The Dos and Don’ts of Email Subject Lines You Should Know

Whether you goal is to get your prospects to click on an email, hit subscribe, or call your business, it is your job as the writer of your copy to convince your reader that it is in their best interests to follow through on your call to action.

One of the most critical areas to write effective copy just happens to be in your headlines.

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Headlines are used in many different capacities. Whether you’re writing a blog post title, a sales page headline, an email subject line, or writing copy for a Facebook ad, you need strong and convincing headlines.

In fact, when it comes to email, your headline or subject line may be the single most important thing you write.

Email is second-to-none when it comes to converting and making sales. Just check out some of these facts:

  • Email marketing yields an average 4,300% return on investment for businesses in the United States. (Direct Marketing Association)
  • Marketers consistently ranked email as the single most effective tactic for awareness, acquisition, conversion, and retention. (Gigaom Research)
  • Email is nearly 40 times better than Facebook and Twitter at acquiring customers. (McKinsey & Company)
  • You have just 3-4 seconds to grab your readers’ attention and interest them enough to open and read your email. (Litmus)

But in order to take advantage of this amazing selling tool, you have to get people to actually open your email. And to do that, you must write a compelling subject line.

To help ensure that every email you send out has a compelling headline, I’ve compiled an Email Subject Lines worksheet that you can download here for free.

Be specific and useful.

Email subject lines are short, especially on mobile devices that can only display a limited number of characters.

So you must distill your email subject lines down to the most important information.

The MailChimp people say it perfectly: “When it comes to email marketing, the best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst subject lines sell what’s inside.”

Using splashy, salesy words and tons of emoji could get your message marked as spam — and almost certainly will make people less likely to want to open it.

What you do want to do is make a promise, ask a question, or tease your content just a little bit. By doing so, you’re opening up a curiosity gap that will entice people to open your email and satisfy their curiosity.

You can apply my Easy 4 U headline formula to help you brainstorm ideas, but remember that an email subject line will be shorter than a blog post or article headline.

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Email subject Dos and Don’ts

Now that you’ve got the basics, keep these dos and don’ts in mind when crafting your next email subject line:

Do:

  • Keep it short. According to an analysis of more than 200 million emails by MailChimp, subjects that had between 28 and 39 characters had the most opens. Definitely keep it under 50.
  • Show who it is from. The two biggest factors influencing open rates are the organization the email is from (64%) and the subject line (47%). (Chadwick Martin Bailey) So be sure it’s easy to tell who your emails are from and what they’re about. That’s why I use [The Edit] when I email my articles to you.
  • Use the recipient’s name or location in the headline. Personalization like this is easy with most email software and makes your subscriber more likely to open. Personalized promotional mailings have 29% higher unique open rates and 41% higher unique click rates than non-personalized mailings. (Experian)
  • Phrase your subject as a question, and make it relevant to the problems or pain points your customer experiences.
  • Be visually different. Try using brackets, emoji, special characters, capital letters (just one or two words) and other visual ways to stand out in an inbox.
  • Use timely topics. If you mention a pop culture or news event that’s already on their mind, they’re likely to want to click.
  • Use urgency sparingly. It works well when you really have something urgent or time sensitive to say, but overuse it and people will ignore you.
  • Be yourself! Some of your brand voice should naturally flow into your email subject lines.

Don’t:

  • Use FW: or RE: to make it look as though you’re already having an email conversation.
  • Ask for help. People have become wary of this tactic because so many email marketers used it in a scammy way.
  • Send an “oops! Here’s the right link,” email when you didn’t actually make a mistake. For some reason, some marketers latched onto this tactic recently, and it feels very scammy.
  • Overuse numbers (like 50% off) in your subjects. Like urgency, these work once in a while, but overuse them, and you come off seeming overly salesy.
  • Use tons of emoji.  Using one or two visual characters can be a good way to set yourself apart, but doing it all the time or using a ton makes you look spammy.
  • Skip the spam check. All reputable email providers have spam checking tools built in, so use them and adjust your subject lines accordingly.

In short, your subject lines should help set your subscribers’ expectations about what the email will contain and pique their interest enough to encourage them to open it.  But we should never write email subject lines like advertisements.

Ready to send your next email? Download the Email Subject Lines Worksheet first to ensure that you’re giving your message its best opportunity to be read.

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