How to Write Better Email Subject Lines

Patti RennerEmail marketing is only as strong as its open rates. And the subject line is bait on the hook for people to bite – to click and access your message sent. No matter how brilliant your email may be, campaign success hinges on a short string of words with enough zing to inspire an open.
As Bryce mentioned in his trends for 2011 series, email marketing is alive and well. With that in mind, here are five qualities of better, more persuasive subject lines. Not every subject line needs to incorporate all five… but the more you have can mean better open rates.
  1. Compelling Your subject line should be compelling, with an immediate benefit, giving the reader a sense of urgency to open now instead of later. For example, “Early Bird Savings Ends Feb. 4” The wording motivates them to action – not to miss out or be left behind. (Hint: See if your subject line answers the “Why now?” in its wording.)
  2. Creative Be unique! There’s some serious clutter in most people’s inboxes. Your message shouldn’t sound like all the others. It should stand out as different, unusual — something you just won’t find anywhere else. Use real terms, but give it a different spin, preferably from the client’s point of view, or in a way that will pique the reader’s interest.
    You may have to dig deeper to bring out benefits the others don’t talk about. Or find that unique angle. For instance, a tax-saving software promo could use: “Legal Ways to Annoy the Government.” A historic approach may work: “The Aztecs Prized This More Than Gold.” When appropriate, you can pull in current events or pop culture: “Which one is Dwight in your office?” Have fun with it. (Hint: It’s better to hone in on one unique benefit or idea and promote it than it is to be vague and ordinary.)
  3. Clear Be specific about your offer and explain what you can do for them. Instead of “Save time and money,” tell them they’ll save “4 hours a week” and “$368 a month.” Spell out the benefits with clear, honest details. That said, be sure your details actually hold up. Never mislead the reader. Bend the truth and you risk losing them forever.
  4. Capable Show that you can deliver something the prospect wants… something of value that addresses their needs and solves their problems. This can be as simple as stating what they should expect in the email (“New White Paper on Email Marketing” or “ Get a Trial Gloss to tame your winter frizz”). In other words, what do they get if they open the email? Give them the reason. (Hint: If you make a promise, make it one that the prospect wants to hear.)
  5. Compassionate Address the concerns of the reader. What keeps them up at night? Are they worried about something your brand can resolve… spending too much money… being left behind their peers…? Tap into those deeper concerns – and provide them with a solution to ease their pain – to be more effective. (Hint: Take a tone in your writing that shows compassion, that you relate to the prospect in an authentic way. Speak their language and “feel their pain” to help further attract them to what you have to offer.)

There you have it, the Five Cs of great subject lines –Compelling… Creative… Clear… Capable… Compassionate. Next time you create a subject line for your email, see how your words address these five criteria. When in doubt, test. Then build on the results.

A few other tips:

  • Keep it short – The fewer words the better.
  • Avoid redundancy in “From” and “Subject” – If your From line includes your business name, your subject line doesn’t need to repeat it.
  • Use any acronyms or jargon thoughtfully – Don’t make the reader have to figure out what you’re trying to say, unless you’re using the language to zero in on a specific readership segment.
  • Mobile matters – The number of people who read their email on their smartphone is growing, which means subject lines must be even more compelling to capture the attention of the on-the-go reader.

What tips would you add?

One Comment

  1. Posted July 19, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Some really good tips!
    Questions requiring a positive answer are old favourites that can be very effective eg:
    “How to…”, “Do you want to…”, “Would you like…” etc


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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Knotice, Elizabeth Glagowski. Elizabeth Glagowski said: RT @Knotice: How to write better email subject lines: http://bit.ly/hB54ZR #email #marketing [...]

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  10. [...] a high-performing subject line becomes essential for ensuring those open rates. About a year ago, I wrote on this topic, sharing with you my “5 C’s”. Now let’s look at ways to make those few words even stronger. “Choose me! Choose me!” When [...]

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