Designing the Subject Line for Your E-Mail Marketing Messages

The Subject line of your marketing e-mail gives your audience a hint at the e-mail’s content. About a third of consumers use the Subject line to determine whether to open your e-mail. The most effective Subject lines are those that prompt your audience to open your e-mails to look for specific information.

Consistently coming up with good Subject lines is tough because most e-mail programs display only the first 30 to 50 characters and most mobile devices only show the first 20 to 30 characters, so you have a limited amount of text to get your point across.

Test your Subject lines by sending the same e-mail with different Subject lines to a small sample of your list. For example, if you have 1,000 subscribers, send your e-mail to 100 people with one Subject line and to a different 100 people with another Subject line. Wait a day or two and send your e-mail to the remaining 800 with the Subject line that received the highest number of opens.

Short Subject lines that prompt your audience to open your e-mails

  • Highlight the immediate benefit of opening your message: Stating the immediate benefit of opening the e-mail creates a sense of urgency and tells your audience that your e-mail is important. Save the information highlighting the benefits of your products or services for the body of your e-mail.

    On mobile devices, the immediate benefit often includes demonstrating that the e-mail is useful on a mobile device. For example, a Subject line that says, “Show this e-mail for free coffee” demonstrates the value of the e-mail.

    Creating a sense of urgency with your text helps to increase viewer opens, but urgency can easily wear off if your Subject lines make urgent statements without hinting at the content in your e-mail. Use specifics to entice your audience: Free entrée coupon in this e-mail instead of Free entrée on your next visit.

  • Include value words your audience associates with information personally relevant to them:

    • Words that highlight a particular topic of interest: For example, if your e-mail includes information about a new type of golf club, write a Subject line that includes the word golf.

    • Words that highlight the beliefs and attitudes of your audience: For example, if you sell automobiles and your audience believes in driving fuel-efficient vehicles, the Subject line for your newsletter may read: 3 ways to improve your fuel economy overnight.

    • Words that motivate your audience: For example, if your audience is motivated by saving money, include words that demonstrate the extent of the savings you’re offering.

  • Work from a theme: Using a similar theme over the course of many e-mail campaigns can help you come up with several good Subject lines in a row. For example, a printer using Colors that sell as a theme can highlight a different color in every Subject line: Why green increases your sales, Why blue puts your customers at ease, and so on.

  • Avoid looking like spam: Look at your junk folder occasionally to see what the spammers are up to so you don’t inadvertently copy some of their Subject line techniques. Excessive punctuation, symbols, misspellings, and all capital letters are no-nos.

The current CAN-SPAM laws prohibit Subject lines that are “likely to mislead a recipient, acting reasonably under the circumstances, about a material fact regarding the contents or subject matter of the message,” so make sure your Subject lines clearly and honestly represent the content in every e-mail.

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