5 Ways To Write An Engaging Email Subject Line

What’s In A Subject?

We’ve all done it. You write an email, maybe to a coworker or family member, and it’s so unimportant or trivial, you leave the subject line blank, paying no mind to creating an engaging email subject line. What happens next? You type out a quick email, hit send, and the lucky recipient gets a message in their inbox that says, “(no subject)”.

First lesson: That is straight rude!

But the second lesson is that we often spend too much time on the body of an email and not nearly enough time on the subject. While you’d never leave the subject line empty on important communications, you likely spend far more time reading and re-reading your internal copy and forget that your first hook is the subject line. The Beatles got away with it on their White Album; why can’t you? Short answer: You are not The Beatles.

So the question for the non-rock-gods remains: What’s in a subject? Below are a few tips to help you improve your open rate. These are obviously most relevant for email marketing campaigns or sales efforts, but we’d suggest applying some in your everyday email life as well. The world could always use a little more clarity.

1. Comedic Timing

You’ve got it: The perfect joke for the subject line.  It’s funny but also subtle. You think, “There should be a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode about this. I wonder how to get in touch with Larry David? Seinfeld was a funny show…”

But when I’m looking for the Exit, I want to see a sign that says “Exit.” No irony. No riddle. Clear language that tells me exactly what to expect when I walk through that door.

An email subject line is no different. A 2011 case study (AWeber Communications) found that, “a clear subject line gets 541% more clicks than one that’s clever.” It’s science, folks. In your subject, tell people exactly what can be found on the other side of the door.

2. Don’t Go to Spam

I have a love/hate relationship with spam filters. On the one hand, they keep my inbox free of clutter. On the other, I’ve had perfectly legitimate emails go to spam, only to find out weeks later.

To ensure your email makes it to the desired recipient, avoid some common subject line mistakes that set off the spam alarms.

Try to avoid the following:

  • Percent off
  • Reminder
  • Help
  • Buy
  • Clearance
  • Earn or make $
  • From home
  • Biz
  • Urgent

There’s no hard and fast rule, but put yourself in your recipient’s shoes and think, “Would a spammer use any of these words to try and trick me?”

3. Short and Sweet

Just like this paragraph, be as clear as possible in as few words as possible.

4. Be Personal

My one-year-old daughter sometimes stops what she’s doing, turns around, and just points at me, for no particular reason at all. When she does, I think, “Why is she pointing at me? What’s with the serious look? What does she know that I don’t know?”

It’s a valuable lesson in subject lines – the more you can make the subject about the recipient, the more curious and likely to open that email they’ll be.  Point your chubby little baby finger right at them, so they know that what’s in the email speaks directly to their needs or wants. DO tell them what’s inside. DON’T sell them on what’s inside.

5. Test It

Too few people test different versions of subject lines. Do an A/B test (which is tech speak for “send the same email to different recipients with different subjects to find out which works better”).

And remember the bottom line: People get lots of emails everyday. Your subject line is your first chance to stand out. Take advantage of it.