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10 Tips For Effective Subject Lines

by Jillian Mensch
Read Time: 10 minutes
Effective Subject Lines

To: Kevin Lynch
From: DirectLync
Subject Line: What’s your Instagram handle?
Preheader: Plus – tips on how to make noise in the Instagram world

Some of you may recognize this subject line and preheader from our bi-weekly newsletter, Small Talk ðŸ’¬. If you don’t already receive this newsletter, I suggest that you sign up! We give you the latest small business tips, tricks, and trends straight to your mailbox, plus a little humor.

Speaking of emails… let’s dive into this blog. 

Email marketing has become one of the most popular forms of marketing for businesses. It is an effective way to reach people about an event, to sell a product or service, educate your audience, or share any type of message you would like to communicate with prospects and customers. Those who use email marketing know its’ biggest obstacle – getting people to open them. And we all know, emails are only effective if your subscribers open and read them! 


Why is email marketing important?

Email marketing remains one of the most effective channels for conversion and ROI. For every $1 you spend on email marketing, you can expect an average ROI of $55. Unfortunately, getting a receiver to open an email is tricky, but with a good subject line, you increase your chances of getting opens and, therefore, conversions. Before you start creating your emails, make sure you have a strong email list.

Learn how to build a strong email list.
Start here!

Getting your contacts to open your email is not as easy as it sounds, but we use a few different strategies that help increase our chances. We are sharing our 10 subject line tips to help improve your open rates. Try each one of these strategies and see how your subscribers react. 


1. Keep it short.

What’s the point of writing a subject line if your audience can’t read the entire message? 

With most emails read on a mobile device or an email app, you can't extend your screen to see the full subject line (which is what I am constantly doing on my desktop). Long subject lines get cut off, making them less impactful. So, make sure your statement is as few words as possible. Keep it clear and concise. In fact, Marketo analyzed over 2 Million sent emails to understand how subject line length effects opens and clicks. They found that subject lines with 4 words receive the most opens, however subject lines with 7 words received the most clicks. So, a good rule of thumb is to keep your subject lines between 4-7 words for the highest engagement. An example of a subject line that is short and intriguing is, "Where to drink beer right now." With just a few words, you immediately know about the content in the email.


2. Provide a sneak peek.

Be specific, but don’t give it all away. Include a topic of what your email contains but leave the reader wanting more. This will drive them to open and read an email they may have archived before. 

Keep in mind that people are curious, but they don’t like to be deceived. This means, don’t have a catchy subject line that grabs attention but isn’t relevant to what is inside the email. People do not like being “click-baited” by misleading information. 

I recently received this email from the Philadelphia 76ers that did catch my attention. 

The subject line "Don't wait! Vote now!" is used to pull the reader in, to open the email. This type of subject line provides a hint of information on what is going to be inside the email. "Don't wait! Vote now!" is a perfect example of previewing what is inside the email to encourage the receiver to open the email, and ask themselves – what do I need to vote for? Is Ben Simmons going to win something? 


3. Use CTAs/verbs/questions.

Proactive calls to actions entice readers. It’s that simple. They are more likely to open your email when you use powerful words and phrases that create excitement and curiosity about your email.

A CTA or question in the subject line always stirs interest and convinces readers to open the email. Our newsletter subject line did just that. We created an A/B test for our subject lines to determine which one would perform better and receive a higher open rate. “What’s your Instagram handle?” received more opens and interactions than our other subject line “For the❤️ of Instagram.”

Below is an example from American Eagle. Their subject line captured my attention and could be used across many types of businesses.


4. Personalize it.

Personalization is an excellent tool for email marketing and should be a key part of your 2020 digital strategy.

For instance, subject lines that include a reader’s name, company, email address, city, state, or even zip code are a great way to intrigue your contact to open your email. You can add these attributes by using a merge tag in your email service provider. 

But personalization can go much deeper. Make sure you are segmenting your contact lists. For example, if you offer multiple products or services, don’t use a master list and send the same email to everyone. Create multiple lists and send each one an email specific to their interest. 

One of my favorite ways to make your email about the customer is with drip campaigns. Drip campaigns are a "choose your own path" for your contacts. Emails are sent based on their actions. They are automated and personalize, making it a great way to stay in connection with your customers throughout the buyers’ journey.


5. Create urgency.

FOMO (Fear of Missing out) is real.

I fall for this every time. For example, this email below got me to open it within minutes of receiving it. All I thought was, “my last chance for what?” 

Creating a deadline gives readers the impression they will be missing out on something by not opening your email.This deadline tactic creates a sense of urgency that encourages readers to prioritize your email over others.


6. Use numbers.

With so many vague emails in a reader’s inbox, one that uses specifics is sure to pique interest and generate email opens. It doesn’t only have to be data about your business, but testimonial statistics or ways your products or services can benefit them in some way. This is a great way to get a reader involved before they even open the email.

To provide you with an understanding of what we mean when we say use numbers in your subject line, below are two examples of this strategy in action.

The email from MyFitnessPal starts their subject line off with a specific amount of time. 2 weeks is more achievable than 2 months, which would entice people to open it. 

Another email subject line that uses numbers is one we received from Jenna Kutcher. She takes the same approach with this email subject line below. If she said, “Got time today?” You may be inclined to say no because you don’t know how much time it will take. However, 10 minutes is a short amount of time, so you may read this subject line and think, “yes, I can spare 10 minutes.”


7. Use lists.

Information within an email does not seem as overwhelming if it has been compiled into a list. Listing your ideas is a great way to tell readers that they are getting useful information that will be quick and easy to read. To be clear, I am not saying to put the list in the subject line but introduce the list.

For example, a subject line like “3 new products in 2020” intrigues the reader. It gives them reasoning to open the email instead of something like "new products soon."

Create a subject line that lets the audience know they are going to receive useful information. Once they open the email, make sure that information is very digestible. 


8. Be funny or unique.

Most businesses in your market probably use similar formats for email marketing. Breaking away from the pack to make your business stand out to consumers is never a bad idea.

To craft a unique subject line, know who you are talking to and what your business can offer them. Remember, emails aren’t exciting when you are scrolling through your inbox, so give your audience a subject line that will make them smile or laugh. 

Jenna Kutcher, the Marketer herself, knows how to write a subject line. She made me laugh because asking someone for their number as a subject line is just weird but funny. Plus, she got me to open the email because I need to know why she wanted my number.


9. Never use all caps or overuse exclamation points.

Enthusiasm is a great attribute that people can rally around. However, no one enjoys being SHOUTED at, even in an electronic format.

By using all capital letters or a ridiculous amount of punctuation, your reader may think a 5-year-old typed out the subject line. It can come off as aggressive or sloppy. It is an unnecessary technique that doesn’t capture attention for the right reason.  See the examples below. These email subject lines and pre-headers may have stood out in my inbox, but they immediately turn me off instead of getting me to open. 

You can easily attract your audience's attention by turning "SHOP NOW; SALE IS GOING TO END" into "Shop now! Only a few hours left ðŸ˜¯.”  


10. Don’t sound like spam.

If you try to be salesy in your subject line, you are most likely going to be marked as spam. Plus, readers do not appreciate the feeling of “being sold to.”

Think about a car salesman; it’s in their blood to push people to make a purchase. But how many people appreciate the push until they buy approach? Not many, so why would they like it in their inbox?

Your subject line should make the receiver believe they are being contacted about something they’d enjoy. It should be personalized and offer useful information. That is always better than blatant promotion. 


Let’s change up the subject line game. 

With these 10 effective subject line tips, you can change your open rates. Start by improving your subject line strategy by implementing these strategies. If you don’t have an email marketing platform to help you determined the best subject lines, try out DirectLync.

Get a taste of how easy DirectLync’s email marketing module is today!
Try it for free now!

An approach I like to use is write down what first comes to your mind, exactly how you picture it – all caps, emojis everywhere. Then, go back and take another stab at it with these strategies in mind.

We hope this blog comes in handy when you are creating your next email campaign or just a single email. Now that you know how to get them to open, learn how to design your email with these useful email tips


Updated on January 30, 2020