John Lincoln

How to Write Email Subject Lines That Draw Clicks

The whole don’t judge a book by its cover adage doesn’t always add up – especially when it comes to emails and their covers: subject lines.

In fact, 47% of email recipients decide whether or not to open an email based on subject line alone.

Read this article to make sure yours are up to par.

How to Write Email Subject Lines That Draw Clicks

Components of a Great Subject Line

The real purpose of a subject line? To catch your reader’s attention. You need to give them a reason to open your email and read your message while making sure it’s on-brand and doesn’t cross the line into gimmicky. Luckily, great subject lines tend to have a few things in common. Here are a few tried-and-true components sure to draw a few clicks.
  1. Create a Sense of Urgency

It’s simple science – urgency works. It goes back to the scarcity principle – if you can convince people that they’ll lose something great if they don’t act immediately, you’ll create an urge they simply can’t resist. This isn’t a tactic to overuse, though. Only go for urgency when you have something truly fantastic to offer, like super-exclusive sales or registrations. Otherwise, your audience could become a bit numb to your plea’s. Example: Bushra Azhar: “Want to Co-create your Launch with me? Act now & you WILL( 24 hours)” Whoa. This one packs a punch, because it not only includes a super-enticing offer, but puts a very distinct timeline on it. She’s pretty much telling that if you want this awesome benefit, you have to act NOW (even the caps help). She’s making an offer too good for her target audience to refuse, and playing upon human impulse. I’m willing to be she saw some pretty good returns.
  1. Pique Readers Curiosity

Sometimes, a subject line works well because it simply appeals to our curiosity. If you can intrigue your readers enough in that one line, they’ll have to open the email to see the rest of the message. Of course, a high open rate is only half the battle. If you go this route, you’ll have to work extra hard to make sure the rest of your message delivers and satisfies the curiosity you’ve created.   Example: Manicube – “Don’t open this email.” This one uses a little reverse psychology. Because by telling us what not to do, it just makes us want to do it more. That’s a completely normal human reaction, and it’s one Manicube strategically played upon here. It simply a subject line that induces way too much curiosity to ignore.
  1. How to Write Email Subject Lines: Provide a Benefit

Remember, great writing isn’t about stating the features. It’s about showing the benefits. The same holds true for subject lines. To use this technique, you need a firm grasp on your target audience. Who are they, and why do they need your product? What can your product or service provide that others can’t? What are their pain points, and how can your service solve them? Once you’ve outlined your handy feature/benefit list (you know, the list that explains the exact benefit each feature provides), you can use it to form subject lines geared towards your target audience. Example – Jon Morrow: “3 REALISTIC Ways to Make a Nice Side Income from Blogging” Here’s how Jon Morrow did it. Knowing that his target audience is primarily beginning bloggers, he decided to address one of the biggest obstacles many face. Which, of course, is how to make money blogging. And by reading his email, his audience will have the benefit of not one, but three ways to do it. Pretty persuasive, right?
  1. Tell a Story

Storytelling is one of the oldest tricks in the book. If you can connect with your audience through a captivating story, you’ll often gain more than just their business. You’ll gain their trust and loyalty. But fitting that story into a subject line is no easy task. Which is why we once again employ the curiosity principle, and simply tease the beginning of a cool story that can only be found in the body of your email. Your audience will be intrigued, and have no choice but to click through to read the rest of the story. Example: Chandler Bolt: “Why guys never ask for directions..”
How to Write Email Subject Lines: Tell a Story
How to Write Email Subject Lines: Tell a Story
This is a classic story right here. And in case you’ve ever wondered what the answer to this particular question is (and let’s face it, you have), Mr. Bolt is offering you the secret right here. How could you not click? It effectively uses curiosity to tease the beginning of a story everyone wants to know the ending to.
  1. Rely on Humor

When in doubt, a little humor goes a long way. It’s pretty straightforward: people like humor. They like to laugh. If your subject line can make them do it, they’ll be more likely to want to read more. Example: Groupon: “Best of Groupon: The Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve) Why does it work so well? Because that last part is unexpected and unexpectedly hilarious. This is where developing a clear brand voice and having a tight grasp on your target audience will come in handy. Case in point: This kind of subject line may not work as well for a financial advisor emailing his Fortune 500 clients. So when you do go the humor route, make sure it fits with your brand and the voice and reputation you’ve created for yourself.
  1. How to Write Email Subject Lines: Include Offers

Another thing people really like? Special offers and discounts. So if you have them, include them front and center in the subject line. Example: Old Navy: “CONFIRMED: You’re getting 50% OFF all tees!” Old Navy may just be the king of the offer email. Because the thing about offer emails is that you can’t send too many of them. While people may get tired of your constant attempts at curiosity or catch on to your urgency ploys, a good offer is one thing they can’t refuse. But for brands, an offer this good isn’t an everyday occurrence. When it does, don’t make your audience dig for it; instead; make sure it’s included right in the subject line. Your click-through rates will thank you for it.

How to Write Email Subject Lines: Best Practices

  1. Short and Sweet Wins the Day

Keep your subject lines quick and catchy. Don’t draw them out (unless you’re employing storytelling and really have to get it all in). Generally speaking, you should try to keep your subject lines to 50 characters or less. One reason is that subject lines that are too long will get cut off in, and that’s doubly true for mobile devices. With 67% of opens taking place on mobile, I’d say it’s something to watch out for. So focus on what’s important. Cut out any unnecessary words, numbers, or descriptions that are unnecessary.
  1. Be Personal

In today’s busy world, one way to cut through the noise is to appeal to your readers personally by including names and locations. This small addition will go a long way in helping connect you with your individual readers. And of course, the proof is in the pudding: research shows that personalization is shown to increase open rates. Personalization tokens work especially well in conjunction with targeted automation emails like birthday offers and purchase follow-ups.
How to Write Email Subject Lines: Use Personalization
How to Write Email Subject Lines: Use Personalization
Most email software will have the option to include merge tags for personalization in your email campaigns.
  1. How to Write Email Subject Lines: Use Actionable Words That Convey Importance

Remember that sense of urgency we talked about? It doesn’t always have to be so blatant. Sometimes, all it takes is a well-placed action word. Subject lines serve the same purpose as call-to-actions (CTAs), in that you’re trying to convince your readers to take the desired action. So convince them to take that action. To do that, you need to make whatever’s in your email sound really important. Unmissable, even. Here’s an example from Ash Ambirge: “Never, Ever Put It Off—Or Say You’ll Get to It Tomorrow. Like, Ever. So Help You Vodka.” Now, based on this subject line, I don’t even know what it is, but I know that I don’t want to put if off. Because it was abrupt, because it was to the point, and because it used strong words like “never, ever”, I know there’s something worth my attention in that email. At least I think I do, which means the subject line has done its job.
  1. Ask a Question

Questions, by nature, demand answers. And by asking one, you capitalize once again on that curiosity principle.
How to Write Email Subject Lines: Ask a Question
How to Write Email Subject Lines: Ask a Question
Again, you have to do your research here to make sure the question is relevant to your readers, and one that they themselves already have. For example, you could ask something like “are you making these major SEO mistakes?” Because I can’t answer that question myself, I’d have to open the email to find it. And because this sender knows that SEO is important to me, they know that it’s a question I’ll want to be answered. Stat. It’s a well-researched, well-placed trap you place for your readers. And if set up and executed properly, you’ll both walk away with a win. You get an open, maybe even a click-through, and they get the answer.
  1. Use Emojis (Sparingly)

An added exclamation or emoji can absolutely help capture your reader’s attention. In fact, including an emoji can actually increase open rates, when used strategically. According to Experian, 56% of brands that use symbols in their subject lines have a higher open rate.
How to Write Email Subject Lines: Use Emojis (Sparingly)
How to Write Email Subject Lines: Use Emojis (Sparingly)
But too many can easily seem like a gimmick, or simply just annoying. So if you do use them, keep the following in mind:
  • They’ll work best with a B2C audience
  • Choose emojis that compliment your subject line
  • Don’t use them in place of words
  • And again, don’t overdo it! One is usually good, two if you must.
  1. A/B Test Your Subject Lines

At the end of the day, the only way to know what really works for your audience is trial and error. Maybe you’re unsure if your emojis are working, or if your special offer is enticing enough. The way to find out? Test. Then, test again. While the tips above will work most of the time, each audience is unique, and you don’t want to take any chances with your email campaign that you don’t have to. Most email software will offer you the option of A/B testing to test various elements of your subject line. Send out various tests to see which combinations prove most effective, and tweak as necessary. Once you have a feel for what resonates best with your audience, you’ll be better prepared for more effective campaigns in the future.

How to Write Email Subject Lines: Conclusion

Honing in on the right subject line is a skill, and one that your business can’t afford to pass on. After all, the most unsuccessful emails are the ones that don’t get opened.   Don’t let that be you. Instead, use what you’ve learned to hone your subject line skills, and watch your open rates improve in the process.

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About the Author

John Lincoln is CEO of Ignite Visibility, one of the top digital marketing agencies in the nation. Ignite Visibility is a 4x  Inc. 5,000 company. Ignite Visibility offers a unique digital marketing program tied directly to ROI with a focus on using SEO, social media, paid media, CRO, email, Amazon and PR to achieve results. Outside of Ignite Visibility, Lincoln is a frequent speaker and author of the books “Digital Influencer” and “The Forecaster Method.” Lincoln is consistently named one of the top digital marketers in the industry and was the recipient of the coveted Search Engine Land “Search Marketer of The Year” award. Lincoln has taught digital marketing and Web Analytics at the University of California San Diego since 2010, has been named as one of San Diego’s most admired CEO’s and a top business leader under 40. Lincoln has also made “SEO: The Movie” and “Social Media Marketing: The Movie.” His business mission is to help others through digital marketing.

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