How to Write Subject Lines that Get Opened

Email subject lines need to be short
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There’s an argument to be made that subject lines are the most important component of your marketing emails. Without a clear and compelling subject line, a reader may opt not to open your email, missing your carefully crafted message all together. With the average office worker getting around 120 emails a day, it’s not surprising that recipients are looking for any reason to click the delete button. Whether you want to send messages to your entire subscriber list or just reach out to a key segment, the right subject line can help drive both opens and conversions. Keep reading to learn more about writing email subject lines that connect with your target audience.

Why Aren’t People Opening Your Emails?

If subscribers aren’t opening your emails, know that you’re not alone. According to a study by Constant Contact, the average email open rate varies by industry from under 10% to over 25%. But across all industries, the average is 17.57% percent. In other words, on the average, more than 80 percent of messages that businesses send are going unread.

There are multiple reasons that subscribers may be sending your communications directly to the trash bin without reading them. With so many emails arriving in their inboxes each day, readers are seeking out these messages that promise value.

If your subject line communicates information customers want or offers them a short-lived discount or special offer, they’re more likely to read on for additional details. On the other hand, subject lines that sound vague or, worse, scammy, probably won’t inspire many opens. The good news is there are steps marketers can take to improve email open rates and encourage subscribers to utilize their products and services. 

Writing Subject Lines That Inspire Opens

Your email subject line works like a headline for your email. Subscribers open an email to see what it’s all about unless that headline (subject line) catches their eye. To write powerful headlines, focus on making them concise, effective, and intriguing. Here are some tips for improving your subject lines and your sales prospects:

Keep Subject Lines Short

Author Mark Twain famously wrote, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” The truth is that it takes more time and effort to write a short subject line with all the right words than a long one. But shorter subject lines are preferable because the end of a long subject line will often get chopped off in the email reader. For best results, follow Mailchimp’s advice and keep your subject lines to a maximum of 50 characters. Doing this results in 12 percent higher open rates and 75 percent higher CTRs.

Create Urgency

With so many emails pouring into inboxes each day, it’s easy to ignore anything that doesn’t seem time sensitive. After all, if an offer is good indefinitely, there’s no reason to rush out and make a purchase or book a service. If you want to get better results from your email marketing, you need to use your subject line to create a sense of importance.

When crafting a subject line, marketers should find ways to convey that an offer is short-lived. This is called scarcity marketing. You can do this by using words like “urgent,” “important,” “alert,” “now,” and “limited-time.”

Many businesses utilize this strategy when sending abandoned cart emails. The goal is to target customers who put items in their shopping carts but didn’t complete the purchase. For example, you could say that there’s a scarcity of the product in question or let them know a discount will be going away soon. Most customers want to avoid missing out on a special discount, so give them a reason they can’t say no.

Test Personalizing Your Message

Personalizing emails by including the recipient’s name in the subject line may improve your open rate, and is worth testing. In the past, personalizing subject lines increased open rates by nearly 30 percent, but more recent reports have shown a much lower increase. The way to find out what will work for your list is to run an A/B test with and without personalization. Pet supply company Chewy uses a fun twist on this marketing tactic by including the names of customers’ cats and dogs in their email subject lines.

You can also use casual or friendly language to make the reader feel like you share a more personal relationship. However, it’s important not to sound unprofessional. When in doubt, try to match your marketing language to the type of business you own. For example, a company that manufactures luxury furniture will probably want to use a more formal tone than one selling surfboards.

Related content: 5 tips to improve your email campaign effectiveness

Use Numbers

Research shows that people are drawn to numerals in text. From top 10 articles to headlines featuring percentages, customers tend to click through more frequently when there’s a digit in the mix. Additionally, numbers help give someone an idea of what to expect in terms of article length. Here are a few example subject lines that make use of numbers:

Straightforward and specific, this type of message is likely to boost click throughs to your site.

Think Local

Just about everyone likes to know what’s happening in their own backyard. One of the benefits of including local language or information in an email subject line is that it gives people an extra reason to read a message they might not otherwise have been interested in. For example, a Boston jewelry shop might use a subject line like, “The Best Bars in Beantown to Wear Your New Jewelry.” The goal is to draw potential customers in and then get them to convert.

Employ Humor

Using humor in marketing materials is always a balancing act. After all, not everyone will have the same sense of humor as you do. However, when employed correctly, funny subject lines can help a business connect with its customers. Here are some famous email subject lines that used humor to positive effect:

  • Red Sox Ticketing: “Come to Fenway May 2 – we won’t tell your boss!”
  • Eater Boston: “Where to Drink Beer Right Now” (Sent at 6:45am on a Wednesday)
  • Sephora: We’re bringing sets-y back

Strategies to Avoid When Writing Subject Lines

Certain email subject line techniques have the opposite effect. If customers don’t like what you have to say upfront, they may delete your message without reading it or even click the unsubscribe button. In other cases, they may report your message as spam, which can result in your future communications being less deliverable. Avoid these mistakes if you want to maximize the return-on-investment for your marketing emails.

Using Cap Locks to Show Enthusiasm

You’re excited about your products and want to convey that to your customers. However, using all caps can make it seem like you’re yelling at readers rather than talking with enthusiasm. Similarly, you should avoid packing your subject line with exclamation points, smiley faces, and other emoticons that can make a business seem scammy rather than dependable.

Not Checking Your Work

Customers want to know they can trust you to provide high-quality products and services, and grammatical errors tend to undercut that belief. For best results, proofread both your subject line and the body of your email, taking special care to check for spelling mistakes, typos, and other slip-ups. The goal is to show current and prospect clients they can rely on your attention to detail so they’ll feel comfortable coming to you now and in the future.