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Writing A Killer Email Subject Line

You have the choice to open one of these emails, and only one. Based on these subject lines, which one will it be?

Subject line 1: Open day at Smiths store

Subject line 2: The doors are open – seven reasons to enter

Was it a tough choice? Doubtful. The first subject line is drier than the Arizona desert and will probably be deleted by most viewers before they even entertain the idea of opening it.

The second brings the subject to life, and then strongly encourages you to open the email by enticing you with insightful information. You might not be interested in the Smiths store, or may never have heard of it, but it’s very likely you’ll now be curious.

When it comes to email marketing, your subject line is the opening gambit between you and your potential customer, so it’s worth getting it right.

Here are a few hints for helping you write those killer subject lines which recipients will enjoy.

Inject a bit of humour

Gentle humour can work really well in email subject lines as they surprise recipients and make them smile. Puns (like “Break out the champagne for our new snooker club”) are a breath of fresh air, but don’t use them too much or they’ll lose their impact.

Think about your business and whether humour is appropriate for your industry; some recipients won’t appreciate a funny email from someone they trust to do a serious job.

Avoid ‘spam’ words

It can be tempting to write an email subject line which you know will encourage subscribers to open your emails, including words like ‘free’ or ‘one time only offer’. Unfortunately, many of these words trigger an email provider’s spam filters, and your message will go straight into your recipient’s junk folder.

Common things to avoid include:

  • ‘Increase sales’ or words associated with ‘increase’

  • Phrases offering money, like ‘get rich quick’ or ‘earn £££’

  • Words in capital letters or overusing punctuation like exclamation marks

The key to making sure your email doesn’t end up as spam is to make your subject line relate to the main text of the email and be relevant for your subscribers.

Reference popular culture

Pop culture references tailored to your audience can work well in email subject lines, and are most effective when teamed with images and written text in the same theme. Don’t piggyback on something popular just for the sake of it – work out whether it’s relevant to your audience and how you can use it.

For example, a garden maintenance business might want to use the now-iconic line from Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming”, in their subject line to promote seasonal maintenance services.

Grab attention with numbers

Numbers and percentages grab our attention because they look very different to written text and help us understand information more easily. Email subject lines which focus on numbers – such as “Seven products our customers love” – encourage us to open the email to find out more. When adding numbers into subject lines though, be cautious not to use a high number such as ‘Top 50 summer styles just for you’ as it suggests the email will contain a lot of information, which your customer might be put off by. We would suggest using 5 or 7, to ensure customers still feel the information is easily digestible on the go.

Personalised information

Although a little more complicated to do, personalising the subject line can dramatically increase the number of people who open your email.

First of all, check with your email tool provider to see if they offer any of this functionality. For example, some email providers have the functionality to automatically add the subscriber’s first name to the start of the subject line. It can also do more complex things, such as adding a place to the subject line which changes depending on the recipient’s location: “Great restaurant deals in [location] for you”. If your email provider does offer this functionality, there is plenty of information online to help get you started, for instance, you won’t be able to do any of this if you’re not gathering the data from your subscribers.

Use questions to create intrigue

Creating curiosity and sparking your subscribers’ imaginations in your subject line is a good way of getting them to open your emails. One of the simplest ways to do this is through using short questions, as your subscriber will open your email to find out the answer.

Make sure to keep the questions short and ‘answer’ them in the main part of your email, otherwise customers will be put off. Some questions you could try might be:

  • “Ready for Mother’s Day?” (if you’re a florist offering special bouquets)

  • “How prepared are you for cold weather?” (if you’re a plumber specialising in boiler repair)

  • “Bored of the same old packed lunches?” (if you’re a café looking to attract a lunchtime crowd)

Combining personalised information with questions can be really effective, as subscribers will feel the email is just for them and be intrigued to find out what you have to say.

Experiment with line length

There’s plenty of debate about how long the ideal email subject line should be. Every email provider (like Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail) shows a different number of characters in the subject line – and it’s also different on desktop or mobile.

A mobile email provider will normally show around 25-30 characters of your subject line (including spaces), so it’s important to ‘hook’ your subscriber in at the very start by clearly explaining what the email is about.

You can try experimenting with different subject line lengths to help you understand which work best for your database. A short, concise subject line which is easy to read on mobile, such as “This week’s steak dinner deal”, will probably be more effective than the longer and more detailed “Taste this week’s delicious locally-raised steak for just £15 in our Friday night dinner deal”.

Once you’ve written a selection of subject lines and sent out some emails to your database, take a look at your email analytics to discover which ones worked the best.