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How to write the perfect email subject line

4 minute read

If you’ve ever tried your hand at copywriting, you’ll know that the shorter the copy, the harder it is to write. Email subject lines are a case in point. With subject lines having a major influence on email open rates – research suggests that 47% of recipients decide whether or not to open an email purely based on the subject line – it’s little wonder that they’re the bit that many people struggle with.

It’s no use writing a great marketing email if people don’t actually get as far as reading it before deleting it, but there’s limited space to attract their attention. Today we’re looking at some of the ways in which you can write compelling subject lines that make your audience want to click to read your email.

1. Include a call to action

A ‘call to action’ is a prompt to a reader to take a particular action. “Shop now” is a call to action, for example, and so is “Find out what’s inside”.

These short instructions work well in email subject lines, where you have limited space to compel readers to open your email.

Here’s an example from Morrisons, which combines a call to action (“Click to Activate”) with an incentive to open the email – the promise of 5,000 extra points.

2. Tell them what’s in it for them

Sometimes a straightforward subject line works best. As we’ve already seen in the example from Morrisons, a sure-fire way of getting readers to open your email is to tell them what’s in it for them.

If you’re emailing them with an offer of some kind, be sure to include it in the subject line to tempt them in, as with the 45% discount offered in this example from Bonusprint.

In this example from Coast magazine, the subject line advertises the “Win a luxury stay for two in Scotland” competition included much further down the newsletter, thus ensuring that readers must scroll through the whole email to get to the incentive they’ve been offered in the subject line. This shows how the subject line can be used to encourage recipients to read the whole email.

3. Arouse the reader’s curiosity

Another subject line tactic is to arouse the recipient’s curiosity with a line that teases the content and hooks them in. The secret here is not to give too much away in the subject line.

Rather than saying what the colour is, this example from Country Living magazine makes the recipient want to open the email to find out. Having piqued their curiosity, they can then invite readers to visit their website for ideas about how to use the colour in their homes.

4. Create a sense of urgency

We’ve all received emails that we’ve mentally filed away under “I’ll deal with that later” – and then never got round to it before the email has slipped onto the next page, out of sight and out of mind.

Another way to encourage people to open your email is therefore to instil a sense of urgency into your subject line, so that they want to open your email there and then.

Here’s an example from Ryanair that begins with the simple instruction to “Be quick!”, giving the recipient the sense that they may miss out if they don’t act now.

5. Make it about them

Let’s face it, we’re all interested in ourselves. So when an email pops into our inboxes that seems to be saying something about us, we’re going to want to read it.

Another tactic for email marketers is therefore to make the subject line about the reader. Personalising the email by using their name in the subject line is one way of doing this. Another is to do what Hobbs have done in this example: make the subject line appear to be about the recipient so that they want to find out what the email will say about them.

6. Use an emoji

When your marketing email is one of many competing for attention in someone’s inbox, making it stand out visually could make all the difference.

A well-chosen emoji not only adds an element of fun to your subject line, but it draws the eye to your email and makes it more likely that your email will get noticed.

Research suggests that using an emoji in your subject line can increase email open rates in the UK by 5%. Here’s an example from Italian restaurant chain Strada.

7. Make it look like a reply

Finally, petition site 38 Degrees used a clever trick in this example. Putting “RE:” at the beginning of the subject line, it makes the email look as though it’s a direct reply to an email sent by the recipient.

As we expect replies to our emails, it’s a good way of getting people to open your email; although it’s an approach best used with caution, as it could backfire if they turn out not to be interested in the contents of your email and unsubscribe.

Whichever subject line tactic you adopt, don’t forget to think about how your subject line (and the email as a whole) will appear to mobile users.

Research suggests that more than half of all emails are opened on mobile phones, so ensuring your emails are mobile optimised is more important than ever in making your email marketing campaigns a success. Ultimately, though, if you can get them to open the email with a clever subject line, that’s half the battle won.

Natalie Wood is Digital Communications Lead at the UK Domain. Natalie leads the email and social communication strategy. She is responsible for advising and implementing all online communication strategies to promote brand awareness.

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