What kinds of subject lines encourage people to open an email? This is a question email marketers have been asking themselves since, well, the beginning of email marketing. Subject lines are the first impression to your email and they play a HUGE part in whether or not your emails get opened or angrily plopped into the spam folder. If you look at companies that are running successful email marketing campaigns, you’ll notice that they focus heavily on subject lines. In fact, whenever they write subject lines, they aim to make each one short, emotional, and clear. Here's how you can leverage these three elements and be successful at creating your own email subject lines.
1. Pitch Your Email
A few years ago, I attended a startup pitch day in San Francisco with a group of young entrepreneurs. A panel of venture capitalists sat at the front, surveying the crowd with unreadable expressions. Each team had only 90 seconds to present a year’s worth of work, so the pressure was on to tell a polished story.
I watched as team after team walked onstage to pitch. The microphone crackling, the nervous exhale before diving into a pitch, everyone waiting in anticipation. The first sentence of a team’s pitch could completely captivate or lose the audience. I still remember one man walking on stage, gazing out into the crowd, and saying, “My name is John Smith...
and I’m not for sale.”
He proceeded to explain his company’ fight against human trafficking–but that first sentence alone hooked everyone’s attention.
When trying to write a persuasive subject line, I reflect back on this moment. Subject lines are the startup pitch to your email. You only have a small window of time to get your message across, so you need to keep your point short.
In fact, there are studies supporting this idea. A recent report by Return Path found that open rates increased by 12.5% when subject lines were under 50 characters. So, next time you start typing out an email, consider how you can hook your recipients with your first line.
Here’s how popular brands are crafting their short subject lines:
- Since we can’t all win the lottery…(Uber)
- RSVP Now to Become a Funnier Speaker (CreativeLive)
- Your 2016 in music: personalized stats & playlist (Spotify)
- Send a love letter on me (Frank Body)
2. Use Interested-based Keywords
If you’ve ever cold emailed someone, you know how difficult it is to get a response. Days will go by and you’ll find yourself sending another, “Re: Just following up” email. I’ve learned that the best way to get people to open these emails is to include something irresistible to your recipient.
Think of the last email you impulsively opened. What caused you to immediately click the email without considering who sent it? The majority of the time, the subject line contained a topic that interested you. Maybe you were trying to learn more about freelancing, or you’ve been self-conscious about your public speaking skills, whatever it is–you opened the email because you wanted to know more.
I call this tactic the interest-focused subject line approach. It involves, including a keyword that your audience is highly interested in. While managing email campaigns for a large tech company, I A/B tested subject lines based on this tactic. The ones that mentioned Artificial Intelligence (AI) received a higher open rate because AI was an important topic to the company’s audience.
Another way to think about this approach is to use Buzzsumo’s viral headline structure. After analyzing the top headlines of 2015, Buzzsumo found 5 key elements to writing persuasive headlines.
The article dives into emotion and the impact that certain words have on headlines. Their research found that incorporating emotionally impactful words (like things that pique your audience’s interest) contribute to higher clicks. You’ll need to do some testing to know what resonates with your audience, but once you find a few keywords that work, you can continue to appeal to subscribers by sprinkling these words into your subject lines.
3. Prioritize Clarity
My friend recently received an email from an old high school teacher with the subject line, “We’re expecting”. The email went on-and-on about how the family is planning on adopting a baby and then (multiple scrolls later), her old teacher finally got to the point. He sent a bunch of people this email to ask for money in order to adopt.
Although my friend opened this email, the subject line was completely misleading. You’ll quickly piss off your email list and end up in the spam folder if you send misleading or unclear subject lines. Although, the idea of a “clear” subject line in itself can seem somewhat ambiguous, there are tactics for creating concise subject lines.
For example, imagine an online retailer sending an email with the subject line: “Big Sale!”
This is a pretty uninspiring subject line because it tells you absolutely nothing. Would you open this? Probably not, unless you were already considering buying something from this retailer. But what if the subject line had said, “Save 40% on our most popular sweaters today only!”
Now you know how big the sale is, you know what the sale is on, and you know how long you have to make a decision. If you were considering buying a sweater for the holidays, then you’re definitely going to buy one now!
Adding clarity into a subject line turns your recipients from thinking, “why should I care?” to “Oooh, tell me more!”
Stay Relevant and Keep Experimenting
When it comes to writing email subject lines, it can be easy to half-ass it before you hit “send”, but using this as a long-term tactic is going to kill your open rates. If you take the time to follow these three tactics and create short, emotional, and clear subject lines you’ll set your email marketing campaigns up for success and learn what works for your audience.
Continue to experiment and beware the spam folder!