Email Engagement

11 Tips That Will Help You Write Better Subject Lines

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11 Tips That Will Help You Write Better Subject Lines

Don’t undercut a great email by hiding it behind a poor subject line. These few words have the power to make or break your broadcast.

Inboxes are generally cluttered, un-fun places. You can either contribute to that un-fun clutter, or use it to your competitive advantage. Let’s assume you’re keen to do the latter.

1. Keep it short

Shorter than you think. Shorter. There are compelling reasons why three, two, and even one-word subject lines draw our attention. At the very least, if you want your subject line to be read, keep it under 40 characters. Here’s why.

2. Create consequence

This rule applies equally to web page headlines: use your subject line to offer your reader a reason to pay attention. What do they stand to lose if they ignore your message? Using tactics like urgency and secrecy can give your subject line an edge. There are plenty of other ways you can give your subject line consequence, too.

3. Use emojis 😎

Don’t think that an emoji will make your subject line great—it won’t. But it will draw attention to a great subject line. Just be aware that some old email clients don’t support emojis, so make sure your subject also makes sense without them.

4. Use numbers

Online marketers often report that numbers have an uncanny knack of boosting open rates when included in subject lines. Give it a try!

5. Go easy on caps

We don’t have the luxury of using ‘bold’ or ‘italic’ to emphasize words in a subject line. Occasionally writing a single word in all-caps can be effective, but try not to capitalize the whole thing. SHOUTING AT YOUR READER ISN’T POLITE. (Also, it’s spammy).

6. Engage the emotional brain

There’s no better way to arrest someone’s attention than by making them feel something. Surprise, shock, sadness, joy... These feelings can silence the digital noise for a moment and allow our emotion-based decision-making functions to take over. Try to avoid overly-distressing messaging—alarm can work in your favor, but don’t fill your reader with dread for what they might see if they open your email.

7. Don’t get too clever

If you think the game is all about wit and trickery, it’s really not. Steer clear of cryptic clues and in-jokes. If your content is topical and something you know your audience cares about, don’t obscure it. Sometimes being direct is the best option.

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8. Brainstorm 10+

Rarely will the first idea you think up turn out to be the best. It pays to give your brain space to think laterally. Increase your chances of striking gold by brainstorming 10 (or 20) lines before short-listing the strongest.

9. Try it on

It’s one thing to imagine what a subject will look like on the receiving end. It’s another to actually see it. Sometimes context allows us to see things our imagination can’t. It’s not hard to send yourself some blank emails with different subjects. The key to this test is not to think too hard. What jumps out among the noise in your inbox? What would you click on?

10. Split test

If you can, always split test your subject lines. This will minimize guesswork, maximize impact, and reveal valuable insights about what gets your supporters’ attention.

11. Steal (or adapt) ideas

Our friends in the corporate sector are trying to crack the code to attention-grabbing subject lines, too. Check out some of the interesting ideas they’ve come up with.

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Karen Nilsen

Hi there! I’m Karen. I’m on a mission to reach my former self. Had I known 10 years ago what I know today, I could have achieved more good, made fewer mistakes, and had more weekends. Every time we share what works, we win faster. Let’s create digital experiences that move people — that grow our base and fuel our movements. Are you with me? Please share this with someone you know who wants to up their digital game!

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