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Crafting Email Subject Lines That Get Attention

The shorter a piece of writing, the more difficult it is to write. This is because it’s so challenging to be concise and carefully choose every word in a limited space than it is to drone on. Blaise Pascal, a mathematician, once famously wrote:

I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.

The challenge of short prose is why it is difficult to write email newsletter subject lines. You spend hours compiling the perfect mix of materials for your readers, add a theme-based intro, then labor hours when it’s time to put a tiny label on it. I struggle with this weekly, wondering if I’m doing well. So, I researched best practices and am here to teach us about crafting email subject lines that get attention.

Why Email Subject Lines Are Critical

Yes, email newsletter subject lines are challenging to write. But why should we care? Why not just stick something on there and move on? The answer is all about email marketing analytics

We’re not writing email newsletters or marketing emails for no one to read them. People send more than 333 billion emails each day. So most of us get about 100 emails daily. That’s a lot of digital clutter. How do we handle it all? It’s like when we sort our snail mail. We shuffle through the pile and throw away anything that doesn’t look important. Then we open the things that aren’t junk. For email, that sorting is looking through the subject lines in our inboxes. 

Almost half of people claim they decide whether to open an email based on the subject line. And 69% of people will report an email as spam based on the subject line alone. In short, your email’s subject line is the difference between your message being read and considered or not.

Crafting Email Subject Lines That Get Attention

Ok, now we know that email subject lines matter to our newsletter’s open rate. But we already knew that which is why we’re putting so much pressure on ourselves to write them well, right? How do we craft email subject lines that get attention? Here are some tips.

Best practices for writing email subject lines:

  • Keep It Short. Length matters when it comes to writing subject lines. Subject lines of six to 10 words are best. People open them 21% of the time. More than 10 words decreases the open rate substantially.
  • Limit Punctuation. Don’t use more than three punctuation marks or special characters in your email subject line, or the message will look like spam.
  • Use Emojis. Your message is more likely to get attention in the recipients’ inboxes and be opened if the subject line includes an emoji. But only use one for the best results.
  • Include Numbers. If your email content is numerical, or you can pull a vital number, do it! Email subject lines with numbers result in more opens and engagement.
  • Use Power Words. Use power words in your email subject line to attract attention and evoke emotion, like “timeless” in this example.
  • Display the Offer. If your email includes a promotion, state it simply in the subject line. Discounts are intriguing.
  • Announce Something. If you have an announcement of a new product or service or upcoming event in your email, include that information in your subject line. New things, first, upcoming, or soon are likely to cause pause.
  • Use Action Verbs. Action verbs automatically make your subject line seem more engaging and worthy of clicking. 
  • Sound Exclusive. People like to feel unique and special. Address them by their name or you, then use words like “invited” or “welcome” as if you’re speaking directly to them about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
  • Ask a Question. Ask a question that you know the audience has and that the email’s content answers.
  • Avoid All Caps. Screaming into people’s inboxes doesn’t make them want to open your message. Avoid using all caps, multiple exclamation points, or excessive punctuation.
  • Test Them. About half of marketers say they A/B test email subject lines. But what better way to know what your audience responds to most? This number should be higher.

The Subject Line Writing Process

We have a pretty good list above of commonly shared advice about what to do or not do with email subject lines. But they really just provide more rules around our writing. AKA: more pressure to get subject lines right. So, how do we go about writing them?

To write email subject lines:

  • Consider Purpose. Why are you sending this email? What is the purpose or desired outcome of it? What’s the Call-to-Action, based on what you want readers to do after reading. If you’re only sending the email because it’s a particular day of the week, you need more strategy. 
  • Think Audience. Why does your audience need the information in this email? How will it help them? What do they get for taking the time to open and read it? 
  • Draft Options. Based on what you know about the message, its intent, and the audience, brainstorm some subject line options. I suggest you write a little list, then hone in on the version that follows best practices and is most likely to incite action from the audience.
  • Test the Best. Have a couple of good options? Test them out and note the differences in performance for future subject line writing.

Another consideration: Does your email campaign management system have a subject line tester? Many of them do. Test out your best couple of options and follow the advice it provides.

10 Best Email Subject Line Examples

The best email subject line for your organization is the one that gets your audience’s attention and encourages them to open and read the message. You could do that with a lot of different types of messages. But here are some excellent subject line examples to get your creative juices flowing.

1. Impact

Subject lines with impact intrigue the reader by telling them what they could do to make the world or a situation better. They encourage a helping action to impact the world, like this message I received from the Komen Foundation telling me that a donor will quadruple my donation if I make one within a specific time frame.

2. Sales

A lot of companies send messages about ongoing sales. People love a bargain. But another type of sales email reminds you that you may want to make a purchase now that you make regularly. This message I received from Shipt grocery delivery is a good example. They’re reminding me to order groceries and take advantage of weekly sales.

3. FOMO

People don’t want to miss out on something everyone has or is doing. Fear of Missing Out is a major motivator for people to at least open and read an email. Pier 1’s message is an example of a sales email (note the “savings” and percentage) that creates FOMO by adding “today only.” 

4. Curiosity

Ask a question or inspire recipients to want to click to find out something like this example from Amy Porterfield. Yes, Amy, I want to know what your husband, Hobie, is doing. I don’t know why, but now I feel like I need to know.

Or this one from Ashley Looker. I don’t know if overwhelm and joy coexist. I’ve never thought about it, but now I’m curious.

5. Humor

Who doesn’t want a little humor in a “can you do this for me” list? I don’t think Muck Rack is writing about humorous news here, but the subject line made me pause and think “truly.” Haven’t we all been thinking this about the news for a while?

6. Helping

A helping subject line tells the reader, “Here’s information you may want or need to know.” For example, who doesn’t want to put their life in easy mode? Also, most of us likely want to know the day’s news in as simple a way as possible.

7. Personalized

As noted above, personalizing a message makes it more likely to get opened. But the personalization doesn’t have to include a name. Look how Copyblogger provided personalization without addressing me directly.

8. Time Sensitive

These subject lines make announcements or tie in with some timely event. Like this one from Barnes and Noble. Yikes! I do need a Mother’s Day gift. And, you’re right, a book would be perfect.

9. How To

We love to learn how to do new things. We especially love thinking reading an email can solve a pain point. Using how-to in the subject line almost guarantees that an email will get read.

10. Authority

We want information from someone who knows. Note how Hailey from Buffer establishes her credibility to speak about business in a subject line.

Let Content Journey Help

It’s not easy to write email subject lines that get attention. We work on it too! I hope you found this advice helpful. If you want to focus your time on growing your business and leave the writing to us, contact us today about writing your email newsletter, subject lines, and all.

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