Email Subject Line Best Practices

email subject line best practices

If you’ve read any of my recent blog posts, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a big fan of analogies. When looking at your email marketing subject lines, and the best practices that make them great, I often think about it in this way…

Let’s say you’re a contractor who builds houses with the intention of then turning around and selling them. You’ve put so much effort into designing the layout of the structure, choosing the perfect elements (paint, flooring, cabinetry, etc.), creating a beautiful landscape, and getting everything in tip-top shape to put the home on the market.

You’re all set to have an open house, but your signage is confusing. Or inaccurate. Maybe your attempt to attract potential buyers is so blasé, they simply skip over your house and go on to the next.

So, let’s think about this in respect to email marketing. It’s important to do everything you can to invite your audience into your email. To “tour your home” so to speak. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Email Subject Line Best Practices

Yet, many small business owners—coaches, consultants, service providers—spend most of their time only perfecting their email marketing message itself. They toil over the content, calls-to-action (CTAs), and images. Or, they pay someone to do it for them (and then toil some more).

But, they’re often missing one critical component. The key that opens the door to that email content: the subject line. If your audience isn’t reading your subject lines, they’re definitely not reading your emails.

Bottom line: It doesn’t matter how impactful or beautifully designed your email message is, if you don’t have a good handle on composing engaging subject lines – no one is seeing it. So, what can you do?

5 Steps to Better Subject Lines

Here are a few email subject line best practices to help you better capture the attention of your audience (and thus turn a kick-butt subject line into viable revenue).

1) Add Personalization

One of the great things about email marketing is that it’s an opportunity to have one-to-one conversations with your audience (customers, prospects). So why not address them by name? If you use an email marketing deployment platform like MailChimp or Campaign Monitor, you can set up your subject lines with merge tags. This allows you to insert a person’s name with minimal effort.

Personalization doesn’t end there! If you’re in possession of other key data points, such as a birthday or anniversary of when that person became your customer, you can also use that information to tailor subject lines. Or, if you know certain recipients are in a specific geographic area, you might use that to your advantage. For example, if you’re a nutritional consultant who conducts business virtually (and thus anywhere around the country – or world), you might tap into the seasons for some clients. “Top 10 healthy comfort foods as we head into winter” or something like that.

The goal with any sort of personalization is to make your audience feel valued. An email addressed directly to them also stands out within increasingly crowded inboxes. It also reinforces the trifecta of email marketing: sending the right content, at the right time, to the right person.

In an era when consumers, both B2C and B2B, are not just wanting more personalization from the brands they buy from but actually expecting it, not using personalization in your subject lines is a huge missed opportunity.

2) Consider “Power” Words

Research on email marketing reveals that the average person receives over 100 emails per day. That’s a lot of “noise” to have to rise above. If all your recipients had to do all day was spend time in their inboxes, that wouldn’t be such a challenge. But, those same people have jobs, families, school. They’re likely just as short on time as you are as a business owner!

In addition to personalization, there are various power words that have been proven to make an emotional and psychological impact via email subject lines. These choice words work to pique one’s curiosity, instill trust, tap into vanity, and generate FOMO (fear of missing out).

Some power words might be specific to your industry, while others are influential across the board. Here are just a few examples, in each of the four categories…

  • Curiosity: Unexpected, Forbidden, Top Secret
  • Trust: Accredited, No Strings Attached, Scientifically Proven
  • Vanity: Jaw-Dropping, Brilliant, Courageous
  • FOMO: Limited, Tick-Tock, Exclusive

Some might argue these words could evoke a feeling of inauthenticity, but when used in the right way, they help your subject line stand out from the crowd. Alternatively, stay away from words that might trigger your email as SPAM. Hubspot offers this “Ultimate List of 394 Email Spam Trigger Words” you might consider for reference.

3) Brevity Is Your Friend

The average amount of time given to an entire email message is 10-15 seconds. For the whole thing! That means you have to grab your audience with your subject line in those precious first seconds to even get them to open the darn thing.

Best practices state subject lines should be no more than 60 characters, although some researchers say that seven words and 41 characters is the real sweet spot. This takes into account the fact that many people are checking emails on a mobile device.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t use all of the email “real estate” to your advantage. Include additional relevant information or power words in your preview text. Here’s a sample of what that might look like:

  • Subject Line: Top Secret: For Mary’s Eyes Only
  • Preview Text: Your exclusive offer is waiting, but it won’t last forever.

4) Test Subject Line Performance

Here’s where I often lose people… A common misconception surrounding marketing is that testing is complicated, or timely, or produces unidentifiable results. While some marketing activities are complex in regard to testing, it’s actually super simple to assess email subject line performance.

In fact, a lot of email platforms do some of the work for you! Most will allow you to try two subject lines at once and send the bulk of your emails to the subject line that gets the most opens. This is one version of A/B testing. It’s an effective, easy way to see how small tweaks in subject line copy can make a significant difference.

[P.S. I’ll be delving into more about A/B testing in October, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for that forthcoming blog!]

5) Tread Lightly with Emojis

There’s not doubt we’re living in a more “casual” world these days. People often write emails in text speak, get their news from social media, and rely on emojis to convey emotions.

If I could just offer a word of caution in subject line emoji use (or overall email marketing emoji use) it would be to consider this: You are still a business selling to your audience. They are looking to you as an authority. Whether you sell silly doodads or provide financial advice, you’re respected as a professional.

That said, emojis may be appropriate in certain circumstances. You know your business best, so use your best judgment. Should you decide to include emojis in your email subject lines, these best practices are good to consider:

  • Use only one emoji at a time in each subject line.
  • Replace words with emojis (rather than supplementing them).
  • Make sure to test how emojis appear. Operating systems might render them differently.

Start with the Subject Line…

Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to engage your audience, build trust among customers and prospects, and ultimately add to your bottom line. But again, it doesn’t matter how brilliant your email messaging is or how dazzling it appears if your subject line doesn’t entice an open. These tips have been proven time and again to improve email marketing performance, so why not give them a try?

If you’re following all of these subject line best practices and still not seeing the results you’d like from your email marketing efforts, the expert team at Crackerjack Marketing can help you get on track. In fact, email marketing is a key focus of the Business Marketing Blueprint program. If you’d like more information about that, make sure to get in touch with us here.

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Sylvia Anderson

Sylvia fashions herself a “content chameleon,” having dipped her toe (okay, whole leg) in the pools of various genres and mediums. Her ability to adapt her voice to copywriting, social media, screenwriting, non-fiction children’s books, blogging, podcasting, and poetry makes her a “Jane of All Trades” when it comes to the content scope. Raised on a dairy farm in rural Minnesota, Sylvia has since become an official Angeleno–residing in Los Angeles, CA for the last 15 years–where she *attempts* to stay cool (but enjoys being able to run outside nearly every day). When she’s not writing, running, or watching sports, she delights in the company of her two fur baby kitties, Mac and Cam.