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11 Tips for Writing Compelling Email Subject Lines

By Deborah Kurfiss, Umbrella Content Marketing Director on May 19, 2023

A couple weeks back we published a two-part article that gave an overview of ways increase your clients’ email open rate. One of the most important aspects of open rate is of course your subject line. But that’s not the only reason your email subject line may be the most important part of your email. Your email subject line is the first thing your audience sees. So it better be good.

So let’s get more in depth about how to write good email subject lines that drive your email campaigns to success.

What Is an Email Subject Line?

The email subject line is the one line description of the email that people see in their inbox. It tells people whether they want to open it or just delete it. And if they don’t open your email, they are not going to read it, and they certainly are not going to click anything in it.

What Is an Email Preview?

In addition to seeing the subject line in their inbox, the receiver may see all or part of a preview if you write one. The preview follows the email subject line, and is another opportunity to give a preview of what’s inside the email. If you do not write a preview, your email may pick up the first part of the text of the email content. Use the preview to add a bit more information rather than just repeat the subject line.

Why Are Email Subject Lines Important?

Here’s why email subject lines may very well be the most important part of your email:

  • Grab Attention and Increase Open Rates: Subject lines are the first thing your audience sees. If your subject line is lackluster and dull, your audience is much less likely to open your email. A great subject line goes a long way to increasing open rates.
  • Show What to Expect: Subject lines give people an idea of the email content. If the content is irrelevant to them, once again, they are less likely to open the email.
  • Avoid or Alert Spam Filters: Use your subject line to grab attention, but in the course of doing so, be sure to avoid words and phrases that trigger spam filters. For guidance, check out this HubSpot article about spam words to avoid in 2023.
  • Motivate Engagement: Like someone who makes a good first impression, people want to see more of your email if you do the same. If you catch people’s attention with a great subject line, not only are they more likely to open your email, they are more likely to click and otherwise engage.

How to Write Effective Email Subject Lines

You want an email subject line is to grab attention, pique interest enough to motivate opening the email and set the stage for the email contents. There are a lot of ways to do that. You can use some of the following tips together, but certainly not all of them.

1. Keep It Short

A good subject line isn’t going to do you any good if it’s too long to to show up in your audience’s inbox. What good is your subject line if people can’t read it? If your email subject lines are too long, they will be cut off in your reciepients’ inboxes.

Also keep in mind that people often scan their inboxes quickly. You want important words to jump out, so don’t bury them.

MailChimp recommends you do not use more than 60 characters. If you can keep it to 40, so much the better.

2. Create Urgency

Creating urgency is always an important sales and marketing tactic, because they motivate people to take immediate action. Otherwise, they may think they can come back to it later, but somehow they rarely do.  Be sure to remember this when writing your email subject lines.

For example,  you are making a limited time offer, be sure to say so. You may even want to include the date the offer ends. Often you will send an email campaign around a promotion rather than just a single email. Do a countdown in these emails. When you are down to the wire, be sure to use phrases like “last chance” or “Opportunity ends tomorrow.”

We would like to underline, that you should only send special, limited time offers now and again. If you send them constantly, your audience will start to ignore them.

3. Be Relevant and Offer Value

Be sure to send your email to audience segments that will be interested in the particular campaign. Reflect what is inside the email, particularly if it is something valuable such as a link to an insightful ebook.

4. Arouse Curiosity

A tactic that is opposite of reflecting what’s inside the email is to be mysterious in order to arouse enough curiosity to motivate the recipient to open the email.  This could be something like “The best we’ve ever sent you”.

5. Surprise Them

If you both surprise and intrigue your audience in your email subject lines, you will be rewarded with a high open rate.

One of the best ways to do that is to research little known facts about your clients’ industry, something that makes them think, “Really? Wow.” This can often be accomplished with an unexpected statistic.

6. Be Humorous

People need to go through their email inboxes, but for many of us it is a chore. So if you can lighten someone’s day with a humorous subject line that captures their attention, they are likely to open your email. You don’t need to be a professional stand-up comic to elicit a smile.

7. Ask an Open-Ended Question Your Audience Wants Answered

If you know your audience, you should know their challenges and many of the questions that they think about. They will open the email to see the discussion of the issue and maybe to get an answer.

For example, if you are a growth consultant emailing marketing agencies, you might ask “What’s most critical in building a marketing agency?” Of if you are a website developer, you might send an email to businesses asking them “Is your website accessible under the law?”

8. Personalize

You can not only put a person’s name in the salutation but also in the subject line. Also consider adding their location to the subject line if that’s relevant. Personalization is an easy way to increase open rates for most users.

 9. Treat Your Clients’ Customers Like VIPs

Everyone wants to feel special and respected. People like to feel they are part of the “in” group. This is why treating your clients’ customers like VIPs builds loyalty. Examples might be “Special VIP offer” or “Exclusive Invitation for You, a Special Customer.” For that last one, you might want to use the person’s name instead of the word “You.”

10. Mention Any Videos

If you are showing a video in your email or linking to a video or a podcast, mention that in the subject line.  A recent test showed that emails with video have almost a 200% higher click-through rate. So, let people know about the video they will see if they open your email.

11. Avoid Words that Trigger Spam Filters

Avoid words like “Buy now” that are likely to catch up your email in spam filters. For a list of words to watch out for in 2023, see this article.

Even if your email does make it past the spam filters, nobody wants to open an email that looks like it is just an advertisement. Focus on sharing valuable information in your emails.

White Label Email Marketing

You don’t have to perform all services you offer your clients yourself. Contact Umbrella here for or call us at 1(866)760-2638 to set up a free consultation about our white label email marketing services.

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