How to write engaging email subject lines

how to write email subject lines

Published June 24, 2016

One of the most discussed topics in email marketing is around creating the ‘perfect’ subject line. Similar to the ‘perfect time to send an email’, there is no magical formula, otherwise we would have to start again when all inboxes became flooded with “Hello *name*, have 20% off” every Thursday afternoon.

The purpose of the email, who the audience is, the nature of the product or service on offer, the industry, how well-known the sender is and the existing tone of voice and brand are all key considerations when it comes to writing a great subject line. Here are some points to bear in mind along the way:

Content relevance, reputation and trust

The key ingredient to your subject line must be the content within the email. If the subject line doesn’t provide a good reflection of what the reader can expect once they have opened the email, interest and trust in the brand will be lost, which is extremely hard to re-gain.

Whilst there seems to be conflicting opinion on how extra punctuation and the USE OF CAPS in a subject line may affect an email’s performance, it’s safe to say that no one likes being shouted at and people can feel put-off by over-use of exclamation, so it’s generally best to avoid.

Know your audience

It’s a good idea to keep your subject line as concise as possible. This is especially important if your engagement rates are low, or you are addressing new people who are less likely to recognise who you are and may give your email less consideration in their inbox. When speaking to more engaged or long-term audiences, it isn’t necessarily always harmful to use longer subject lines, but there needs to be a benefit to doing so.

Be careful with personalisation and give this a strategic approach. It can be great for your customers who ‘know’ your name well to be addressed by their first name, or to be reminded of their recent purchase. For a prospect, however, a first name approach isn’t as appropriate, and for lapsed or less engaged customers, a recap of their booking history may not be relevant.

Remember, when crafting subject lines, you are speaking to a person. Try saying the subject line out loud, bearing in mind you are making an introduction. If it sounds ‘salesy’, impolite, strange or over-familiar when you speak, it probably needs more work.

Review and test (with caution)

However ‘on the mark’ your subject line is, next time the results could be very different. Stay away from repetition, or continually presenting your offers and content in the same way – something that performs brilliantly once may be less engaging next time, due to repetitive messaging or your competitors replicating your style.

It’s helpful to split-test your subject lines each time you send an email. This can improve your open rate for each send that’s being tested and perhaps, if testing a couple of set styles of subject lines each time, it can even help to indicate which style your audience is more likely to respond positively to. Be careful not to make assumptions based on your test results, however, as next time could be a very different story. Interests, trends and people’s moods and decision-making factors change, so your approach to subject lines need to reflect this.

Your ‘perfect subject line’ doesn’t exist, but by taking some time over writing it alongside the content of your email, looking at who you are speaking to and continually segmenting, testing and reviewing, you can create a subject line that has the highest potential to appeal to your audience each time. Crucially, your subject line needs to relate to the content of the email and reliably inform your reader, whilst maintaining your brand’s identity.

We can help you with all aspects of your email marketing, from subject lines to deployment. Just email hello@somethingbig.co.uk or call us on 01483 746650.

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