Writing Quality Subject Lines

One of the most important elements of your email marketing campaign is the subject line. As an email marketer, you get only 35-40 characters and a few seconds of time to stand out to the recipient in his or her inbox with an eye-catching subject line. Understanding the dynamics behind an effective subject line is a valuable skill that can have a dramatic impact on the response rates of your email marketing campaign. Every subject line in every email counts. Taking the time needed to create an alluring and persuasive subject line is time well spent because as many as half of email recipients say that the subject line is the number one factor (more important to some recipients than who the email is from) that determines whether they open an email, delete an email, or even mark an email as spam.

 Why the Subject Line is so Crucial to Your Campaign's Success

Let's look at why the subject line is so crucial to executing the type of email marketing campaign that will make your business grow.

  • First impressions. Your subject line is the first line of communication between you and what you want (a response from the recipient). If you do not capture the recipient's attention, your message will never be heard.
  • Your subject line helps your email to stand out from the crowd. There are so many "spam" emails out there - which makes most people alert to scams and unsolicited offers. Like yourself, those people who receive your marketing emails are busy and they often have time only for things that interest them. Your subject line has to create that interest - or invoke a need or a want in the recipient or its destined for the trash folder.
  • A properly designed email subject line will help your email slide past the spam filters in most email programs. Most email servers have a spam blocker that catches certain phrases (read more on that below). Steering clear of these typical phrases is vital to avoid having your messages treated as spam.
  • Your subject line helps you to connect more personally with the recipient. The best subject lines actually look as if your email is in response to a customer's inquiry or other request, or may even look as if a friend has sent the email. The use of numbers is also highly effective - such as "Save 30%" or "Top 5", etc. An effective subject line causes the recipient to make an immediate connection.

 Preparing Your Subject Line

Because the subject line symbolizes your only "shot" in some instances to have your message heard, these design dynamics will help your subject lines stand out from the host of others who will be jockeying for attention in your potential customer's and client's inboxes:

  • Your subject line must be relevant to your email's contents - its task is to suggest the main purpose behind your email marketing message.
  • Ideally, your subject line should consist of no more than 35-40 characters (although some email programs will display the first 50 characters of the subject line). This total includes spaces and punctuation - so make an accurate count. The smaller the character count, the better the results in most cases - even 20-30 characters is sufficient if you're creative.
  • Be specific in your subject line, not generic. A subject line such as "July 2009 Newsletter" will not really appeal to most recipients - unless they've been avidly watching for the newsletter to arrive (which is doubtful in most cases). You want to attract attention and stimulate action on the part of the recipient with your subject line.
  • Test out different types of subject lines to see which works the best for you (you can test two or more at any one time and during one campaign). This will give you a basis for future campaigns.
  • Avoid spam-triggering words in the subject line - such as "free" or "offer available for a limited time" or "deep discount" or "mortgage" or "guaranteed". Never use all capitals (you appear to be screaming into cyberspace) and use only minimal punctuation or no punctuation at all. Avoid tacky "!" that make your message appear child-like.