this waiting period before re-sending could be a couple of days or it could be a couple of weeks – it all depends on the demographics and behaviors of your target audience.

11. Check Grammar and Spelling Before Sending

Email is notorious for grammar mistakes, spelling errors, broken links, and more. When it comes to email marketing for your business, the emails your customers see are a reflection of your brand.

One of the best business email etiquette tips is simply to read and review your email before you send it, including the subject line and preview text. Read it out loud or have someone else read through it for any glaring grammar or spelling mistakes. Use a tool like Grammarly or Hemingway as well, but don’t rely solely on them as they don’t catch everything.

Send a test email to yourself to preview the subject line, email copy, and overall design. Also, test all links to make sure they are working and pointing where they’re supposed to go. If you’re including a coupon or discount code, make sure it works before you send it out and that your checkout is equipped to recognize it.

By going through an editing and testing checklist before you hit send or schedule to send, you can make sure your email reflects well on your brand and is poised to help make every open and click count for your business.

Email can be a valuable tool for your business and a good subject line is one of the essential elements of a great email campaign. With these tips for writing better email subject lines, you can help make sure all the effort you put into creating and sending those emails pays off. Good subject lines often mean your emails are opened and clicked instead of getting caught in spam filters, ignored, or deleted. You may even be able to generate more leads with email marketing.

Oftentimes, the emails you send to customers and potential customers are meant to bring them back to your website. But, if your website isn’t up to par, it can drive them away and render your email efforts ineffective. If it’s been a while since your website was last updated, it may be time for a redesign. Contact us for a meeting fo the MINDs to talk about how we can get your website back on track and performing for your business!

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