The Quick and Easy Guide to Writing Irresistible Email Subject Lines

Being ignored hurts.

It’s one thing when you write a blog post that doesn’t get much traffic, or you share something on social media and nobody responds. After all, there’s always the chance that people just didn’t notice it, and it slipped by your audience.

But your emails? That’s another thing entirely! You KNOW that an email got delivered. You KNOW that someone saw it show up in their inbox. And you KNOW whether they opened it or sent it straight to the trash after one look at the subject line.

Ouch, right?

After all, you work hard on the emails you send out to your list! Whether it’s a regular newsletter or a special announcement, you put time, energy, and lotsa love into making something you think your audience will appreciate. So when they ignore it or mark it as trash without so much as a click, it hurts.

Here’s the thing, though:

You won’t get more people to read your emails by writing better emails.

Sure, you could say to yourself, “If I just start writing really good, valuable emails, people will read them!”

But they won’t.

And it’s all because the biggest hurdle to improving your email marketing is also the very first one you have to clear:

You have to learn how to write better subject lines.

It doesn’t matter how good an email is if the subject line is a dud – that’s what convinces someone to open the email in the first place! Basically, whatever you put in that subject line may very well be THE most important part of any email you send out (no pressure).

That in mind, there are certain things you HAVE to consider when you’re writing subject lines for your emails. If you focus on these key areas, you can give your open rates a serious boost!

1. Avoid triggering spam filters

Spammers really ruin things for the rest of us, huh? Spam artists are such a ridiculously huge problem that most email portals, like Gmail, have built-in filters that identify and isolate the junk mail they send. That’s why your inbox stays so clutter-free, and when you look at your spam folder, you see something like this:

A look into a spam folder

There are a lot of ways that your email service determines what’s spam and what’s not, and one of them is looking for words and phrases typically associated with spam emails. Unfortunately, these words and phrases change over time, so there’s no definitive “do not use” list that will help you avoid the filters.

What you CAN do, however, is get creative. See, humans have built-in spam filters, too – we learn to recognize certain words and phrases and determine their value (this even happens subconsciously). So when you open up your inbox and see a bunch of emails with phrases like “Help us” or “Percent off,” your brain knows not to pay attention. Either the sender wants you to go out of your way to do something, or they’re trying to push a sale – and most of the time, you don’t want to deal with either one.

Same goes for style, too. Do you like reading messages WITH A WHOLE BUNCH OF CAPITALIZED LETTERS, LIKE THE SENDER IS SHOUTING AT YOU AT THE TIPPY-TOP OF THEIR LUNGS? And I bet when someone includes a million exclamation points, you don’t really love that, either!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Whether or not something triggers an email provider’s spam filter, it can trigger a human’s. You can get around this by being natural in your subject line and arousing curiosity, rather than trying to force excitement. Your subject line doesn’t have to tell the WHOLE story – just enough to get someone to click. And if it sounds like your message is an advertisement? Well, it’ll probably be treated like one.

Side note: Make sure that every single email you send has a simple, clear opt-out link for anyone who may want to remove themselves from your list. If you don’t, they’re likely to just mark your email as spam so that they don’t have to deal with it in the future – and if you rack up enough of those, email providers will just start shuffling your messages into the spam folder based on your reputation.

2. Don’t make your subject lines too long

You know that when it comes to writing titles for my blog posts, I can get a little bit carried away. With email subject lines, on the other hand, bigger is NOT always better – in fact, it can be way, way worse!

Only the first 60 characters or so of your subject line will display in someone’s inbox. And that’s if they’re reading on a computer – if they check their email on a phone, they could see as little as 25-30 characters.

What does that mean for you? Make it short and make it count! Don’t waste space on being verbose – get to the point, and get there FAST. Just how fast? Take a look at how long those character counts really are:

30 characters: This is thirty characters. OK?

60 characters: Readers typically only see 60 or so characters at most. Yep.

And that’s it! Of course, not every subject line HAS to fit the whole way, but if you’re going to go over, make sure that you’re front-loading it with the important information rather than saving it for the end. Otherwise, it’ll probably get missed altogether.

3. Use your “from” line wisely

If you received a thick envelope in the mail marked “deals inside,” and you didn’t recognize the name of the sender, would you open it? Proooobably not. (Nor should you.) That’s why when it comes to emails, it isn’t just what you receive that matters – it’s who you receive it from.

Make sure that the name in the “from” line accurately reflects the origin of your message.

For example, when I send out my weekly newsletter, The Dash, I make sure that you know it’s coming from me directly:

The Dash sample

If the from line said something like “LKR Social Media,” it would be less accurate, less personal, and less likely to be opened! Of course, there are also times when you may want to be more official in your “from” line, and give the name of your company, instead – think things like bills and technical support.

Whichever you choose, make sure that it’s appropriate, it’s consistent, and it looks good – no typos, capiche?

4. Encourage action

Admit it – when you open up your email inbox and see a gazillion new messages, it sucks. And you probably hunt for anything that looks like it can be ignored, so it doesn’t distract you from the important stuff.

Well, if you’re going to send a marketing email, it has to look like it belongs with the important stuff – not the “I’ll ignore this and/or worry about it later” stuff.

Don’t allow your reader to look at your email and think, “this can wait.”

There are plenty of ways you can encourage your reader to take action sooner rather than later, and the first is to set a literal deadline. Make it clear that time is limited, and whatever offer is inside the email may not last.

If you’re going to do that, though, the body of the email had better deliver – because otherwise you’re likely to lose your reader’s trust (and it’s haaaaaaard to get that back). If your subject line says that a sale is ending soon, but it really ends in three weeks, that’s a violation of trust – just remember that honesty is the best policy, ‘k?

Besides, that isn’t the only way to convince your reader to take action right away. Stoking curiosity is an effective method of encouraging action. Here, check out another example from The Dash:

The Dash make them curious

There’s absolutely no reason that the reader NEEDS to open this email right away, but doesn’t that subject line make you curious? Aren’t you willing to open that email to find out just what the heck I’m talking about? (I mean, I sure hope you are.)

Point is, curiosity is a motivator just as much as time. And speaking of time, another way to motivate your audience to open an email is to promise a low time commitment.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, think of it this way. If you saw an email with the subject line “Please take our customer survey,” would you open it? Who KNOWS how long that survey is! You could be here all day! But what if it said, “Please take our two-question customer survey”? That can’t be so bad, now can it?

You see this all the time with tech companies promising no-hassle account creation. “Complete your registration in 90 seconds” is considerably more inviting than just “Complete your registration,” because your audience has no idea what they’re getting into from the latter. By telling your audience right off the bat that your email will NOT take up much of their time, you can help move it from the “I’ll worry about this later (or never)” pile to the “I’ll check this out now” pile.

5. Control who you send your emails to

Before Hollywood releases a movie, they show unfinished versions of it to small focus groups, so they can use their feedback to make revisions and improve the final product.

When you send marketing emails, you can do the exact same thing! By sending an email to a smaller section of your list and seeing how those people respond, you can make revisions that will improve your open rate with everyone else.

Seth Godin recommends sending out a few small batches of 20 or so before really pulling the trigger and sending something to your whole list. This allows you to do a little testing, see what works and what doesn’t, then share your most effective stuff with a great big audience.

Open rates still not amazing after that? You might also try segmenting your list, so that you’re sending different emails to different groups of people. This is beneficial for companies that reach a wide range of different demographics – by segmenting lists by things like interests or past purchasing behavior, they ensure that they’re sending the most relevant messages to the right people.

Now get emailing!

Now that you know some of the best ways to optimize your email subject lines and boost your open rates, start thinking about the next message you want to send out!

Got any tips of your own? Want to run a few possible subject lines by everyone and see which one’s the best? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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About Laura Roeder

Laura Roeder is a social media marketing expert who gives businesses of all sizes the tools they need to make their mark on the web. She is the creator of the social media scheduling software Edgar, as well as social media marketing web courses like Creating Fame and Social Brilliant.