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First impressions matter.
This is certainly true for email subject lines. They’re the first thing recipients see in their inbox. When written well, they inspire readers to open your email newsletters and click through to read more. If they’re off target, however, they let your reader know your email is a waste of time and space.
No pressure, though.
To make matters worse, we all get too many emails. Whether they’re from a store you don’t remember visiting, or your parents are wondering why you don’t write more often (you should really drop them a line), the pursuit of inbox zero is a fabled achievement for knowledge workers (including marketers).
So, how do you write subject lines that make your emails stand out?
That’s exactly what we’ll cover in this post. You’ll learn:
Make yourself comfortable. We’re going to write sharp subject lines that demand the attention your email deserves.
This post is packed full of advice. To make it easier to implement while you’re on the job, we’ve rounded up these free templates:
You get one chance to write the perfect subject line for your email.
Of course, there’s no way to be sure how it’ll perform until you hit “send.”
But, wouldn’t be great if you could tilt the odds in your favor?
That’s where our Email Subject Line Tester comes in.
Like our popular Headline Analyzer, it’s a free and simple tool for testing email subject lines.
Enter your subject line:
And get your score:
Plus, you’ll get a detailed breakdown on how to improve your results:
Give it a spin now and start optimizing every subject line you write (before sending it to your list).
Like we stated previously, your subject line is the first thing recipients see. In that crucial make-or-break moment when users find your email in their inbox, it’s what determines whether they’ll click through, or simply ignore your message. Worse, they might even put your newsletter in the trash without even opening it up.
Let’s start by asking exactly why paying attention to subject lines is important. Here are some interesting stats:
When it comes to subject lines, these numbers tell us a few things:
Now, you’re probably wondering what good email subject lines look and sound like. There are a ton of great examples and resources out there, and we’ve rounded up some of the best below:
That should be plenty to point you in the right direction.
So, you’ve seen some examples of good subject lines. But, what actually makes them, well, good? Let’s break down some mechanics.
According to MailChimp, there is little correlation between subject line length and clicks. However, keeping them short may help their appearance on mobile devices.
No one will open your marketing email if there is no benefit to the reader. So, make it clear that your recipient will gain something from opening it. In most cases, the benefit of your email will be clear.
Here are some examples:
These are basic examples, but they give you the picture.
The best subject lines use terms shown to drive action. Here’s a quick look at 100+ words you should consider:
People want to know how their life will be better, easier, or more enjoyable because they read your email.
Those kinds of benefits aren’t necessarily easy to convey. However, they’re essential for optimal open rates.
So, how can you pull those emotional levers to get more opens?
Start by understanding which emotions you want to invoke, and learn the language necessary to drive that action.
So, we’ve established the need to give your emails some feeling. But, which emotions or sensations should marketers focus on eliciting? Let’s focus on the following four:
Let’s take a look at some easy subject line formulas and templates you can use to get readers moving.
Deadlines and “limited time” messaging can inspire immediate action.
Example: Successful marketers will open this … before time runs out.
The “fear of missing out” is real, and no one wants to miss out on something good.
Example: Limited spots available! Claim yours now.
What happens if the recipient doesn’t take advantage of what’s in your email?
Example: Don’t let your lawn suffer under the summer sun.
Everyone enjoys a little bit of mystery from time to time, right? Here’s how to infuse some suspense into your emails to get more opens.
Leave out enough detail to stoke interest without telling the whole story.
Example: Bob’s lawn got greener than ever using …
Offer readers a conclusion that leaves them wondering how the story starts.
Example: How did Bob’s lawn get so green?
One that can only be answered by opening your email.
Example: What’s new at Bob’s Lawn Care Emporium?
Get readers excited to open their email (or, well, as excited as you can get while reading email). Here’s how to infuse some hype into your subject lines.
Use language that encourages people to get up and do something.
Example: Blast your abs for less at Dave’s Gym
Email subscribers love feeling like they have the inside track on exclusive deals and information.
Example: Can you keep a secret? Here’s some cool news coming soon …
Make an Offer People Can’t Refuse
Use an accurate but hard-to-believe statistic or incredible offer to generate excitement.
Example: Did you know 73% of clients see improvement using this tactic?
You know the saying, “People won’t remember what you say, but they’ll remember how you made them feel?” That absolutely applies to marketing, your brand, and your email subject lines. Make people feel good and reap the rewards.
A well-placed emoji can be great for getting a chuckle.
Example: Look your best and feel your best :) (this isn’t the best example, but pretend that smiley face is a much cooler-looking emoji)
Laughter is good for your health. Put people in a good mood, and they’ll react more positively to your content.
Example: So three marketers walk into a bar …
Because it feels good to do good.
Example: Make a difference with us for our local animal shelter
It’s time to take what you’ve learned and put it into action. Follow these steps to start writing.
What is your email newsletter about? Here are some common possibilities:
If your email is part of a broader campaign, make sure your messaging is consistent, too.
If you’re doing marketing correctly, you should know who your audience is.
But, your audience may be comprised of several different market segments.
So, make sure you know exactly who you’re targeting. Then, craft messaging that will appeal to them.
Why would someone open this email? Think about what’s in it for your reader, as much as what’s in it for your brand. Some examples could include:
Narrow it down to one core benefit.
Remember Urgency, Curiosity, Excitement, and Joy? Choose one to focus on. Or, consider writing several options targeting different emotional appeals. Whichever you choose, have clear intent behind your words.
Message-match means making sure your subject line aligns with your email’s content. Typically, it’s a term reserved for digital advertising, ensuring ad copy aligns with a landing page. But, we can apply the same principle here.
For example, if you’re promoting a sale, make sure your subject line and body copy are consistent with one another. If you’re promoting a piece of content, make sure your subject line’s message matches what they’ll find on the destination page.
It’s a good idea to try tons of different options before settling on one subject line. If you’re writing for a client, you might even give them five or six to choose from. As you write different options, the tester will keep track of your scores:
Plus, the tool will help you learn what works (and what doesn’t). It’s an easy way to
As an exercise, try filling in these templates. Then, use the Email Subject Line Tester to see how your efforts perform.
These writing prompts are simple, but should help get your creative gears turning.
Nearly every email service provider lets you send A/B tests for your email subject lines. Whether you use MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, or something similar, most provide A/B testing options when building email newsletters.
This video is specific to MailChimp, but it covers a lot of A/B testing basics that should apply to most platforms:
However, what makes a good A/B test? Let’s dig into some tips.
The key to a good A/B test is to choose variables that really are different from one another. If you test two subject lines that sound too similar, you won’t learn much. There needs to be a substantial difference between your two options. Consider these five different approaches when you run your next A/B test:
Let’s say your email content is promoting a post that both:
These are two different value propositions. So, write two options, one focusing on each benefit. Then, see which performs best.
The data will tell you which benefit your audience cares about most. That’ll help you continue to write more effective subject lines in the future.
Your audience might respond better to curiosity than urgency.
Or, maybe they’re looking for something that will brighten their day.
So, find out. Try targeting different emotions and see what drives a better response.
You might find different subject line lengths work best for you.
Or, different lengths may work better for different types of messages.
Consider experimenting with short (one or two words) versus long (seven or eight words).
Questions can help get readers curious. However, definitive statements can express authority. Try both and see what happens.
Statistics can drive email opens, especially when they’re difficult to believe.
If your email content includes an interesting stat, try incorporating one into subject line A. Then, write subject line B without a stat.
Now, let’s try applying what you’ve learned to an actual A/B test.
Start by writing your email copy. This will make it easier to write your subject lines.
Write two different subject line options. Try to emphasize something different in each one.
For example, you could target two different emotions, in order to sell people on reading the same newsletter.
Or, you could include an emoji or statistic in one, but not the other.
Whichever you choose, the point is to know exactly what you’re testing.
Once your email has sent, you’ll see relatively quickly which outperformed the other. Use the Email A/B Subject Line Testing template we included in this post to track performance over time:
Here are some specific things to monitor:
You’ll need to set up and measure A/B tests in your email marketing platform provider. Here’s how, using several popular email marketing tools:
Use the analytics tools built into your email platform to monitor open rates. Use the template included in this post, or create your own following the graphic below. Use it to track your winner and loser from the test, the difference in the results, and scrutinize the reason why your winner performed the best. This may require some subjective judgment.
When assessing the reason one subject line outperformed the other, keep the following in mind:
It’s easy to overlook subject lines when we’re writing marketing emails.
They’re short, so they should be easy, right? Not exactly. It’s often tougher to write short, punchy messages than long, rambling pieces. When you only have about 50 characters to work with, every word counts.
We can’t tell you exactly what messaging will work best in your email. However, you’re now equipped with the knowledge you need to start experimenting with your own subject lines. By following the tips and best practices in this post, you’ll be able to dramatically increase your odds of success.
Try different things. See what works. Ditch what doesn’t. Repeat for success.
This post was originally published on April 20, 2016. It was updated and republished on March 19, 2018.
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