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Subject Lines: A Few Words Can Make or Break Your Campaign


Email marketing. Love it, hate it, it's here to stay. (Well, at least for now or at least until we all have Google glasses surgically attached to our heads.) 

So, let's start at the very beginning: subject lines.

When we talk to old school (read, direct mail) marketers about email, one of the first things we do is compare subject lines to something they're already very familiar with: outer envelopes. Just like an OE, your subject line needs to grab attention and encourage/convince/implore the recipient to open your message. If a mail package's outer envelope doesn't achieve that, the package ends up in the bin in about 7 seconds. 

If an email's subject line doesn't achieve it, the email is trashed even faster.

Google "Subject Lines" and you'll find lots of lists by lots of different self-described "email gurus." Sorry to say, but there's no silver bullet. A subject line that works gangbusters for one brand might evoke a yawn about another. And, effective subject lines are also tied to advances in technology. When recipient's names first appeared in subject lines (we're talking about mass emailings, not email from your mum), open and click-through rates went up. Now, not so much. Same with emojis.

For each campaign, it's a good idea to generate more subject lines than you need. That way, you can test them and/or easily replace them when they get tired.

Trends aside, here are several best practices that can get you started:

1. Be simple: no-nonsense lines tend to work best

2. Be brief: browsers cut your line off after 6-8 words

3. Use numbers when possible

4. Avoid ALL CAPS unless you want to be perceived as SCREAMING

5. Avoid humor most of the time — unless it's appropriate and unless you're very good at it

6. Offer a solution to a problem

7. Include a deadline if relevant

8. Test using the recipient's first name (but see note above)

9. Eliminate any extra words — don't worry about full sentences here

10. Imagine that your subject line is a newspaper headline — would you keep reading?

Your subject line should be able to stand alone. That said, whatever your subject line promises needs to be delivered within the body copy of your email. If the two don't align, your audience will not only lose interest; they may get pissed off. 

And, in either case, you may lose a sale.

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