Subject lines just might be the most important element of any email marketing strategy.
64% of people say that subject lines are the only factor they consider when opening an email.
It doesn’t matter how great your marketing message is – if people don’t open the email, they’ll never benefit from it.
So what can you do to make sure your audience takes that crucial first step to move down your sales funnel?
Here are a few of the most important elements you need to write a subject line that gets opened (almost) every time.
Ask a question
Asking a question is a popular strategy to get email opens, and it works. If you present your message in the form of a question, it sparks curiosity with the reader and entices them to open the email.
Here’s an example of a great question subject line from AdRoll:
Instead of promoting their research report directly, they presented a question that needs answering. The only way readers can learn the answer to the question is by opening the email.
The scarcity principle has long been an effective marketing strategy to encourage action. Retail companies have been using it for years to get people to shop:
- 50% off today only!
- Sale ends March 15th!
- Coupon expires in 24 hours!
You can use this same strategy to create an email subject line that people will click on. Even if someone is interested in your business, they may file your email away to open at a later date. Then they forget about it.
To avoid this problem, present scarcity as part of your headline. Here’s an example from a Depositphotos marketing email:
It doesn’t just have to be for sales either. You can also put a signup deadline on your webinar, for example, to encourage people to convert and move down the sales funnel. Or you can create scarcity for your content by running live Q & A sessions on Facebook Live, in Twitter chats, or on forums.
Make an announcement
Send out quick announcements to break up your regular marketing messaging and promote upcoming events. For example:
- Quick Announcement: Marketing Webinar Registration is Now Open!
- [Announcement] We just launched feature “X”
You can use announcements in combination with a sense of urgency (24 hours left to sign up!) to make them even more impactful.
Make it simple by letting people know what your announcement is all about without implying any underlying agenda. Interested individuals will be much more likely to click.
Or on the flip side, you can pair it with curiosity like the Digital Marketer team does here:
Spark curiosity or surprise
Most subject lines are boring. But if you can find a way to spin your story so it sparks curiosity or surprise, it can really pay off by encouraging opens.
I mentioned above that using a question in your subject line can spark curiosity, but there are other ways to do it as well. Here’s a great example from Neil Patel’s marketing emails:
Instead of going with the boring “How to Create an XML Sitemap,” he added two important elements:
- SEO-Boosting – This implies a benefit of XML Sitemaps that people might not know about
- In 20 Seconds – This sparks curiosity and surprise (How could anyone get that done so quickly?)
There are a lot of different ways to add these elements to your subject lines. So take some time to brainstorm a list of potential titles and see which ones stand out as the most intriguing.
Make it short
Research has shown that short subject lines have better open rates than long ones. There’s no denying the value of simplicity when people are sifting through their email inbox. Lengthy, complex headlines require too much attention, leading many to just gloss over them and move on to the next email.
Your subject lines will be more impactful if you make them short and easy to read. There’s also the fact that many emails are opened on mobile devices. This shortens how much real estate your subject line can take. So be as brief as possible so your subject line adapts well to every format.
Here’s an example of a short subject line from Hiten Shah, and there’s no surprise he has used curiosity to encourage opens too:
Use numbers and results
Impactful marketing emails aren’t about promoting products and services directly. They instead offer some kind of value to your readers irrespective of what you’re selling.
Marketing professionals offer pieces of knowledge in their emails all the time to attract interest, such as a case study or research report. Highlight this value in your subject line to encourage opens.
For example, instead of saying “Download our latest research report”, include an impressive statistic from the results. This will attract interest and show your audience that there’s real value in the email.
This strategy seems to work well. Conductor researched factors that influence headline preferences and found that including numbers was the most important.
Thanks to email marketing automation, it’s easier than ever to deliver personalized emails to each person on your list. The most popular way to personalize your emails is by including the recipient’s first name in the copy. But you can take this to the next level by doing so in the subject line too.
Here’s an example from Adam at Bluewire Media:
Personalization is a powerful tool to increase open rates. Emails that include the first name of the recipient in their subject line have higher click through rates on average, than emails that don’t.
Present an offer
People get so many marketing emails in their inboxes, it’s easy to just tune them out. But one great way you can attract someone’s attention to yours is by presenting an irresistible offer.
Offer them something of tangible value in your subject line, such as a coupon or discount. Here’s an example from Booking.com:
Also, use wording in your subject line to show that you’re offering something of value. Words like “sale,” “free” and “video” are examples of words that are known to boost open rates. But be careful, some of these words could leave you flirting with the junk folder.
You’d be amazed at how even the smallest changes to your email subject line text can have a huge impact on whether or not people open it. And the only way you’ll find out what makes people tick (and click) is by split testing different subject line variations.
Just about every email marketing tool out there offers this feature. If you compare the open rates of different subject lines you can narrow down to the most impactful one(s).
Split testing also allows you to pinpoint other elements that increase open rates, such as time of day and return address.
Use different subject lines for different list segments
Segmentation is one of the most powerful email marketing tools you can use. So look to divide your email list into different groups based on interests, demographics, behavior, and more.
You can use this extra audience information to create email messages that speak directly to each group. Your subject lines are no exception to this.
Customize your subject lines to speak to specific sub-audiences to encourage clicks. You can also go back to your split testing strategy to see if your targeted subject lines are having the impact you want, and test tailored subject lines for each list segment.
Use action words
Great email subject lines are just like a call-to-action. And the best way to encourage clicks is by telling readers exactly what you want them to do.
Compare these two headlines:
- Stephen King book signing this Saturday in Toronto
- Meet Stephen King this Saturday in Toronto
The second option tells the reader what they will be doing (meeting Stephen King), while the first one is more passive. Use this strategy to inspire your audience into action with your subject lines.
Make it exclusive
People work their way through tens or hundreds of emails every day. Most of them are written off as marketing blasts sent out to anyone and everyone who signs up.
You can draw your audience away from this mentality by making your marketing message sound exclusive. Invite them for a special offer or premium membership to make them feel like they’re part of an inner circle.
One research study found that subject lines that imply exclusivity get a 22% higher open rate.
If people feel like they’re being invited to something that others are not, they’ll be more inclined to take action and click.
Avoid all caps
You want to get your audience’s attention and stand out from every other email in their inbox. But using all caps is not the way to do it.
First of all, all caps means that you’re yelling at someone in internet lingo. That might (will definitely) put people off. It can also look like spam and end up in the junk folder.
If some of your subscribers start marking your emails as spam, that increases the chances that their email clients will direct all further marketing messages right to their junk box.
So resist the urge to use uppercase, and brainstorm other ways to stand out instead.
Here is an example of an email from ScheduleOnce (a service I pay for and regularly read emails from) that ended up in my junk folder:
Make the most of preview text
Optimizing your emails to get opens isn’t just about your subject line anymore. A lot of email clients (most notably Gmail) will show a bit of email text along with your subject line to help people understand what your email is all about. The text in yellow below:
This extra real estate is an opportunity to attract more interest and encourage opens. So make sure the first line of your email complements your subject line so they work together to achieve that first action. Then you can move on to focusing on your real marketing message in the rest of the email.
Note: Some email marketing software allows you to edit the preview text, if yours does then make the most of it!
Crafting a perfect email subject line is an art more than anything else. And messages that resonate with one subscriber might turn off another.
The only way to truly know what is going to work for you is by testing.
So start by using these known and effective strategies in your subject lines, but also run A/B tests to see what works best with your audience and list segments.
Which tactics do you use to increase email open rates?