9 tips for great email subject lines

Your brilliant body copy does you—and your recipients—no good if they don’t open it. Try these approaches to pique interest and get more eyeballs perusing your prose.

An email’s subject line is just as important as the actual content, acting as its own mini-marketing campaign.

An infographic by Invesp says 47 percent of recipients open email based on the subject line.

Coming up with the perfect email subject line is as much science as it is art. Here are nine approaches that work:

1. Play on the fear of missing out. Consider psychological principles that prompt action. People fear they’ll miss out on something. By conveying urgency, you’re likelier to get the recipient to open the email.

MailChimp offers this:

Example: “24 Hour Sale! Limited Quantities!”

2. Ask a question. Pique your audience’s curiosity.

Example: “How can you increase e-commerce revenue in 2017?”

3. Be controversial. A bold can grab recipients’ attention. They’ll be curious about your meaning or the direction you’ll take on the topic.

Example: “10 Reasons Men Shouldn’t Help with the Housework.”

4. Imply that the recipient isn’t good enough. When humans are told they’re lacking in a given area, they feel challenged to their core. They want to be better than everyone else. It’s called “The Superiority Illusion.”

By suggesting the reader is flawed, you’re likely to induce them to open the email. Proceed with caution, though; there’s a fine line between grabbing people’s attention and insulting them.

Example: “Don’t make these 7 email subject line mistakes.”

5. Identify with your audience. Get your recipient to identify immediately, saying, “Oh that’s me!” and open it.

Example: “Poor college student’s guide to healthy shopping!”

6. Use a “cliffhanger.” People feel driven to resolve a conflict. If half the subject line is readable and it’s followed by an ellipsis, a recipient will feel compelled to open it to feel satisfied.

Example: “The secret to streamlining your workday is …”

7. Be direct. Make a promise in the subject line, and deliver a solution in the body copy. Be concise and specific.

Example: “Increase your web traffic by 40 percent.”

8. Get personal. Emails with personalized subject lines are 26 percent likelier to be opened. To a human being, nothing sounds sweeter than his or her name—so says Dale Carnegie in “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

Experian, in its 2013 research, says personalized promotional emails had 29 percent higher unique open rates and 41 percent more unique click-through rates.

Here’s how personalization affects open rates by industry, according to Mailchimp:

9. Employ emojis. Experian says 56 percent of brands using an emoji had a higher unique open rate. Brainstorm how they could be implemented in your emails.

Campaign Monitor shares the technical details regarding emoji email subject line use, which can be useful for email client compatibility.

Yesware, a sales toolkit that integrates with Gmail and Outlook, created this data visualization showing how different words affect open rates for sales emails.

The effect of specific words will depend on your industry, goals and calls to action.

Consider incorporating one of these power words in your next email subject line:

What not to do

Just as some words can be opening triggers in subject lines, others spur recipients to send it straight to spam. Avoid these:

  • Phrases like “Winner!” “100 percent Free!” “Free Money!”
  • Special characters
  • Excessive punctuation
  • Spelling errors

Never use ALL CAPS. Nobody likes an email that yells at them. It also could make the recipient think it’s spam.

Though it’s great to pique curiosity, don’t deliberately mislead. If people’s expectations are not met, they will probably unsubscribe from your emails and report them as spam.

A version of this post first appeared on Orbit Media’s blog.

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