How to write subject lines people want to open
Email is a crucial part of your marketing, but a poorly written subject line could send your message straight to the trash. Here are 7 easy ways to create compelling subject lines and help you improve your campaign performance…
15.12.14 Ian Smith
1. Use multi-element subject lines
This is a great idea if your email covers a number of different topics. By adding multiple elements to your subject lines, you’re creating more hooks and giving your subscribers more specific reasons to open your email.
So instead of ‘Top things to do in London this week’, for instance, a travel company could write ‘Top 5 London markets | 30% off Shard tickets | 50% off wine tasting | £10 river boat tickets’. Bang. That’s four subject lines for the price of one, with four separate benefits for subscribers.
Top tip: Your subject line will truncate at different points on different devices, so always prioritise the elements from left to right.
2. Front-load the most valued elements
We know from eye-tracking studies that people tend to spend more than twice as much time scanning the left half of the screen as they do the right.
The left half of the screen occupies a whopping 69% of an average reader’s viewing time, compared to just 30% on the right, according to Nielsen’s ‘Horizontal attention leans left’ study'.
What this means is that you should always front-load your subject lines: put your most important elements first if you want to grab your subscribers’ attention.
Top tip: Don’t stop with front-loading the subject line of your email – front-load the body as well. Get to the point and always use plain English, not waffle and jargon.
3. Hook your readers
The best subject lines are instantly understandable and intriguing, even out of context. And that’s because they have a great hook.
If you put out a regular blog, don’t write ‘This week’s blog’ in the subject line every week. Don’t just describe the container – hint at what’s inside.
Try reeling in your readers with a question that appeals to their needs and concerns. It should draw attention to a problem they care about, and imply that an answer is contained within the email.
Coming up with a good question is easier than you think, and can simply involve rephrasing a key statement. Just reviewed the latest smart phone, for instance? Writing ‘Apple iPhone 6 review’ is pretty dull, but 'iPhone 6: is it the phone you've been waiting for?’ is far more interesting.
Top tip: Questions are great, but make sure your content provides a satisfactory answer. Disappointing your readers will only hurt your brand.
4. Throw in a few fascinating facts
If your email or content contains any interesting facts or stats, try putting them in your subject line. People always want to keep up with the Joneses and won’t want to miss out on any important insights they can share.
Formats like ‘Did you know… ?’ or ‘5 reasons why…’ will get your readers wanting to learn more.
Top tip: Make sure you only pick out truly useful or interesting stats. It helps to think like a journalist.
5. Help your readers out
We’re all busy people, and we’re always looking for ways to make our lives easier. Think about how your content will help your audience, and apply those benefits to your subject line.
Use words that convey ease such as ‘6 free and easy ways to improve your emails’. If a subject line sounds demanding or taxing, it’s likely be left unopened.
Top tip: Want to self-test your subject lines? Try this handy headline analyser from CoSchedule or Touchstone from Alchemy Worx.
6. Don’t over-promise
Try to avoid over-selling or over-promising in your subject lines. There’s nothing more annoying and disappointing than when a subject line promises you a free facial but fails to mention that you need to spend £100 on products first. Always be honest with your subscribers.
7. Write for inbox retrieval
Sometimes your subscribers might want to retrieve your email later for a special deal or discount. These retrievals are incredibly high value to you because they’re acting on your call to action.
Top tip: Make it easy for your readers to find you in their ever-expanding inbox by having a consistent ‘From’ address or ‘From’ name.