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Write subject lines for emails that get opened

TL;DR If there’s one only magic rule that will help you crafting the prefect subject line, here it is: just describe the subject of your email. Tell what's inside, don't sell what's inside. Give the reader a reason to explore your message further.


Have you ever looked at emails as a marketing channel that belongs to the past?

You may need to change your mind: email marketing is alive, well, and expanding. We send 182 billion emails on an average day (source) and we’ll probably send slightly more in the near future.

As inboxes get more and more crowded, though, you need to figure out the most efficient way to reach your goals. When it comes to email marketing, what’s the main issue between you and your goals?

Your emails must be opened.

This is a bottleneck you have here - any different outcome means missing your goal. Much have been written about how to set up your emails to maximise the opportunity to have them opened. The most time is usually spent crafting the subject of your emails.

Here are some tips about it.

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Keep it short

There are many reasons to keep your headline short. Long titles are boring and it takes longer to read them, so many people may just bounce off because of that. If your headline is short, editors will like you.

Moreover, every kind of sharing and syndication system will also like you. If your title is too long, you can’t tweet it. Your RSS reader will cut it. The snippets in most SERPs will only show part of it. Read some examples.

There are many different types of headline you can use: here’s a list.

Take personalisation to the next level

If you let people subscribe in the right way, you can include the recipient’s name in the subject. Most email marketing tools allow you to do so. Since this is a very common technique, your open rates may not vary that much.

You can also customize this further, according to the specific needs of small groups of subscribers. For this to work, you’ll first need to segment your email list into groups that are based on similar topics.

Moreover, what about localisation? If you can be specific about a geographic area, do it. Usually, the more specific you are, the better the results.

Avoid cold emails as much as possible

If you don’t keep in touch with your contacts for a long time, they won’t remember who you are, what you do and why they signed up in the first place.

This example here from this post is quite meaningful.

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A quick recap of what you do can also be helpful if you’re cold emailing people. When readers remember your name or know what they’re going to receive, they’re more likely to open.

Variation VS. consistency

If your subject is something like “Newsletter #47 - July 2014” - I see your problem here. It’s good to give continuity and consistency to your communication, but each new email should provide a clear indication of what is inside.

These 4 U will help you

As simple as that. The headline is the teaser of your content, so it should be meaningful while not revealing everything. What is the press release about? Why is this important for the reader? If you don’t give your readers a reason to click, why should they?

This can be summarized with the 4U approach: 

  • make it Useful and Unique,
  • provide a sense of Urgency,
  • be Ultra-specific.

Mind these words

According to an extensive study by Mailchimp over 200 million emails, three words usually have a very negative impact on your results. Not because they trigger spam filters, but because people will be way less likely to open your email.

They are: Help, Percent off, and Reminder. Also, avoid extensive capitalization and exclamation marks. AT ALL COSTS! ;)

Lists usually work well: start your headline with a number, show what people can learn from it, back up your statements with data. Some words are also proven to increase the shareability of your content: Smart, Hacks, Huge, Critical to name a few.

On the other hand, some words are used too often to make you stand out. Words like Global, Software, Platform, Solution, Innovative are just everywhere. Not to mention Growth and Hack. Check the whole list here.

Never lose your focus, though. Over-optimisation can also be a waste of time.

Finally, remember to test everything with your audience - it's the most efficient way to determine what works best for you.

Further readings: