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Email Subject Lines: The Professional’s Pickup Line

May 30, 2012

By Greg Wagner, Interactive Communications Associate I

Email Subject Lines: The Professional's Pickup Line

Anyone who is tasked with performing email marketing can tell you how difficult it can be to help clients understand the critical importance of the subject line. The subject line is more than a title or a label—it’s the first interaction with your audience, and if it’s not compelling, chances are, the email is not going to be opened.

AutoMize cofounder and chief operating officer Trevor Mauch compares writing email marketing subject lines to “thinking up a ‘pick up’ line to pick up someone you’ve got your eye on across the cocktail party.”

This comparison makes the situation crystal clear: Email marketing subject lines better be engaging, concise, and to the point, because you’ve only got one chance to catch the reader’s eye.

Love at First Sight

The hardest part of email marketing to write is the first impression we make: the subject line. It’s the first element subscribers see, and first impressions often determine the initial success of an email—its open rate. How well our subject line engages the audience determines how far we get. So what do you do?

  • Be concise. Fifty characters or less is an ideal length for a subject line.
  • Get to the point. Don't include more information than is necessary. Remember, it's just the subject line, not the body of the email.
  • Avoid clichés. Words like "FREE" and "LAST CHANCE" trigger spam filters, but a Mail Chimp study also found that the words Help, Percent Off, and Reminder will also negatively affect your open rate.
  • Break up your thoughts with proper punctuation: Colons and [Brackets] can isolate what action you want and improve response.
  • Start with an action-oriented verb. The way you order your words is significant. An analysis by AutoMize revealed that action-oriented verbs increased open rates up to 35%.
  • Take the time to think about how to get your message across right from the start. Don't avoid writing your subject line until the last minute.

The subject line affects the success of the open rate, and the open rate affects the forthcoming success of both click-through rates and overall readership. Higher open rates equal greater circulation and ultimately result in creating more engagement with your communications.

Moving Forward After Your One-Liner Success

Usually, the goal of email marketing is to build a long-standing relationship with subscribers, so the work doesn’t end with one good subject line. Subsequent emails have to have equally compelling subject lines. Mail Chimp found negative results with repetitive/reminder subject lines, so get creative.

With a little hard work, you’ll create relationships with loyal readers, and that’s the ultimate sign of success.

What subject lines have inspired you to open an email recently?