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How to write great subject lines to get people’s attention

Posted On 12/9/2017

How many unread emails do you have in your inbox? 300? 800? Or maybe, if you are like me and are on countless mailing lists, 2,644?

We get a TON of emails every day, and a lot of them are never opened. People are inundated with boatloads of information – more than ever before in history! But we don’t have more time to soak it all in. The chances of your email being ignored are pretty high – unless of course, you have a rockin’ sockin’ subject line.

Your subject line is your first (and maybe your last) impression on users. In many ways, your email subject line is more important than your email body. After all, a great newsletter is worthless if it never sees the light of day.

There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to creating slam dunk subject lines. We’ll be covering 9 different types of effective email subject lines and sprinkling examples throughout.

1.  Simple, No Nonsense Email Subject Lines

There’s a lot to be said for minimalism – users need you to be clear and concise in your subject lines, as time is always an asset.

A recent study on marketing emails shows that short, descriptive subject lines fare better than cheesy lures. It’s worth noting that this succinct approach is most applicable with notification emails, in which a user already has a connection with the content you’re delivering.

Your Order Is Being Processed.

Most of these emails involve updates or notifications connected with a user’s social media activity, order status, and etc. These emails have a specific purpose, and so their subject lines should be specific as well.

2. Funny Email Subject Lines

A humorous subject line can really stick out among the dry, dull emails surrounding it. Humour is a touchy thing though – it thrives on exclusivity, which isn’t always great if you’re trying to appeal to the masses. However, if you know your audience well and your emails are targeted, a well placed joke can get your email opened and can earn major reputation points with folks on your wavelength.

3. Controversial/Shocking Email Subject Lines

Controversy (sometimes) sells, and it most certainly grabs attention. Using shock, controversy, or insult in your subject lines requires you to tread really carefully. You may get opens, but at the cost of customers. This strategy requires you to be confident in your understanding of your audience’s tastes and perceptions. It’s a bit of a gamble, but the pay-off can be pretty great.

4. Single-Word Subject Lines

One effective email subject line strategy involves going ultra-minimalist with one-word subject lines.

From a simple design perspective, a single-word subject line catches the eye – its length and shape stand out from the other largely similar-looking structures.

5. Email Subject Lines with Numbers & Lists

Many of the factors that make up a good blog post title also make a good email subject line. Incorporating numbers into your subject line attracts attention, as our brains are naturally drawn to digits. This tends to be why top 10 lists are so successful – lists are easier for our brains to process and they create curiosity, in addition to providing the promise of a quick and easy read.

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Numbers and list email subject lines stand out for the same reasons that one-word subject lines or unusual punctuation do – they are visually jarring. The ultimate goal is to make your email subject line visually stand out. How you do that is up to you!

6. Personalised Subject Lines

Incorporating personalisation techniques into email subject lines is another way to increase open rates. By personalisation I don’t mean incorporating a user’s name into the subject line – this has become so common practice that many users glaze over these as spam. Instead, try location-specific offers and language, or interest targeting.

7. Questions & Other Punctuation in Email Subject Lines

Question marks and unusual punctuation offer another method for standing out from the email masses. Exclamation marks can be useful, but are so over-used in subject lines that they don’t tend to be very powerful. Instead, experiment with some fun symbols or loud punctuation to attract ‘dem eyeballs.

Going….going….70% off Ultimate Sale is almost gone!

Asking your readers a question, as opposed to a standard statement, immediately engages them. Questions enter an instant dialogue with users, making them more likely to be opened.

Rough day?

Final hours! Will you save 50%?

8. “Missing Out” & Other Scarcity Tactics in Subject Lines

We have a deep, inherent terror of being left behind, of missing out – that flock mentality was a survival instinct once, but now it’s just another subject line strategy to goad us into a purchase. Email subject lines threatening scarcity (limited time offer!) tend to perform well, and this language is also common practice with squeeze pages. People will commit some pretty cold actions to avoid “missing out.” Throw in some scarcity words and you may be surprised how your click rates will change.

Sale Ends today! Hurry, this is your last chance…

5-Hours Only! 50% off all jeans in stores. GO!

Examples above incorporate numbers, scarcity, punctuation, and partial capitalisation (emphasis on the partial) for some serious subject line success.

9. Mysterious Email Subject Lines

As Scooby-Doo or Sue Grafton can tell you, people dig a little mystery in their lives. Giving readers a little taste of something intriguing might cause them to bite.

It’s all over December 25….

Email Subject Line Best Practices

Some general good email subject line best practices to keep in mind when crafting those lures.

  • Write multiple subject lines. You should write 10 subject lines for every email, just as you should write 10 titles for every blog post. Then choose the best.
  • Keep it under 50 characters. It’s general best practice to keeps subject lines to fewer than 50 characters. Subject lines with less than 50 characters have higher open rates and click-through-rates than those with 50+.
  • Alliteration. An ample amount of alliteration attracts! Give it a try for some catchy email subject lines.
  • More caps ≠ More opens. Covering your subject line in caps WILL NOT HELP YOU. Caps are powerful, but not to be trifled with. Use them sparingly and responsibly.
  • Call to action. It’s never a bad idea to try a call to action in your email subject line. While many opt-out due to limited character space, call to actions may improve open rates.
  • Using You/Your. While name-calling is on the out, it’s still considered a best practice to use “you” and “your” wording to speak directly and comfortably with readers.
  • Put Yourself in the “From” field. Keep your “from” section professional and consistent for business subject lines. This isn’t the place to be a goof ball – with so much spam floods, users want to see that you are a legitimate and trusted source. Most business emails put their brand name in the “from” field.
  • Pay attention to the preview. The email preview that follows the subject line is a valuable piece of property, and yet so many businesses ignore it or let it get filled with garbage text.
  • When did you send it? Many people don’t check their emails as often on the weekend.

Hopefully we’ve given you the information you need to make email subject line eye candy. These tips should help with open rates, but retaining those readers? That’s up to you!

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