19 Tips for Writing Effective Email Subject Lines

Many thanks to those who attended last week’s standing-room-only “Writing Effective Email Subject Lines” Brunch & Learn webinar. Based on participation, it’s a very hot topic. And for good reason, because subject line optimization is one of the fastest, most-cost-effective strategies for increasing reader engagement and visits to your website.

If you couldn’t attend, here are 19 tips to help improve your email subject line writing, as well as an invitation to visit the Direct Marketing IQ webinar archives, where you can watch this Brunch & Learn session (the webinar will be available on-demand for the next 90 days):

1. Test for the best. This is the No. 1 rule in subject line optimization (and all of direct marketing). The second rule is to share your test results with your writer. Please.

2. A subject line needs to make an instant connection with your readers. Rarely is anyone eager to open your email. More likely, recipients are annoyed by the stack of subject lines in their inboxes. The objective is to DELETE, not open.

3. Subject lines are first cousins with direct mail outer envelope teasers. However, subject lines have an even tougher job than teasers because it’s easier to delete an email than to throw away a 3-dimensional mail piece.

4. Subject lines need to work extra hard in multiple environments. Currently, more than half the emails that are opened are read on a mobile device, not a tablet, desktop or laptop computer. This means you need to pay special attention to those first 25 characters because that’s all that show up on most mobile screens.

5. Understand your audience. Is your reader is a subscriber, customer, member or visitor who already has a relationship with you … or a prospect who doesn’t know you? Whichever the case, you need to maximize the synergy between your from and subject lines.

6. Test, test, TEST. I know I already said this, but it’s important enough to repeat. Don’t assume what worked last time will work this time. Direct marketers know the value of establishing a control, then continually testing against it.

7. Subject lines shouldn’t be judged by open rates alone. Make sure your writer understands how you define success in terms of opens, clickthrough, unique clicks, etc.

8. How long should your subject line be? The best advice is to test length and pay attention to subject line content. According to Jeanne Jennings, VP of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, “It’s not the number of characters, it’s what your subject line says.”

9. However long your subject line is, frontload it with the most important information. Being first in line is a hot spot. And remember that most email opens take place on mobile devices.

10. Capitalize on reader FOMO (fear of missing out). Use deadlines and words like limited, alert, daily, weekly, and one-time-only.

11. Numbers are eye magnets for scanner. Use 5 instead of five to get readers to zero in.

12. Personal relevance trumps personalizing with name only. The more you can truly personalize a subject line with your reader’s name AND personally unique data points, the more likely you’ll get a open. Just make sure you don’t get too personal; it’s creepy.

13. Create intrigue with the unexpected. Consider a rather peculiar 21% off. 21% instead of 20% or 25% is unusual as is the word peculiar.

14. Special characters in subject lines stand out as long as they’re not overused, are appropriate for your audience and message, and are readable. Their use tends to trend, so test for current effectiveness.


Pat Friesen is a direct response copywriter, content developer, copy coach and creative strategist. She is also the author of 'The Cross-Channel Copywriting Handbook,' published by Direct Marketing IQ. Reach her at (913) 341-1211.


Publish date: December 19, 2013 https://dev.adweek.com/performance-marketing/19-tips-writing-effective-email-subject-lines-dmiq-brunch-learn/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT
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