Subject Lines are Hard

Subject Lines are Hard

An email subject line has one job – to get your email opened.  A simple task, but if you don’t nail it everything else you write isn’t going to matter.  So here are my top tips on creating really good subject lines:

  1. Writing a good subject line is very hard.  You don’t have a lot to work with and you need to hit it out of the park.  So, allocate your time and creativity accordingly. Don’t just throw something in and hope it will work.
  2. Your subject line is not going to get much (if any) attention from your recipient.  Think of your prospect driving down the freeway at 70 MPH while they’re reading it. Create something that is timely, urgent and compelling, but doesn’t need thought to interpret.
  3. How long should a subject line be?  True Fact – as long as it needs to be to get your email opened.  I have a lot of clients who start with limiting the number of characters, but they’re usually giving up relevance just to meet that arbitrary number.  So, be clever and put your most important message at the front of the subject line before you worry about length.   That being said, shooting for less than 50 characters will keep your subject line readable in the preview pane, but if you have to go over a few characters to finish a word, do it.  
  4. A couple of hints on shortening copy – use numerals instead of written numbers and remove adverbs, pronouns and punctuation.
  5. Subject lines don’t have to promote your offer – they just need to get the open.  But the best subject lines set up a problem and then pay it off with the call to action in the email copy.  
  6. Don’t confuse prospects by using acronyms no one knows and avoid spammy looking things like hashtags, exclamation points and all caps, particularly to a B2B audience.   
  7. Testing subject lines is a great practice. But do it right. If you have enough volume in your list for a statistical read, select two smaller test cells and test your subject line with those sets.  Once you have results, roll out the winning copy to the rest of the names.  It adds a day or two, but will pay off in higher opens.  Don’t make the mistake of just splitting your list in two and testing subject lines – unless you’re repeating the email to the same audience later, you haven’t learned anything meaningful.  
  8. Write your subject line last.  That way you know what you want to say and you can just play off the content.  
  9. One thing I have found has helped my clients is to review some types of subject lines.  I’ve listed a few below to inspire you if you’re working on the subject line:
    • FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) – use this technique to make your prospect afraid they’ll lose an opportunity.  Examples – “Grab it now…”  or “Invitation Only…”
    • Curiosity – something so intriguing your prospect can’t help but click.  “Everyone is going to ask you…”  or “The dirty little secret…” 
    • Funny – humor is a great way to get someone’s attention, but know your audience and make sure it’s appropriate.   “Wowie Zowie -what a deal”.  Or “Hey, were you gonna delete this?”    
    • Pain Point – identify obstacles your audience is experiencing, particularly good for B2B. “Your biggest…problem solved” “Experiencing (name obstacle)?” 
    • Re-engagement Subject lines – Use these to respark engagement or to reactive leads in nurture. “Can you believe it’s been a month since…”  Or “New things are happening at…”  
    • Emoji subject lines – These hold high attention and break through clutter, but be sure they fit your target audience.  And test them since some browsers don’t support them.  “Help your company grow from 🌱to 🌳” “Last week to save 💰”
    • Social proof – If your audience responds well to surveys or analyst reports, try “Best practices from customer like you.”  Or “Your colleagues are saying…”
    • Personalization – Go beyond just using a first name in the subject line and try something that takes advantage of the 1:1 nature of email like “Great deals just for ABC Company” Or “Other banking firms find…”
    • Questions – I love question subject lines since you can pay them off in the copy.  Try something like.   “Does your company offer…?”  Or “Have you see what’s happening in China?”

If you find the most creative subject lines your company can come up with are “May Newsletter” or “Checking In”, give me a call.  I can help!

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