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How to write a good subject line

How to write the right subject line

August 2014

When it comes to email marketing, first impressions count—and that first impression is your email subject line. If your business uses email for marketing purposes, it’s important to know that subject lines are the chief driver for a subscriber’s decision to open and read your message. Higher open rates increase conversion and retention rates, which means more revenue for your business. The more accurate you are in matching the expectation you’ve set with your subject line to the message inside, the more conversions you’ll achieve and the more loyal and responsive your subscribers will be in the long term.
 
With that in mind, here are a few ways you can produce subject lines that will entice and engage your subscribers:
 
Begin with an optimal character count
According to a recent study, subject lines with six to ten words performed best, with a 21 percent open rate; five words or less came in at 16 percent [1]. When you think about what your email looks like on your phone, your tablet, or even on your desktop, this makes sense. Long subject lines get cut off, and your subscribers miss part of your message. It’s also important to keep in mind that 51 percent of emails are opened on a mobile device [2], and small mobile screens rarely tolerate subject lines longer than 50 characters (click here for more tips  on optimizing your emails for mobile).
 
Use crafty copy to captivate and convert
If you haven’t already, now is the time for your small business to consider what its brand voice is. Would your subscribers respond to language that’s cheeky and fun, or should you be straightforward? If your brand is relaxed, emoticons are a cute way to catch someone’s eye—or maybe try a two- or three-word subject line to get their attention. Other tricks include urgency (particularly effective if you have a sale or event that’s ending soon) and personalizing an email with a subscriber’s first name.
 
Don’t forget the preheader and “From” line
The preheader and “From” line play important roles, too. In mobile and webmail environments, the preheader (sometimes known as the snippet) is the grayed-out text that immediately follows the subject line. If a subject line opens the door, think of the preheader as giving you a nudge inside. In other words, it’s a great place to insert a secondary message or value proposition that you may not have had space for in the subject line. It’s also important to keep your “From” line consistent (usually the name of your business)—that way subscribers can add you to their address books, and you can avoid landing in their spam boxes.
 
Avoid spam triggers
Speaking of spam, there are hundreds of words and phrases that will land your emails in the spam box. A few examples include “free” (and extra spammy variations like “f r e e”), “money,” “you have been selected,” “congratulations,” and dollar signs. But there are plenty of ways to avoid spam triggers and get the same point across. Try “freebie” instead of “free,” or “congrats” instead of “congratulations.” And remember that these are just guidelines. A sender’s credibility is far more important than a potential spam trigger in the subject line [3]. There are free tools that will rate your subject lines for quality, too—check out subjectline.com to get started.
 
There’s no magic bullet
If someone invented a fool-proof formula for the perfect subject line, she’d be very rich indeed. As it stands, different approaches work for different businesses, and through trial and error you’ll figure out what’s best for yours. Be sure to A/B test your subject lines whenever possible to see what appeals to your subscribers. Also, don’t forget to keep email fatigue in mind. A subject line that’s working this month may not work next month. Subject lines are moving targets, but as long as you never stop experimenting, your email marketing strategy will stay ahead of the game.
 
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[1] Retention Science, New Research Reveals Which Email Subject Lines Perform Best for Marketers, March 4, 2014
[2] Litmus, Email Client Market Share: Where People Opened in 2013, January 16, 2014
[3] LinkedIn, Building a good sender reputation, March 7, 2014

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