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How to Write Better Email Subject Lines (And What Not to Do)


The other day I received an email from a well-known cell phone service provider that came with the subject “Make this Father’s Day the best one yet!”

*Delete*

This subject line makes it onto my list of all-time great fails. Not only was it not unique, interesting or enticing, but any father who remembers their favorite Father’s Day as the one where they upgraded their iPhone to one without a headphone jack has their priorities way out of whack.

What could this company have done differently? First of all, if you’re going to attempt selling cell phones by trying to make them look like a good Father’s Day gift, you might as well go all in and make it intentionally ridiculous and get some humor out of it. “Dads don’t want macaroni art!” would have been a better attempt. It’s funny, it’s personal and it has a tiny hint of truth. While I appreciate the effort that went into the sun and tree photo made from elbow and bow-tie pasta, did it ever occur to someone that maybe I wanted a new $1000 phone?

Obviously, writing an eye-catching subject line is never that easy. How to grab attention in one sentence is a question that’s been asked since the invention of the telephone. (Side note: few know that Alexander Graham Bell’s first eight calls went unanswered because that’s how long it took for him to try, “Hello.”) While there’s no guarantee that any subject line will work every time, here are some writing rules to follow that can vastly improve your odds of getting those emails opened.

Keep it short — You’ve got an incredibly limited space to work with. Word on the marketing professional’s street is that about 40 characters or seven words is as long winded as you should ever be.

Be personal — If your emails are focused to lists of recipients who all have similar personas, i.e. dads, CEOs, marketers, wholesalers, men or women, then address your recipients as such. It will make your email that much more personal.

Use some aspect of truth — Don’t be too “clickbaity,” but do offer an element of truth in terms of what the recipient can expect to receive when they open the email. As marketers, we aren’t here to dupe, but we are here to tease and create interest.

Relevance — Make your subject line relevant to your recipient’s needs. Don’t use states, cities or regions in the subject line unless you can confirm that locality will appeal to your recipient. “Top 10 freight shippers in FL for manufacturers” doesn’t appeal to me if:

A: I’m not in Florida
or
B: (Even worse) I’m not a manufacturer

Urgency — If you have a chance to create urgency brought on by a limited time offer, take it. “Our sale ends TODAY” makes it painfully obvious that if your recipients want in on your deal and save money, they need to move their feet and make a decision…quickly.

Don’t use a smiley face – Just… just don’t. Not only will this immediately go to the spam folder, but you might as well write your email in comic sans. This rule applies for all emojis and emoticons. You’re better than that. Don’t do it.

(That’s not to say there isn’t some good uses for emojis. For tips on how to properly implement a “😍” into your marketing mix, check out these five B2B emoji tips.)

Do you have any more rules for writing good email subject lines? Let us know in the comments below.

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