A good subject line is what stands between you and the delete button
2 AUG 20170
The typical inbox is a wasteland. A craggy post-apocalyptic ruin dotted with unread LinkedIn updates, yawning chasms of unwanted spam, and a few oasis of essential updates and correspondence you actually want to read. It's enough to make anybody take a Mad Max approach to their inbox – drive fast, run over everything that stands in your way.
So how do you make your emails stand out? How do you make sure your expertly crafted lead generation tool or campaign isn't just another bump in the road your prospects drive right over?
The secret is in the subject line.
A lot of businesses, particularly those in sales or tech, tend to take the subject line for granted. There is a lot of casual posturing. I know I can look at my own inbox at any time and probably spot more than a few "just checking in” mails that seem all seem equally identical or disposable. Or, the tragically vague phrase "just following up.” If I don't recognize the name, I just assume the only thing they want to follow up on is spam I righteously deleted a week ago. These are zombie emails, and nobody has time for zombies.
With subject lines so milquetoast, it doesn't matter how could the contents of the mail are. You may have a killer pitch, a great deal, or a fantastic product, but nobody will ever know. Your open rates are going to hover depressingly close to zero and the whole thing will be a wasted effort. It may seem sad, but the subject line is your first and greatest obstacle. The number one thing that will determine whether your mailing campaign is a success or failure.
If you're not obsessing over your subject lines, you're doing it wrong.
Writing a great subject line isn't a science. It's a skill you have to hone through practice and experimentation. Keep the following pointers in mind next time you're trying to think up an enticing line that will convince prospects to open your mail.
Keep it brief
Data metrics have routinely shown that short subject lines are better than long-winded ones. We're talking 40-50 characters give or take. That's not very much to work with. It's less than half a tweet, and think about how many times you've had to massage the grammar or trim words to fit a good goof into a single tweet. 40-50 characters only gives you somewhere around six to eight words to work with.
Break out the speed bag, you're going to need to get punchy.
Concision is a skill all of its own. If you know the concept of an elevator pitch, describing your entire business or product in the time it takes to ride an elevator down the lobby, then writing a great subject line is a free-fall pitch; making your case in the time it takes to fall face first down an empty elevator shaft. Thankfully, there are some tricks to help create short, but enticing, subject lines.
Ask a question. Questions are short, to the point, and elicit a gut response to either answer them or find out more. You need to ask something your customer will want to answer. Enticing ideas like "what do your competitors know that you don't?” "What are your best employees worth?” "What if you had to close your doors tomorrow?” will get a better response than "here are what is trending in your field” "your employees are valuable” or (ugh) "we offer business interruption insurance.”
Get personal. Personalization has been kind of a buzzword in online marketing for the past couple of years, but despite all the hacky takes on it, the basic idea is still powerful. Nothing grabs attention like someone's own name. Go to any crowded place and say "John!” in a loud voice, and I guarantee someone will look over their shoulder with a big silly "me?” expression on their face. I know when I browse my email, the subject lines that jump out to me all include me name. That's not because I'm a raging narcissist (I'm an amateur at best), but because I'm human. We're raised from a young age to pay attention when someone uses our name.
Whenever possible, direct your emails to your recipients personally. Even a short, vague message like "how can I help, Nic?” is going to get more of a response than just "how can I help?”
Groom your preview text
If the subject line is the first hurdle to jump, your preview text is the second. On it's own, preview text tends to get glazed over when people check their mail, but when married to a provocative subject line, it might just be what you need to convince a user to open the mail fully.
When done right, your preview text can help bolster your subject line. As you already have the customer's attention, you don't need to worry about the length of the line and are free to get a little more into the weeds.
Just don't make it an obnoxious two-part call and response thing between the subject line and preview text. People hate that. Speaking of...
Don't fall for "weird tricks”
A lot of advice about subject lines and content out there is embarrassingly shallow and outdated. Any marketer still extolling the virtues of click bait-esq attention grabbers like "one weird trick” or "free iPad inside” needs to be taken out back and hit with a shovel. Don't squander your chance to make a good impression to your customer by trotting out some lame, tired, formula you read in the back of a 2008 Business Insider while waiting for the dentist.
Be authentic, get personal, and represent your business directly and clearly. Don't make your reader guess at what's inside the email like an episode of "What's in the Box?” or tease something you won't be delivering.
A good subject line is just a matter of being interesting, punchy, and clear. Accomplish those goals, and your emails will be saved from the trash folder.