eMail subject lines are all that stand between you, your audience and the delete button.  I do it, and I bet you do it.  Every morning I have the same routine – I go through my inbox and delete what I am not interested in, without even opening, let alone reading the email.  There are a few things that you can consider though to help you write a compelling subject line that will cut through the noise.

First of all it’s a good idea to categorize the sorts of emails that you send – this will help you to focus on what sort of subject line you need to write.   You’ll probably find that you’ll send emails that largely fit in the following buckets:

  • Acquiring details/Opt-in
  • Sharing content and information
  • Engage and retain
  • Promotions/Sales
  • Thanks for “opting-in”
  • Please don’t “opt-out”

Remember, before you start to think about how you write, be very clear on what you are going to write – your message.  Once you know what you are writing and why, you can start to think about how.  And there are five key techniques that will help when writing subject lines: humour, personalisation, emotion, function and promotion.

So let’s start with the fun one!  A little bit of gentle HUMOUR will go a long way to engaging with your audience.  Remember to check that your brand guidelines allow this approach, and maintain brand voice as you go, but making your reader laugh will help improve your open rate.  Be careful, don’t overdo it and remember that humour is subjective – make sure you are not offensive and don’t alienate anyone (so for example political humour is probably a bad idea).  I love this example from Groupon:

PERSONALISATION (as in the use of a name) is a little bit divisive.  If you try hard enough, there are studies that fall either way – for and against – the use of personalisation in your eMail subject lines.  One sure fire way of personalising however, is tailoring the content to what you know your audience is interested in.  So if you are clever enough to know that they prefer product X over product Y – then use it.  Then, if you agree with the ‘for’ camp, there is no sweeter sound than hearing your own name.  Some research has proven that including a customer’s name in the subject line (of what is after all a one to one communication) will increase open rates by 29.3%*.  To do this though, your data collection will have to support the process and you’ll need to use an automation software to integrate it – OR be working in such small numbers that you can do it manually.  And definitely make sure that you get it right, don’t call them the wrong name or Miss. when they are Mrs., Reverend when they are Bishop!

Third of the techniques to help your eMail subject lines really resonate with your audience is to appeal to them on an EMOTIONAL level.  Think of that scene in Three Men and a Baby when they went to the park with the baby and had all the ladies’ attention.  OK, OK – maybe not that smaltzy but they were definitely appealing to their audience on an emotional level.  So the trick is to write something that connects your message emotionally with the reader and charity organisations often do this very well.

Keeping your subject line entirely FUNCTIONAL is an alternative approach, and works well if you are sharing information, content or sending out transactional emails.  Use your product name where appropriate, cut out all unnecessary words, include the key piece of information and avoid marketing fluff.  For example: “July Training Events – Digital Marketing” rather than “Information on our fabulous new training events held here at head office”.

Lastly, and perhaps most obviously is PROMOTION.  We all love a bargain and if that is what you are offering, make sure the customer knows about it!  Try to communicate the incentive, create a sense of urgency and again, keep it short and sweet.  For example: “Share the love!  Refer a friend today and get 50% off”

So in summary, think about your content and what category of your email communications it falls into, to help you focus on the subject line.  Then chose which of the five techniques best fit.  After you’ve done this, sit back and let the creative juices flow.  Except – don’t just write one subject line, write several because eMail gives you the opportunity to test, test, and test again.  But that’s a story for another day.

*Experian Marketing Services 2015