10 Tips for Successful Subject Lines

By Greg Glynn, Account Executive

What is the most important thing that can happen when you send an email? Have the person buy your product? Respond that they are coming to your upcoming event? Or perhaps spread the word about your organization and forward your e-newsletter to a friend? These are all great outcomes from an email, but you won’t get the outcome you want if the person never opens the email. In this article, I provide 10 simple tips for improving the subject line of your marketing emails.

1. Define your target audience.

This applies mostly to bulk email, such as e-newsletters and e-mail blasts (when you send the same email to thousands of people). Don’t just bundle all your customers or supporters into one category and hit send. Instead, if I am writing an e-newsletter in December about a new snowshoe that our company launched, I might use the subject line “Are you ready for the next storm? Try our new snowshoes.” However, if I have people from Florida on my distribution list, and they see this subject line, they might think… 'I don’t need snow shoes' and then not open the email and miss out on something else they might want to buy. The best way to handle this is to segment your list and send the people from Florida a different subject line, but with the same e-newsletter content about a topic that is of immediate interest to them. If you need to, you could also just be more generic and use the subject line “Do you need new shoes?” This would make the recipient think about their current shoes (eventually we all need new shoes) so they would be more likely to open it versus if it said something about snowshoes, something Florida people don’t need.

2. Write your subject line last.

When you write your subject line last, you can reflect on what is actually in the email and highlight the subject matter that you think will lead to the highest open rate. This can be an effective tip for personal or work email subject lines, as well. Make sure the person knows why they should open your email. For example: Need your approval: or Meeting request:

When companies or organizations send out an e-newsletter subject line that reads “Our monthly e-newsletter” it is far less likely to get opened because it doesn’t give a compelling reason to do so.

3. Make it personal.

Using the words you, your and you’re will increase the open rate of your email because the person is more likely to think the email is actually for them. Generic subject lines that don’t create a personal connection are far less likely to get opened. Some good examples include, “You won’t believe this…” “You’re about to learn the coolest thing,” or “Your time is valuable, so we kept this short.”

It is really important to tie in a personal connection to what you are selling or marketing. People are investing their time and resources in your company and organization, so the more personalized you can make the experience, the more valued the reader will feel and more compelled to open your email. With this in mind, I think with most bulk emails or e-newsletters, quality is better than quantity.

Bonus tip: Adding a customized recipient line or adding the person’s name in the subject line helps make the email much more personal (more likely to get read).

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4. Compliment the reader.

Who doesn’t love a compliment, right? If someone tells you something nice, it is always great to know more about what you did that made them feel that way. In writing an email, you can do the same thing to encourage the reader to learn more (or in this case, open the email). For example, if you are fundraising and need donations quickly, try this subject line “Thanks for your recent support.” Then in your email, the first thing you would do is thank the person for their support in the past, so a broad paragraph that says “Thanks to your support in the past, we have raised thousands of dollars to help fight cancer. Without the financial support or volunteer efforts of people like you helping spread the word about (your organization) we wouldn’t be where we are today. However, we still have a long way to go and need your support today more than ever.”

Chances are if they are on your email list they have done one of these three things (provide financial support, volunteer or spread the word). Thanking the reader and then explaining why now is a critical time to act again is a much better way of asking for their support right out of the gate. More examples include “We want to give you a hug,” “Thanks for being there,” “You’re great,” and “You deserve a vacation.” This last subject line would be great for an enter-to-win contest to win a vacation.

5. Use current events to stay relevant.

Anything in the national news is an opportunity to be relevant. Try to tie your email subject line in with a hot news topic related to your product or service. Remember when there was controversy on the web about whether a dress was blue or white? For example, if you are trying to invite people to your upcoming fundraiser, you can play off the popular topic by using the subject line “We can help you decide what color your dress is. Register for our fundraising ball."

6. Use numbers in your subject line.

Using numerical digits makes your subject line shorter and helps people see what they can expect when they open the email. For example in this NMC Report e-newsletter, instead of saying it was our monthly e-newsletter (that would be pretty boring) we told you what you were going to get, 10 Tips for Successful Subject Lines. When you saw the number 10, it probably felt like you have time and want to read the 10 tips (we’re glad you did).

Remember to try and give your audience something or a reason to open the email. We all get enough emails so make it worth their time and people will open your emails more often.

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7. Keep subject lines short.

If people can’t read your full subject line, it’s going to be even harder for them to become interested in your email. Short phrases or words can work well for subject lines, you don’t have to write complete sentences.

8. Use alliteration.

Alliteration is using the same letter or sound to start each word. This is easy on the eyes and for people to read. An example would be Four Fascinating Facts for your Friday. Whether it is an email blast or e-newsletter, you would need to provide the four facts right up at the top of the email. The facts should be about your company or product, or related to your industry.

9. Should you ask a question? Yes.

A few years ago, the question mark was considered a no-no in a subject line. It was an indicator to email service providers that the email could be inappropriate and triggered SPAM filters and most of the time went into junk mail. Now the question mark and other punctuation are becoming more acceptable again. Try not to use this strategy too often and, if you do, avoid words such as special, quick, offer, buy, sell or big. These words when used with punctuation can find their way to the junk mail folder pretty quickly.

10. Create urgency.

Using words such as today, time, and deadline can increase open rates. So if your fundraising event is a week away or your product is on sale for two more days, be sure to use these words to let your audience know they need to take action. If you don’t indicate that your email is important or needs attention, then it might get lost with all the others.

These are 10 tips we use at Nancy Marshall Communications that help achieve great open rates for our clients. If you need support or would like to begin an email marketing campaign, we would love to help you work on creating an integrated marketing strategy. Or, if you’re off and running and have had success with email marketing, comment below and share your ideas, too.