“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” my mother used to tell me. I did anyway. Most people do.
We’re drowned by so much information that we make snap judgments on what to engage in. Did it grab your attention right away? No? Too bad, keep moving. It’s harder to get attention now than ever before, mainly because so much is trying to take it.
The “cover” is more critical than ever. And when it comes to emails, that means your subject line. The average person receives over 100 emails a day, and they spend 28% of their time answering emails during the workday. If you don’t catch attention with your subject line, you will not be read.
You need to know the secrets of stellar subject lines. And we’ll tell you what they are.
The 3 Secrets of Stellar Subject Lines
There are 3 S’s you need to keep in mind when you write a subject line.
1: Short Is Best
2: Spice It Up
3: Supplement Your Subject
1: Short Is Best
Your subject line is probably too long. Keep it as short as possible — don’t leave out crucial information, but distill it as much as possible.
Don’t follow subject line guidelines from 5 or 10 years ago. Mobile is taking over, and the lack of screen real estate means even your “short” subject lines might be long now. Smartphones have a 78% penetration rate worldwide. A majority of your emails will be read on a small screen. You’ll cut off half your subject line if you still write for desktop.
Desktop email clients all display around 60 characters, depending on the email client and the width of the characters you use. Mobile clients display roughly 25 to 35, depending on screen real estate. Write for the lower end of your length spectrum.
Instead of writing “The Copywriting Tool Your Business Needs,” try “Your Next Copywriting Tool.” Find places to cut characters without cutting information. Spend a little more time on your headlines and reap the dividends in your open rates.
2: Spice It Up
Most subject lines fail because they’re boring. Spice yours up.
I’m not talking about a bait and switch headline. If you start with a no-substance headline like “The Secret You’re Missing,” your audience will be confused. When someone sees your email in the inbox, they should immediately be able to tell:
- The purpose of the email
- The sender/brand (usually included automatically as the from address or email alias)
- A reason for action or sense of urgency
Your reason for action is where you can really get creative. There are four major areas where you can drive action:
- Intrigue: Get them curious. Ask an open-ended question. Offer up something unique or exotic that they learn about or get. Tell them you’re giving them something they can’t help but be interested in, and why they should care.
- Command: “Register Now.” “Sign Up.” These are simple and work best with follow-up emails, not sales emails.
- Important Information: Sometimes the easiest route to an open is just giving people information that’s important to them personally. Spotify got an open from me with “A special thank you from Alter Bridge,” where the email told me I had a chance to buy tickets for an upcoming show (and if you’re a fan of great rock vocalists and cool guitar riffs, you should absolutely check out AB).
- Personalization: You can use shortcodes to include a customer’s name in the subject line, which can be a great way to grab attention. There are a few caveats to this one, though. Sometimes people enter their names incorrectly. It can also be easily overused. It’s weird if you use someone’s name too much, even if you’re friends.
These four principles will help you spice up your subject lines and grab attention. There are a few “spicy” words and phrases you need to avoid, though. They can be caught in spam filters or disregarded by a jaded audience. These include:
- Hyperbole. Never before seen, greatest, best, no money down … skip the hyperbole and leave it to the slick suits in the car commercials.
- Free. Depending on context this is a big spam trigger.
- Other common spam triggers. You can find an exhaustive list here. Note: many of these are perfectly acceptable to use in moderation in the body of your email. The caution is for subject lines.
3: Supplement Your Subject
Your subject line isn’t the only thing that entices people to open your emails.
Almost all email clients display preview text based on the first part of the email. The only clients that don’t are Thunderbird and pre-2010 versions of Outlook.
The email client will display the first section of the email as a preview. If your email builder supports preheaders (not all do), you can add a preheader and it will be the preview text. If you don’t have a preheader, the client will pull the first visible text in the email.
The length of the text displayed varies, but the lowest is Outlook 2013 and some later versions at 35 characters. You can use that first section of the email as a teaser to supplement your actual subject line.
Do use the preview text (and the preheader if your email tool provides it) and put your important information early in the field. The earlier, the better. Add an extra hook in the preview and complement the subject line with additional information.
Don’t do anything that relies on people seeing the preview text to understand your headline. It should be additional information; the subject line has to stand on its own. Email clients without a preview text function are rare but they do exist. In the event the user has turned off the preview or the email client doesn’t display the preview text, be sure the content stands on its own so readers aren’t confused.
Get Your Emails Read
Good subject lines will get your emails opened. Bad subject lines get ignored. Don’t write just anything for your subject line — use that text to drive open rate, and hopefully conversions.
Not sure how to structure your emails? Want to learn a little more? We’ve got you covered. Just drop us a line, anytime.
Rainmaker Digital Services