Subject lines are what web writers call microcontent. And in a nutshell, all microcontent needs to be clear, concise and compelling.
Usually under 140 characters.
Think summary. Think keywords. Think subject line. Think Twitter.
With the subject line [your microcontent] you get about 40 to 50 characters to explain your macrocontent–what your email is about.
So no matter how persuasive and electrifying your email is, unless the subject line makes it absolutely clear what the email is about, people will never open it.
Bad Things Will Happen to You If You Don’t Read This
Subject lines should say something valuable, timely or important. It should say “If you don’t open and read this email, bad things will happen to you.”
And it should also say, “Open this email and good things will happen to you.”
You must plummet something deep into people’s psyche with your subject line. Something that makes people restless until they read your email.
To do that, follow these 13 tips:
1. Use First Name, But…
People are used to getting emails with their first names in the subject line like, “Demian, Your May eNewsletter Issue.” However, even though you used their first name, you weren’t personal. You were generic. Instead, demonstrate you know thy customer. “Demian, three books on writing you probably haven’t read”.
Each audience you can separate into a particular demographic should receive its own subject lines. If you are segmenting to begin with then personalizing subject lines will be easy because you know thy customer.
3. Stick to One Style
After you learn what works best for each audience, don’t deviate from that approach. Stay with the humor, the provocative, the tip-based or incentive-oriented.
4. Get Another Set of Eyes on the Subject Line
Even seasoned professionals use second readers to sharpen what they wrote. They trust the objective opinion and admit that they are not perfect. In fact, they embrace ideas from others. To do so will push your subject lines to new heights of personalization, curiosity and seduction.
5. Shoot Subject Lines to Your Inbox
What happens when you send an email to your inbox. Do you say “Holy smokes!” “Lame” or “Maybe I’ll read that later.” “hm, interesting, I’ll read later”? If you’re not coming out of your seat, don’t expect your reader to either.
6. Steal This Subject Line
Watch your own inbox–and spam folder–for inspiration, sexy and persuasive subject lines. If anything catches your eye, mark it for reference later…then copy that sucker.
7. Test and Measure
If you’re not testing different subject lines, then you will never know whether you are writing successful subject lines or not. Open rates will tell you which subject lines are the best, but click throughs inside the email will also tell you how well the subject line persuaded people to take action past opening the email. Open rates are a macro measure and tell you whether you need to start from scratch. Clickthroughs are a micromeasure, which can help you tweak a particular subject line.
8. Tap into Current Events
Using a a top story angle in a subject line is an excellent tool to get people to open emails. People are sensitive to what’s going on in the world around them–why not tap into that vibe? For example: “How Subject Lines are Like the Obama Birth Certificate Conspiracy.”
9. Try Short or Long Subject Lines
The legendary Hemingway short-short story “For sale: Baby shoes never worn” is an example of the emotional potency six specific words can carry. Can you write an equally compelling subject line in six words? If not, you should test what works best with your audience anyway.
10. Avoid the Lame and Ambiguous
Listen: It’s very important that you are ultra-specific in your email subject line. If you can inject some urgency, even better. Can you make it unique? You’ve got a killer. What about useful? Then you’ve got one seductive subject line.
11. Don’t Ignore the Subject Line
One of the most common mistakes writers make when working on an email is to save the subject line until the last. Don’t do that. Make a list of email subject lines before, during and after your draft of the email body. The subject line should get 80% of your effort and the body 20%. Not the other way around.
12. Get Freaky
Be bold, dangerous, risky, tantalizing and straight up crazy. Remember: you are trying to break through all of the white noise. All of the clutter. You MUST find a way to stand out. Know thy customer.
13. Test Until Your Head Falls Off
If you want to know something works, you test it. This is true for all things advertising. And the beautiful thing about subject lines is that it’s easy to test. And once you’ve found the best subject line from a handful, test it some more.
Most people think that email is the backwater cousin to blogging. That simply isn’t true. If you think about it, blogging–all social media in general–is still trying to demonstrate ROI outside of traffic stats. Email, on the other hand, delivers results about effectiveness quickly and accurately.
Russ Henneberry says
This is great advice Demian! I can’t wait until you write the “How Subject Lines are Like the Obama Birth Certificate Conspiracy” post. 😉
I have just recently been paying a lot of attention to headlines and subject lines. I used to spend a ton of time crafting an email or blog post and then slap a headline on it as an afterthought.
Holy smokes, dude! Are you reading my mind? Wasn’t thinking about subject lines, but just lessons to be learned from the Obama BC conspiracy. Are you sure you’re not inside my head?
David Brier says
THE WORST THING I COULD DO…
Excellent post. I had to tweet about it, just had to. The worst thing I could do. Thanks for making me do it.
Hey, I’m okay with that. 😉 Thanks sir!
Ruthann Masterton says
Excellent article and easy to understand explanation. How do I go about getting permission to post part of the article in my upcoming news letter? Giving proper credit to you the author and link to the site would not be a problem.
Have at it, Ruthann. I appreciate the compliment and thanks for taking the time to post.