Email Marketing: Tips from your peers about writing subject lines


How can marketers and copywriters create subject lines that improve clickthrough rate?

We’ll share our own discoveries in today’s next Web clinic – “Subject Lines Tested: How to write subject lines that double your clickthrough rate” – at 4 p.m. EDT. In this Web clinic, we’ll share what we learned from a recent experiment in which you, the MarketingExperiments blog readers, wrote the subject line treatments that we tested.

But, before we share what we discovered, let’s take a look at what your peers have learned about writing effective subject lines …

Forget tricks, focus on your audience

I have seen a lot of “tricks” suggested in various articles about how to improve email subject lines. Some say you should include the subscriber’s name. Others say to use a specific number in the text. Some suggest that you should include a question to make readers curious enough to open the message.

In my experience, the most important thing to consider when building a subject line is your audience. What problems and worries keep them up at night? What are they trying to achieve? What frustrations have they stubbed their toe on, time after time?

Once you identify their pain points and aspirations, go on to determine how your product or service can alleviate their frustrations and help them to achieve their goals. Then use these problem-solution pairs to build your content (or to optimize what you already have). This applies to your entire message, from subject lines, to email copy, to landing pages.

If you don’t have the right message, born from a fundamental understanding of your audience, no tricks of the trade can compensate. Even if you lure people into opening your email through crafty subject lines, without tailoring your message to the wants, desires and frustrations of your audience, your conversion rate suffers.

Unless your business model works differently than most of the clients I work with, you don’t get paid for email opens or even for clickthroughs. You get paid for leads captured and sales made. For email marketing, the subject line is extremely important since it’s the beginning of a conversation. However, even the snappiest “pick up line” will only get you so far, unless you back it up with substance.

Steve Myers, senior optimization consultant, Adobe Systems Inc.


Keep it short

Think of your subject line as a tweet – only shoot for shorter. (Most critical info should fall within the first 50 characters so it doesn’t get cut off.)

– Shelly Lucas, senior marketing manager, Dun & Bradstreet


Always test, test, test (here are three ideas to try)

With so much noise in our inbox, here are three tips for standing out.

1. Make sure your customers can instantly recognize your brand and who’s sending it

It’s common to get emails from a brand with multiple sender names. You might get one message from John Scully, another from Mary Lou and then Jessica Lin. This could get real confusing for the subscriber. They may not remember or recognize whom that person is sending on behalf of until seeing the name several times if they even bother opening their emails. They also will have a hard time searching for your emails if they want to find an old one.

Solution: Either have every email sender have the brand name for their email (you guys do this effectively) or put the brand right at the beginning of the subject line, preferably in brackets. Example — From: Daniel Burstein, Subject: [MarketingExperiments] Share A Subject Line Tip & Get Featured

Having the brand in the recipient slot, I think, is better, but the latter is better than nothing, especially when you have a loyal following that looks for your emails.

2. Start some emails with a statement in brackets


[Last Chance] Submit Your Tip in The Next 2 Hours or Miss Out!

[Video] Subject Line Tricks from The Masters

What this does is catch the reader’s attention right away and frames the email. They don’t have to read the whole subject line to get interested. The brackets often do the job. Not to mention, the emails will stand out just because most other subjects likely don’t have brackets.

This leads to my next tip.

3. Be different visually

Forget about how clever the wording is for a minute. If you have a long list of emails that you are looking at, what is going to draw your attention to read the headline because otherwise the wording doesn’t matter much, right?

  • One would be the brackets that I talked about above. They’re different and draw attention.
  • Capitalizing certain words. This will likely help draw attention. All caps could be a bit much.
  • Including numbers, especially big numbers. You don’t see numbers that often in subject lines.
  • Using quotes for certain wordage
  • Being very short, for example “did you get this yet?” or “check it out”

Playing around with these embellishments is a good idea to make you stand out since it is about getting attention first.

Of course, there are tons more, but I’ll stop it there and leave by saying always try new techniques, but never take them as absolutes. Always test, test, test!

Michael A. Schauer, founder and head multiplier, Multiplied Marketing


Related Resources

Subject Lines Tested: How to write subject lines that double your clickthrough rate – Today, May 16 at 4 p.m. EDT

Elements of effective subject lines

Subject Line Test: 125% more unique clickthroughs

Email Research: The 5 best email variables to test

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  1. Anthony Browne says

    Thanks for those suggestions, some interesting tips there, I think I might try out the bracket idea and see how it goes. I would suggest though that you should avoid subject lines like “did you get this yet?” or “check it out”. These phrases reek of spam and if not stopped at a filter would probably get a quick delete from my inbox.

  2. Mike Schauer says

    @Anthony Browne
    Hey Anthony,

    Definitely try the brackets; they work well. To add to the short headlines tip, I would mostly utilize this if you have what I talked about in my first tip, brand recognition. I agree that vagueness can be related to spam, but if they see your name in the sender’s slot & trust you, it’s unlikely they’ll think it’s spam. So if you don’t have rapport, I would avoid that tactic, but if you do, try it. It has the potential to create increased curiosity.

  3. Jeremy Reeves says

    I can’t agree more on adding visual elements to subject lines. I’ve actually never tried brackets but have tried parenthesis, quotes and several other things.

    All work fantastically well 🙂

    Good stuff!

    Jeremy Reeves

  4. Karen Cioffi says

    Great tips, thanks. I never thought of adding visuals to the subject lines.

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