Crafting Compelling Email Marketing Subject Lines

Posted on Dec 14, 2012 · 5 min read

opened mailSo you did your homework from last week, your calendar is all filled in, and the content is bullet proof. Fast forward to January.

You’re working on the first actual email in the queue. If you want to know how to get customers to open emails, the secret to success is a great subject line. But oh the pressure! You know you only get one shot to make a good first impression, and your email is competing with every other email in your customer’s inbox for their attention. But every time you stare down that mockingly blank subject line field, instead of feeling inspired, you feel like taking a nap. Let’s break it down together. What makes a good subject line? I’ve pulled a few examples of actual subject lines from real life marketing emails that I’ve received in the last month to give you some inspiration

It’s short and sweet. In an ideal world, your email marketing subject lines are under 50 characters. If you can make it catchy, good for you, just don’t try to get too clever. Make sure it makes sense. You may even want to try writing a succinct subject line you feel good about before you write the body of your email instead of leaving the subject line for last. Then you can use the subject line as your guide when you’re laying out the body text.

Good subject line:  Gifts that Give Back: 5 for $25
Bad subject line: Animalistic Jewelry, Illuminating Leads, True Toilet Bowls, Wild Animal Art, Chilly Dog Sweaters, Stylish Waste Bag Dispensers & More Pets Gear @ Up To 50% Off With Free Shipping.
(This subject line was so long I couldn’t even see the 50% off or free shipping offers until after I opened the email. Which I only did so I could copy it for this blog post. Probably not what the company’s marketing team intended.)

It’s honest. Don’t get sneaky and try to reel people in with a misleading subject line. Keep it relevant to the content that is actually in the email. Nobody likes the old bait and switch. Lead with your strongest piece of news, and include incentives whenever possible like the percent or dollar amounts that your customers can save on products in the email.

Good subject line: Special offer: ½ off Rhapsody
(The offer inside was get 3 months for $5/month. It was targeted to me because I used to be their customer. The only reason I didn’t re-subscribe is because I subscribe to Spotify now)
Bad subject line: The last BIG Sale before Christmas! Save 60%.
(This is the 3rd or 4th time this company has emailed me telling me it’s my “last chance” to save before Christmas. When I opened it, I discovered I only save 60% if I spend more than $200. Delete. Unsubscribe. The end.)

It won’t get trapped in a spam filter. Be mindful of using words like “free,” “no obligation,” “guarantee,” “win,” “cash,” or “act now.” Please don’t write in all caps, you’re not only raising the risk that your email marketing will be doomed to the junk mail folder, you’re being rather rude. Don’t use extra !!!!!!!’s or $$$$$$$$$$’s. Be sure you use spellcheck; misspellings can get you flagged as spam. Try to re-read your message as if you were an outsider with no knowledge of your company or the products you sell. You may know that “Sweet cheeks” is the name of a quilting pattern, but that doesn’t mean a spam filter won’t flag it as porn. True story.

Good subject line: Look inside: A little magic & a ton of savings
Bad subject line: Get a Free $20 Gift Card plus Mountain Hardwear Sale Ends Today
(I actually pulled this from my spam folder. It never made it to my inbox.)

It inspires action.Using action words in your subject like “learn” or “save” can improve your open rates. Create a sense of urgency with phrases like “limited offer” or “ends soon”.  Try A/B testing a subject line that includes an action word (otherwise known as a verb) with a subject line that doesn’t and see which one works better for your audience.

Good subject line: Using Your Dental Benefits Before End of Year
Bad subject line: For the Love of Big Cats
(OK, ok. I actually opened this one. But that’s because I really love cats. It would have been even better with a call to action.)

Now that you’ve got subject lines on the brain, you’re going to start noticing every subject line that makes it into your inbox. Make it into a game. Read each email blast’s subject line and give it a thumbs up, a thumbs down, or an eh. Notice what you respond to. Check to see what’s stuck in your spam filter. Drag and drop some of your favorites into a subject line folder you can refer back to for inspiration. By exercising your subject line writing muscles and following the tips outlined above, hopefully you’ll find that the next time you have to write a subject line the task isn’t quite as daunting as before!

Tune in next week when we’ll talk about what it takes to have a perfect  <body>. (Don’t you love nerdy html jokes?). Of course, you can always cut to the chase and just download our free white paper, How to Get the Most Out of Your Email Marketing.

Angela Modzelewski by Angela Modzelewski