Subject Line Best Practice: 5 ways to write better email marketing subject lines

For most users, the email inbox is a busy place, with a stack of emails screaming out to be opened. In this kind of environment, it’s essential to make sure your subject line is compelling and demands to be opened. After all, no matter how pretty and well built your email campaign is, if your subject line is monotonous and uninspiring then none of your recipients will look at it. These 5 tips have been proven time and time again to significantly boost your open rates and overall conversions from your email campaigns:

An inbox, yesterday

An inbox, yesterday

Tip #1: Add personalisation

Think about what data you have to hand, and how it can be implemented into the subject line. For many marketers, adding the recipients’ first or surname often boosts open rates.

Tip #2: Avoid spammy words

This is a given, both in the subject line and your email copy. Don’t include multiple exclamation marks, multiple dollar signs, all caps text or words like “viagra”. There’s lots of differing lists of spammy words – check with your email sender as they’ll have the most accurate insight.

Tip #3: Focus on the benefits

Tell people why they should open your message – outline your key offer and tell them how it will benefit them. Of course, you should always make sure your subject line relates to the content of your mailing. If users feel tricked into reading your email, at best they won’t be back, and worse they’ll mark your email as spam.

Tip #4: Use pyramid writing

Most email clients cut off subject lines somewhere between 40 and 60 characters. In addition, users scan subject lines from left to right, so it makes sense to put your key offering right at the start. For example “Buy a new toaster in our sale and save 50%” won’t be as effective as “50% off toasters in our sale”.

Tip #5: Test test test!

As with all best practice, everything is only theoretical until you’ve tested it with your specific company, market niche and recipients. Testing what works and constantly refining your subject lines is the best way to guarantee a result.

Bonus Tip: Sometimes longer is better

In some instances, particularly long newsletters with lots of offers and content, a long subject line can function as a contents section. Most email clients will still cut off the subject line after 60 or so characters, but once the user opens the email the full subject line is displayed – and it’s suggested that this is what they’ll read first. Regardless, it’s still worth optimizing those first 60 characters.

Money Saving Expert's long subject line acts as a contents section

Money Saving Expert's long subject line acts as a contents section

Bonus Tip #2:  Sender name and pre-header

There’s two other tools you have at your disposal before a recipient opens your email. The first is the sender name and your sender email address – these should be consistent and reflect your brand name. In some situations, if you’re running a regular mailing you could also incorporate the name of your newsletter into the sender name. The other tool you have, which applies in certain email clients such as Outlook 2007 and Gmail, is the pre-header or Johnson Box.

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By Elliot Ross

Elliot Ross is Managing Director of Action Rocket, an email marketing creative agency based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @iamelliot