The Ultimate Guide to Email Subject Lines

Kristin Crabb
By Kristin Crabb

Email subject lines are the electronic equivalent to the elevator pitch. To be fair, that comparison might be a stretch, as an elevator pitch could actually be considered much easier. If you’re unfamiliar with the elevator pitch, it’s a form of writing that consolidates a large volume of material into a short summarization.

It has to be concise enough to be delivered in the time of an elevator ride. Email subject lines are the elevator pitch of digital marketing. In a single sentence you have to convey your brand, stand out, and create enough intrigue for the recipient to open the email.

That’s not easy to do with a single paragraph, let alone one sentence. Taking into consideration you have competition, turning an eye within a crowded inbox is another obstacle you have to face. Not only do you have to be creative but you have to be tactical.

The recipe for a delicious email subject line has nearly too many ingredients to name (current relevance, brevity, wit, creativity, intrigue, brand integration, accuracy, etc.). In which case, you might not be experiencing success with your subject lines. That’s probably why you’re here.

Don’t Stress

These things take time and often the ones that land aren’t from any stroke of genius, but the product of careful consideration. Timing and the agenda of your competition are huge contributors as well.

However, if you’re feeling stuck, we created this guide for subject lines to give you some inspiration and help you generate something that’s going to have your recipients clicking open faster than light can travel.

Brevity

Being concise is the name of the game these days. Fact is, we’re so accustomed to process short shotgun pieces of information that anything too flowery disinterests us. A good way to do this is to practice removing words. I could explain to you that removing useless words is a way to consolidate your message and create more readability.

Related: Why the One Key Email Metric You’re Ignoring is Derailing Your Campaigns

Or I could say: the shorter the better. If you put those two sentences on top of each other, which would you read first? Also–an important note here is that a vast amount of emails are opened on a mobile device (think of how many times you’ve opened an email on your phone), meaning if it’s shorter it’s easier for your audience to read.

Remember Your Brand

This is important, as often the difficulties of creating an engaging subject line make people want todo whatever they can to have their email opened. You want to have a voice. You want your company’s thesis to be in those words.

If you forget that–in a way you’re making a false promise upon delivery. Be sure to know what you’re trying to convey and don’t lose sight of that simply for a click. Remember, once they open they have to stay too.

Personalize It

First off, don’t overdo it. That can come across invasive and at times jarring. But often email service providers will offer tokens that help personalize the subject line. This can be anything from using the recipient’s name, to incorporating something location specific.

Related: How to Deliver Value at Every Stage of the Customer Journey

Wouldn’t you be a bit more likely to open up an email if it was showcasing something in your area? Or if it had your name on it? People are more attracted to ‘random emails’ that are specific to them.

Make A Promise And Deliver

There’s nothing worse than a catchy email subject line which draws you in, only for you to realize immediately that you’ve been somewhat conned. Just as well, there’s nothing more rewarding than opening an email you find interesting, only for it to lead where your curiosity took you. This promise can be anything from the thesis of your company, to whatever product you’re offering inside. Make a promise. Deliver on it.

Learn The Dynamic Of A/B Testing

This is a simple analysis tool that will help you discern which email subject line is more successful. You have an A subject line and a B subject line. Both of those are sent to the same amount of users within the same list.

Related: Best Practices for Email Marketing Split Testing

Once you compare the data, you can see which one had a higher ‘open rate.’ Then you can repeat the process by using the winner and pair it with a new subject line until you find one that beats it. You should put this in practice only once you have a few email subject lines you think are worthy.

Stay Relevant

Sometimes emails are opened simply because of timing. What’s currently trending that you could use–while still upholding to the moral fiber of your company–that would pique someone’s interest? What’s currently unraveling in the world that could be a topic which generates intrigue? How can you creatively integrate that into your subject line?

Creativity Is Your Best Friend

People adore a great pun or metaphor. Particularly one that they haven’t heard before. Try and express your wit through whatever you’re trying to say. If you can make it funny and draw a laugh, you’ve actually engaged with your audience before they’ve even met you (by you we mean your company). Being creative while also concise is difficult, but when it’s done effectively it lands.

Validity

Social proof is a big one when trying to compel an audience. We’re a lot more prone to listen to something if it references existing people and their stories. Use well-known names, personal stories, and even experiences of others interacting with your brand or product. This creates a sense of validity otherwise absent in most email subject lines.

Don’t Use All Caps Or Spam Words

Nothing turns someone away quicker than FREE GIVEAWAY or MAKE CASH FAST. In fact, these are words you’re probably used to turning away from. But often in trying to write a perfect email subject line (and often when creating a sense of urgency) we forgo basic principles in hopes for quicker but shorter-lived successes. Stay away from this. While it could (maybe) generate a few more ‘open clicks,’ rarely does it promote your brand.

Know Your Audience

Yes, the 101 of marketing, right? But it’s crazy how many times companies miss this. That’s why A/B testing is so effective; it helps narrow down a subject line that’s not only specific to the target audience, but speaks to them. Relatability and interest are not mutually exclusive. What sort of language does your audience use? What writing style or message irritates them most?

Use A Question

What compelling question could you ask that would generate interest? Better yet, what’s a question your company asked that once helped identify your audience? How can you creatively mix the two? A question is a great way to not only engage a recipient, but to motivate them to think your behalf. What solution does your product create? What message are you delivering?

Study Your Competition

There’s nothing worse than coming up with a fantastic subject line, thinking you’ve struck gold and your open rate is going to increase overnight, only to witness no such thing. Competitors marketing the same product or idea can often have similar subject lines.

Related: The Perfect Duo: PPC and Email Marketing

You want yours to stand out, not sound like a different variation of another. In this vein it’s important to try and see where your campaign is landing amongst other competitors using the same services. Often times this presents an opportunity for you to create a clever subject line in relation to their own.

Play With Emotions

What sort of emotionality are you proposing? Often, when we read a sentence our brain takes both ends and works its way to the middle, then allows us to process it afterword. We determine the emotionality of it almost immediately.

Do a bit of research on words that pertain to a specific emotion at play and try to incorporate them into your subject line. What do you want people to feel here? Excited? Moved? Motivated by sorrow?

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, we can’t give you a step-by-step guide on how to write a fantastic email subject line. Being that it’s subjective, there are too many factors involved to quantify a single ‘accurate process.’ With that said, these tips above should hopefully have you thinking in the right direction. At the very least, maybe we put a crack in your writer’s block.

But know that above all else you’re trying to accomplish an incredibly difficult task. Brevity–in a lot of ways–is how we communicate now. Although most would attribute brevity to the ‘correct’ use of english, the fact that we have text slang which allows us to reduce word count (like substituting ‘u’ for ‘you’) is indicative of this phenomenon. But brevity also means less time for you.

Related: 4 Key Email Sequences Your E-Commerce Company Needs

Few words need to say a lot of things. That’s often the problem experienced writers face. However, practice makes perfect. Keep incorporating different ideas, themes, and tactics. Then when those are in play keep firing them out, running your A/B tests, and trying to stay relevant.

The more email subject lines you produce, the more likely it is that you’re going to find one which packs a serious punch. Hopefully this quick guide helped point you in the right direction or steer you towards a missing element that will have people not only opening your emails, but forwarding them to everyone you know. Good luck!

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Kristin is a Content Coordinator at Power Digital. She was born and raised in San Diego but headed down south to attend the University of Alabama. With a degree in Communications and Advertising, she enjoys creating valuable and engaging SEO focused content to drive traffic and boost rankings for her clients. Roll Tide!