What’s Your Open Rate?

10 Tips to Writing Awesome Email Subject Lines

At TG I work with several clients on a daily basis, crafting and sending emails on their behalf. Apart from witnessing and studying results from our own email testing, I’ve also studied a lot of external advice and articles on email best practices, especially about Good vs. Bad Subject Lines, to incorporate into our own communications.
I hone my emailing talent every day at work, but also in my daily activities. I’m a busy mom with a toddler and a full-time career, which means I’ve got limited time to read personal emails. As I skim my inbox, your subject line really needs to grab my attention, and fast! This has given me wonderful insight into what does and does not work in grabbing my own attention and applying it whenever I can.

First things first: it doesn’t matter if you have spent hours crafting the perfect subject line, you won’t get opens if your audience doesn’t care about your content. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and write about things that you believe would really interest them! For information and suggestions about writing compelling email content, check out this great resource from Constant Contact: http://img.constantcontact.com/docs/pdfs/content-is-king.pdf  

Okay, now that your content is great and you’ve got your email spell-checked, links tested and everything looking good, let’s write our subject line. Personally, I think it’s easier to write the subject line last. By now you know what is in your email, and you know what you want to accomplish, so consider your subject line to be a recap. With this in mind, craft your subject using these tips:

  1. Make it to the inbox. If your email goes into spam, it’s game over before anyone ever sees it. Content can trigger spam filters, and so can the subject line. Avoid subject line spam filter triggers such as excessive punctuation and words like “FREE.” MailChimp offers some great suggestions for best practices: http://mailchimp.com/resources/guides/how-to-avoid-spam-filters/html/
  2. Be direct. I can’t recall a single instance where I opened an email because the subject line was vague and possibly intriguing. Who’s going to think, “Gosh…what are they talking about? I need to open this email to understand what that subject line meant.” Your audience wants to know exactly what the email is about. Please don’t waste their time by trying to be mysterious. It can be tempting to think they’ll click to uncover the mystery, but in most cases, they’ve already moved along.
  3. Keep it short. You only have about 2 seconds to get your message across. Generally, they say keep it to 50 characters or less. 50? That may work for a highly targeted audience, I suppose. I’d suggest keeping it to no more than 30 characters (6 or 7 words). That’s roughly how many words appear for a subject line displayed on an iPhone or mobile device, which is exactly how many of your readers will see your subject line. That being said…
  4. Have your most important words come up first. Let’s work with the subject line “You’re invited to join in our Instagram Contest. Chance to win $200!” For many people, myself included, I’d say the $200 prize is most important and most likely to catch attention. Try, “Win $200. Enter our Instagram Contest today.”
  5. DO NOT USE ALL CAPS EVER!!! Why? Well, first, it’s considered yelling, and no one likes that. Second, here’s a quick typography lesson: Using all capital letters actually makes it more difficult to read than regular upper/lowercase. When the tops of the letters are all on one plane, the words are not as quickly recognizable to the reader.
  6. Use numbers. They let the user know that what they are about to read will be comprehensive and easy to skim through. E.g. “Top 10 Best Looks for Spring” or “Five Ways to Save on Your Electric Bill”
  7. Funky symbols don’t work. And they look like SPAM☺☺☺!!!
  8. Be witty yet relevant. I get a lot of retail emails, and I usually skip right past them (unless I’m going to that particular store and looking for a coupon, naturally). I recently received an email from one retailer with the subject line “10 Bucks Says You’ll Open This Email.” Did I open it? Darn right! And what was in it? A $10 coupon of course. Nice job, folks.
  9. Spell check & use correct grammar. Do this by sending a test email to someone you trust instead of relying on your own editing eye. You’ve probably looked at it too long already, so if there is a mistake, your brain is already conditioned to ignore it. We all type too fast and do things in a hurry. When it’s sent, it’s out there, so avoid the embarrassment.
  10. Run tests. A/B testing is a great way to see what is working and what is not. MailChimp is great in that not only can we test how subject lines affect our email performance including open rates, but you can also test from-names and delivery date/times for your email campaigns, using the results for your next big message.

Converting your email campaign from boring to a big success won’t happen overnight, but if you incorporate these tips to crafting that winner subject line, you should be able to watch that open rate begin to climb, bringing conversions (and sales!) along with it.

Hilary Bradley, MA
Graphic Designer, TG