Email Marketing: The Subject Line

Today, we’re going to discuss the all important subject line of email marketing.  For those of you who are  new to this email marketing series, you may want to review the following posts:

How to get your emails opened

How to get your emails opened

Email Subject Line

The subject line is probably one of the most critical aspect of email marketing.  Why?  Because without a subject line that motivates the reader to click through to read your email, all is lost.  You’ve spent valuable time crafting a great email message, but only a small percentage of your email subscribers click it open it to read it.  This isn’t good.  So let’s examine how we can increase clicks with a great subject line.

What is the purpose of the email subject line?

To capture the attention of readers and motivate them to click open the email instead of other emails in their inbox.

The subject line of an email is comparable to a newspaper headline, only the email subject line has to work harder.  It doesn’t have the advantages of photos, sub-heads and positioning to draw people into the story.  There are only two elements of an email in the inbox:  the from and the subject line.  And then there is the competitive environment, a inbox of a hundred or so other emails vying for attention.

So, the subject line has to stimulate your subscribers to actually click the email open. But how does one do that?  Here are seven suggestions.

Use compelling words

You only have seconds to capture their attention so the words you select for your subject line have to jump out and grab them. You can do this through words that infer the need to take action (e.g. limited supply, short supply, just announced, just introduced, just learned, etc.); or that address a hot topic you know is of interest to your email subscribers.  You can also use buzz terms and the names of those most influential in your industry in your subject line to stimulate open rates.  So select the words for your subject line carefully.

Make it short & sweet

Keep your subject lines to 50 characters or less.  Studies have shown less is more.  You can always use your subject line as a short tease to get them to open (e.g. Find out how…, Make room for…, Just found out…, etc.).

Focus on the customer

Avoid using the name of your company in the subject line. Instead use the word “you”. They already know who is sending the email so don’t waste precious space being redundant.

Use urgency  when appropriate

Many will tell you to use urgency in your subject line.  Just don’t become dependent upon this technique.  If there are only a few days or a few hours left, fine.  But if your email subscribers begin to suspect you’re stretching the truth or are just using this technique to get them to open your emails, you’ll start to see a lower and perhaps unsubscribes.

Offer & front load a clear benefit

Yes, “FREE” and “discount” can be viewed as benefits, but I would strongly recommend against relying on  these overused terms for several reasons. One, I’m a firm believer that if the only benefit you have to offer is something for FREE or at a discount, then you’re not offering true value.

Two, a business constant use of sales, discount offers creates the image of being a discount operation and trains customers to only consider your business when you offer your next discount.

Three, it is said that spam filters  filter out emails with spam words like”FREE” in the subject lines.  Here is a SPAM report for your review. I don’t know if this is true as I see plenty of emails with the word FREE in the subject line arrive in my inbox.   But why risk it when you can be steps ahead by offering real value?

Instead offer your subscribers valuable information, education, insider information or news before any one else in your industry.  This is true value your email subscribers will come to appreciate and this approach will generate more responsiveness and higher open rates on the part of these subscribers.

And make certain they see those benefits by positioning the benefit as far forward in the subject line (e.g. Boost ROI tenfold with …” or “10 tips for investing…”, etc.).

Ask:  Would I open this?

Use yourself as a gauge of the effectiveness of your subject line.  Is it sufficiently compelling to stand out in your inbox and generate a click? If not, keep working on it.

Look at the numbers

Check the open rates for all of your emails to determine which subject lines are working and which are not.  Repeat the subject line techniques that are working.

If you practice these seven tips, you should see healthy open results from email marketing.  Keep working to refining your email subject line and study the results with your audience.

Next, we’ll talk about some tips covering the content of email marketing.


Sheila Hibbard

Sheila Hibbard takes the fluff, hype and confusion out of marketing and social media. She provides small business owners with straight forward, no nonsense marketing guidance and techniques that produce results based on her 35 plus years in advertising, communications, research, strategic planning and social media. Author of Marketing Online Made Simple - WHO.

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