7 Secrets for Crafting Subject Lines That Drive Opens

Creating an email is like conducting a mad science experiment: You put in a little of this and add a little of that to produce something unique.

The process can be as maddening. Evolving from concept to creation can involve multiple minds to make the visual presentation come together. Plus, there are so many best practices to be mindful of and complications to take into account in terms of making the email render correctly across all platforms and devices. While these intricacies can be mind-numbingly boring to some, for us email marketers, the struggle is real.

However, the struggle is pointless unless we convince recipients to open that beautiful work of art—making the subject line and teaser text the most important components of your email creative. In fact, an Email on Acid infographic shows that 33% of emails are read solely as a result of engagement with the subject line.

So how do you get your recipients to open your emails? Create compelling subject lines that inspire interest. Here are my seven tips on how to do just that.

1. Omit the company name.

Yes, you need to be mindful of CAN-SPAM compliancy and make sure your subject lines directly relate to the content in the emails. However, don’t waste subject line real estate by being repetitive with your company name (that’s what the “from” label is for). Instead, use the subject line in conjunction with the teaser text to inspire the recipient’s curiosity.

2. Write with mobile in mind (i.e. be concise).

The real challenge for marketers is to be relevant, not mislead their audience, and inspire interest—all in a few words. Length of subject lines is subjective. I’ve read that shorter subject lines produce results; but I’ve also read that the length of subject lines has no impact on success rate. 

I recommend being as concise as possible. Write subject lines with mobile devices in mind to ensure the best outcome across all devices. 

3. Don’t over-personalize.

Personalization in subject lines can be very effective; yet it’s a tactic that has mixed reviews. The only way to know if it works with your audience is to test it. And just because it works in some cases, doesn’t mean you should fatigue the tactic either. Let the content dictate the right time in which personalization may be effective, as well as the right type of personalization to use.

4. Identify if urgency will work for your brand.

Creating urgency is another effective tactic I often see retailers use by including phrases like “today only” or “last chance.” But for us B2C non-retailers who are still building our brand awareness and readers’ trust, this tactic often isn’t enough to get our recipients to engage.

5. Don’t be afraid to be edgy.

Depending on your brand and audience, you can push the envelope and try some edgier subject lines to inspire curiosity. We tested this over the summer with a campaign called “Beat the Heat,” where we tested the following subject lines:

A: {First name}, keep cool and carry on
Teaser: How to beat the heat this summer

B: Hey, hot stuff
Teaser: {First name}, don’t overheat this summer

The B version won by a whopping 12% increase in opens over the A version—showing us that “edgier” subject lines can work with our audience to get their attention. In fact, we saw a 51% open rate as a result of subject line B for this campaign.

6. Run A/B tests.

The best way to learn what works best for your audience is to A/B test (or A/B/C test) subject lines for optimization. In just a few tests, you’ll learn what your recipients are more likely to respond to. By following this methodology, we’ve seen recent success in terms of generating remarkable open rates for some of our email marketing campaigns. Here are some other examples where we saw impressive open rates:

We ran a campaign called “Outdoor survival guide”

Subject Line: Be sure to take this with you, {firstname}
Teaser: Go forth prepared 

This subject line received a 52% open rate.

We also ran a campaign called “Car buyers guide.”

Subject line: Read this before you buy
Teaser: Make the right decision
This received a 50% open rate.

7. Leave a little mystery.

Don’t give away too much in the subject line. You want to give readers a reason to open your email. Be vague, but inspire curiosity. Make the reader feel compelled to open the email, and make them feel like they may be missing out on something if they don’t.

About the author:

As a 17-year veteran in the email marketing community, Kara Douglas has insight into how to build email programs that get results through a data-driven approach. As the senior manager of marketing communications for online Q&A site JustAnswer, Douglas is passionate about providing a high-quality customer experience that is cohesive and personalized through all channels that drives repeat business and increases lifetime value among JustAnswer’s existing customer base.

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