Get Opened: 10 Tips for Effective Subject Lines

Create a great subject line

Create a great subject line

Don’t waste your time writing a great email message… unless you have the right subject line.

You’ve got a killer offer and a well-crafted message. Great. But you might as well dump it in the trash now unless you write an effective subject line. Until your prospect opens your email, nothing will be read, clicked on or converted. Your subject line is often the linchpin of the entire campaign, so here are 10 tips to help you avoid dismal open rates.

Think Headline

Newspaper headlines offer great tutorials for writing effective subject lines. They convey the most important information about the article in limited space. You only have about 50 characters to make your point and inspire action in your subject line.

Review Your “From” Line

Your “from” line appears with your subject line, so don’t ignore the information it conveys. There’s no need to waste valuable space repeating your company name if it’s in the “from” slug. Also, ensure your “from” line is clearly from a trustworthy source. Your name or company name is preferred; a cutesy nickname or URL like “get great free stuff” is sure to trigger spam filters and skepticism.

Make It Urgent

A deadline and sense of urgency work to increase the open rate of your emails. Phrases like “in the next 24 hours” or “today” inspire recipients to open it immediately. Don’t presume they’ll be willing to go back to it later.

Pique Curiosity

Subject lines like “We made a huge mistake” will get readers wondering what the mistake was and, human nature being what it is, will click to find out. But be careful. Don’t make your headlines like those on the tabloids. Make certain your inside message delivers on your subject line promise.

Actionable Verbs

Subject lines are calls to action. With only 50 characters, start with an action verb that speaks to the readers’ benefit. Use words like discover, learn, boost, improve, increase, protect, fight, etc.

Personalize… or Not?

Personalization has long been a powerful marketing tool, and technology makes it easy. However, because it’s so easy, plenty of folks are personalizing, and prospects are beginning to associate personalization with mass mailing. Think about it: Who uses someone’s name in the subject line of an email to a friend?

On the flip side, there’s power in a name. In the words of Dale Carnegie, “Remember that a man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” One last thought before you personalize: Make certain your data base supports it. If the majority of your records are missing data in the fields you want to tap, forego it. “Valued customer” is worse than no personalization.

Don’t Overdo Caps and Punctuation

“READ THIS NOW!!!!!” is a subject line that’s headed right for the spam filter or trash. Overuse of capital letters and punctuation always comes off like the carnival hawker and does nothing to inspire trust. Also, don’t feel the need to use title case capitalization for your subject line (e.g. Discover the Secret to Increasing Revenue Today). Depending on your copy, sentence case punctuation may improve readability (e.g. I have something to share about revenue increases.)

Watch Trigger Words

Spam filters watch for specific trigger words, so avoid words like sale, guaranteed, click here, call now, act now and subscribe. “Free” is definitely a trigger word when it leads your subject line, appears in all caps or is followed by an explanation point. Some folks avoid using it at all, but readers still react to “free.” It is a psychological trigger.

Use a Spam Tester

There are plenty of free sites you can use to test your subject lines against spam filters. Search “free spam tester” and test your subject lines. Some will check your entire message. Experiment with variations of your subject line.

Test, Test, Test

Despite the spam checkers’ use of a specified formula and trigger words, there is no simple formula for writing an effective subject line. What works great for one campaign may bomb on another. It’s important to test, test and test again!

If you find yourself struggling to write an effective subject line (as well as the entire message) or if you can’t even find the time in your schedule to try, contact me at or 484-769-8897. I’ll be happy to work with you to develop email subject lines and campaigns that will generate the results you want.

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