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How to Craft the Perfect Email Subject Line

How to Craft the Perfect Email Subject Line

Email subject lines can be a make or break factor for any marketing campaign. The subject line is the very first that recipients see when your email arrives in their inbox. Much like it takes an instant for a first impression to be made in the real world, recipients then have a split second to decide whether to open the email, or send it straight to spam. When you are trying reach your target audience with a carefully planned message, it is vital that your emails are opened and read.

While many people put time and effort into developing strategic, on-point emails, subject lines are all too often treated as an after thought. And yet, this part of the email could easily be the most important part of all.

How do you ensure that your email subject lines capture attention? One of the most effective ways to do so is to develop a formula that is designed to optimise your subject lines dramatically.

Developing a Formula for Powerful Email Subject Lines

Before we begin, it is important to note that there is no single quick fix magic formula that will absolutely guarantee better email open rates. For the most part, the factors that will have the most impact are very broad, ranging from your specific niche, your audience, your offer and your overall strategies.

The best way to determine whether your subject lines are hitting the mark is to invest in a marketing automation solution that allows you to do A/B testing. Ideally, email subjects should achieve the following goals:

  • Provide a summary in 40 characters or less
  • Create a sense of urgency that entices readers to open the email
  • Suit the content of the email
  • Encourage curiosity that fosters click-through
  • Highlight a clear benefit to readers

With that in mind, some email subject formulas that you can test include the following:

1. Offer-Centric Subjects

Tempting readers with an offer or benefit is a good way to reduce the odds of your email being deleted. Why should your readers read your email? What's in it for them? By focusing on your offer right away, you will essentially be giving readers more reason to open the email. The trick here however is to keep it short, simple and relevant. Use easy to understand language and avoid puns or any obscure references that could take a few seconds to understand. In a study conducted by MailChimp, short descriptive subjects fared the best. This type of subject works well for sales, promotions, limited offers and launches.

2. Humorous Subjects

Humour can be an effective way to ensure that your emails stand out from the somewhat dry emails received by the average person on any given day. But, while this formula can work for some brands, it may not always be suitable for other brands. Understanding your target audience is vital before experimenting with any off the beaten path strategies. The challenge with this formula is that it is subjective and limiting. It relies on jokes that may not be obvious to every reader – some may get it and click through, while others may not. The line between humour and offence is not one you want to cross, either. If you are sure that the joke will be received by your audience, then it is worth trying this type of subject line.

3. Personalised Subjects

Should you use your recipients' names in the subject? This question is often hotly debated by marketers. One reason to proceed with caution is the chance of recipient names not pulling through when messages are sent, resulting in the dreaded '{name_ERROR}' display.

On the other hand, subject lines that contain the recipient name can help to establish a connection and make your readers feel special. If you are using a reliable mailing solution, there will be less chance of errors.

A/B testing is a useful way to determine whether personalised emails fare better than non-personalised subjects. You can also personalise without using recipient names, too, by appealing to a very specific problem or need that your audience may have. For example, if you are sending out an abandoned shopping cart email, you could include the products that were being browsed.

Image: WordStream

4. Single-Word Subjects

Consumers are so used to receiving emails with longer length subjects that single word subjects can be a powerful way to capture attention. shows just how effective this can be when a single-word subject is viewed in a Gmail inbox. An email from Amazon Local uses just one term – M3 – to introduce a range of deals. Visually different subjects tend to get more attention, because they are unexpected.

The trick here is to choose your word very carefully. A product name, seasonal word that relates to a sale, brand term (assuming it is widely recognised) or a power word that conveys the general content of your email would all work.

Image: CoSchedule

5. Number and List Subjects

Another subject that you could try is a list style subject line. For example, '5 Ways to Improve Your Diet', '3 Worst Holiday Disasters in History' or '10 Reasons to Plan Your Retirement Now'. Lists, and especially numbered lists, are visually appealing. They allude to easy to read content that can be quickly digested. And, if you consider what an article in the New Yorker says about our love for lists, this type of email subject line can be a very clever way to boost your email open rates.

What you don't want to do however is veer into the click bait waters. If your subject is clear and simple, it will entice without tricking readers into opening. Make sure that your content delivers what it has promised in the subject.

Image: Aweber

6. Urgent Subjects

Using urgency (or scarcity) can be a clever way to encourage email open rates. With this type of subject line, you will use words and phrases such as 'don't miss...', 'last chance', 'limited space/stock', 'ends today', 'x hours/days only' and 'hurry'. This type of subject is best used for time-sensitive emails, promotions, limited offers and other situations that require prompt response. Using it for a monthly newsletter may not be suitable however. Urgency alone is not always sufficient to guarantee an open, either. Urgency backed by an enticing offer however is a very good combination. Aweber advises being careful to avoid putting off customers with urgent offers that sound a bit too urgent or far-fetched.

Ready to take your email subject lines (and campaigns) to the next level? Grapevine provides world-class solutions for brands and companies wanting to leverage the power of email automation. Contact us today to learn more about our marketing automation solutions.

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