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How to Nail the Subject Line, and Earn the “Open”

All that time we spend writing the perfect email — containing brilliant, game-changing content — will deliver zero results if it remains unopened. That puts quite a heavy burden on the poor little subject line, yet most of us don’t give subject lines the adequate time and attention they deserve. Let’s do that now!

The tricky thing about drafting the perfect email subject line that will get an “open” is, it’s a moving target. What worked a few years ago may not work these days. With more email volume (most of us get about 100 a day), new user behaviors (we check email within 15 minutes of waking) and new spam triggers (“Get” and “Here” are on bad list), we must constantly uncover  new ways to make that instant, compelling connection with the reader.

Here are my top eight tactics for email subject lines that get more opens:

1. Ask questions: A great way to engage readers is to pose a question that makes them realize they have a problem in need of solving. Lead with a question your recipients can relate to, something they may worry about. You can pull on emotional strings with a simple question if it’s worded correctly. Example:

Need to Cut IT Costs During the Current Downturn?

2. Use numbers: Email subject lines that contain numbers have been proven to generate higher open rates than those that do not. Subject lines that include numbers—if you back that number up in your email body—convey a sense of credibility. Often, hard numbers can catch someone’s attention while a general description of something can easily be ignored. Example:

Manufacturing Company’s ROI on BOM Project Estimated 115%

3. Switch it up – sometimes keep it casual: You likely change up your email formats a bit from time to time; why not change the style and tone of your subject line as well. Try starting the subject line with a lower case letter to make it look like a quick email from a friend, or use a friendly salutation. Example:

hey, can I call you tomorrow?

4. Watch length: Keep your subject lines to 6-10 words so they don’t get cut off in the recipient’s inbox; reader may miss the point of the message.

5. Use pre-header text as extension of your subject line: Don’t forget to use that valuable real estate in the pre-header to work in conjunction with your subject line to pull reader in. Example:

Subject line:  69% of your MRO SKUs WON’T be used

Pre-header:  Cut costs by mastering data management

6. Avoid Spam Trigger Words: 69% of emails that are flagged as spam are due to the subject line. Here is a list of words to avoid. Keep in mind that many new words have been become extremely over-used since the pandemic started and would be best to avoid including:

virtual, online, home, remotely, tips, WFH, unprecedented, challenging, trying/difficult times, new normal

7. Include a sense of urgency: Use action-oriented language to convey a sense of urgency, while maintaining a legitimate tone of voice in your email subject lines. Examples:

Don’t miss our limited time offer

We only have a few spots left!

Last chance to respond

8. Test new ideas, like emojis: It’s always a good idea to do A/B tests on subject lines, especially when you want to try a new tactic. Using emojis in subject lines has proven to be effective with some audiences, so that might be a good one to test. Simply send out an email with an emoji to 10% of your list, and the identical email out to another 10% of your list without the emoji and see which gets the most opens. Then, use the winning one with the remainder of your list. NOTE: If your audience is multicultural or international, refrain from using emojis. They could inadvertently alienate you from certain recipients and have the potential to hurt you more than they help you.

This post is courtesy of Account Manager Jeni Stephens and Michael Mackenzie Communications, Atlanta’s Small Business Marketing Specialists.

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