When you’re looking to improve email performance rates, start at the top—with your subject line.

With people overwhelmed by the number of emails in their inboxes, your subject line has to clearly tell them, “I’m worth opening.” And you’ve only got 35 characters (for optimal mobile viewing), or up to seven words (according to this data analysis), to say it.

Think about how you audit your inbox—perhaps you scan the subject lines to see if the email is urgently important, from a sender you trust or provides an update you care about. If it meets any of those criteria, you may open it and perhaps even read the email.

We want to increase those odds. We spend a lot of time writing and analyzing emails to ensure our clients’ campaigns are successfully getting through to their customers. Here are some guidelines we follow to ensure emails and subject lines are working hard and leading to maximum opens:

Grab attention.

Zero in on the objective of your email. Data shows your best bets are to:

  • Make an announcement or
  • Make an offer, and/or
  • Make it urgent.

In other words, elicit an “Oh?” “Oh!” or “Uh-oh.” Call out what is new, what is special or what is expiring. If you’re having difficulty landing on a subject that appeals to a vast majority of your recipients, it could be a sign that you should be further segmenting your audience and writing targeted versions.

Invite action and be direct.

In most cases being straightforward seems to work better than puns or humor. If your emails are going to a group of opted-in subscribers, you can afford to be more playful. But usually it’s like playing Scrabble—you don’t win by holding out to make the most “interesting” words, you win by playing on the triple-word-score boxes. (Again, triple your subject line “score” with: news, an offer and urgency for action.)   

“Open now to save $175” may seem uncreative, but I’d open it—wouldn’t you?

Keep it short.

You can use pre-header text (40-50 characters) to expand on the subject line, add meaning or summarize your offer—especially if your offer will be below the scroll, low in the body of the email.

Start with a capital letter; don’t use semicolons.

There’s no particular reason for this; semicolons just seem put a damper on open rates. Meanwhile, a number, an exclamation point or the occasional emoji have been shown to increase open rates. But use them carefully, as repeated emojis, multiple punctuation marks and round numbers such as 100% will decrease open rates and raise your chances of landing in spam filters.

One helpful tool for learning these little tricks and nuances is the free rating tool at subjectline.com. Play around with your wording until your score is above 85.

Address the recipient by name or by a specific interest or position.

People love to see their names or at least see themselves in your words. For example, “pharma” will get the attention of a pharmacist and “sales” will get the attention of sales reps.

You could potentially create a targeted email series simply by addressing different audiences in the subject line (still, don’t exceed seven words or 35-41 characters), while keeping the body of the email the same.

Make sure the email sender is a known person or brand.

Don’t waste a good subject line by having the email come from the wrong sender—that is, from an unfamiliar name. More than once, I’ve realized late in the game that I had been deleting emails about an event I was actually quite interested in because the sender was a strange person’s name rather than the name of the event or its organizer. Such a shame, and so simple a mistake to avoid.

Ready now to start sending better emails? Let us know if we can help you with more ideas for effective strategy and engaging content.

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