Email subject lines are our first (and sometimes only) chance to make a good impression on our subscribers, so making them interesting and compelling is essential to your email marketing success.
If you miss your chance to capture and hold their attention, your subscribers are less likely to open your emails, read your content, and click on your call-to-action links.
Today we’re going to cover the elements of captivating subject lines and how to discover which types of subject lines work best for your specific audience.
Let’s get started.
General guidelines for effective email subject lines
Writing subject lines that inspire people to open and read your emails is both an art and a science.
To get your subscribers to open, read, and click on the links in your email messages, thoughtfully craft the subject line of every message you send.
Your subject line is like the headline of a piece of online content — you get one shot to encourage your recipient to keep reading.
If you’re just getting started (or you’re not sure where to begin), here are some guiding principles for crafting compelling subject lines.
Your email subject lines should:
- Provide a succinct summary. Forty characters or five-to-ten words is standard.
- Create a sense of urgency. Why should your reader open your email now?
- Match your content. Don’t misrepresent the content of your email — it annoys your subscribers and could increase your unsubscribe rate.
- Arouse curiosity in your readers. What will inspire them to open your email and check out your message?
- Convey a strong and clear benefit to your readers. What will they get out of reading your message? Will they get a new piece of educational content? Or can they take advantage of a limited-time 50 percent discount?
Adding personalization to your emails — should you or shouldn’t you?
Should you customize your subject lines with your recipients’ names? The jury is still out on this topic.
To see if personalization works with your community members, test out personalized subject lines by inserting dynamic tags. Most email service providers offer a fairly straightforward way to do this.
Of course, you can only personalize subject lines if you’ve collected people’s names through your opt-in form when they signed up for your email list. If you don’t have this information, personalization isn’t an option.
If you do collect names through your email list opt-in form and decide to use personalized subject lines, review the names on your list regularly to ensure a valid name corresponds to each email address. You never want recipients to see, “Sign up today, [NAME ERROR]” in the subject line of an email in their inboxes.
After your tests, you’ll be able to determine if personalized subject lines perform better than other types of subjects.
A process for generating winning ideas
To create effective subject lines, get into the habit of brainstorming ideas for every email you send.
Grab a piece of paper (or open a document on your computer) and set a timer for 10 minutes. Brainstorm subject lines for your latest email, and don’t stop until the timer goes off.
Then set the timer for another 10 minutes, and try to brainstorm the same amount of headlines again. For example, if you wrote 25 headlines in your first 10 minutes, try to write 25 more in the second brainstorming session.
Then choose the one headline you’ll use for your email — or pick two or three if you’ll be split-testing your subject lines. (More on this below.)
How to find out what subscribers really want
Split-testing (or A/B testing) can be a powerful tool for improving your email subject lines.
When you split-test emails, you send one subject line to one part of your subscriber list and a different subject line to another part of your list. Then you track both emails and monitor which one performs the best.
You decide which performance metrics to track, but open rates, links clicked, sales generated, or a combination of these actions are typically measured.
Most email service providers equip you with a way to split-test your subject lines. Check with your email service provider’s knowledge base or tech support team if you have questions about implementing a split-testing campaign.
When testing your email subject lines, consider:
- Including your recipient’s name in the subject line (personalization) vs. no personalization
- Trying short vs. long subject lines
- Experimenting with specific vs. general language
- Communicating the same topic in different ways (For example, test “Are you dreaming big enough?” against “Why you must dream bigger”)
- Capitalizing the first letter of each word (title case) or only capitalizing the first letter of the first word (sentence case)
As you split-test your subject lines, track your results so you can continually learn about what your audience likes and what causes them to take action.
Captivating subject lines move the needle
Optimizing your subject lines to increase opens and clicks is one of the best ways to improve the results of your email marketing campaigns.
Dedicate time to writing benefit-rich, curiosity-provoking subject lines and testing them with your audience to learn more about what they want and need.
When you implement this practice, you’ll see a noticeable increase in the amount of people who respond to the calls-to-action in your messages!
Read other posts in our current email marketing series
- How to Choose a Solid Email Service and Build Your List on a Firm Foundation
- Your Top-to-Bottom Email Checklist: What to Include Before You Hit Send
- Email Newsletters vs. Content Notifications: A Head-to-Head Comparison
- How to Write a Heroically Effective Email Autoresponder Series
About the Author: Beth Hayden is a content marketing expert, author, and speaker who specializes in working with women business owners. Want Beth’s best blogging tip? Download her free case study, How This Smart Writer Got 600 New Subscribers by Taking One Brave Step.
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