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22 October 2015 Published in Marketing

How To Construct A Bulletproof Email Subject Line

Email marketing is still considered one of the most powerful and engaging tools at the disposal of a marketer. A well crafted and thoroughly thought out email subject line can turn a good email into a great one, an average campaign into a record breaker and a standard year into a life changer.

That may sound drastic, but I really mean it. One email that provokes the correct response can change your fortunes in a heartbeat and the power to construct this piece of one line gold is within your reach.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking they know exactly what to write for every email campaign. Each one has it's own hotspots, personality and objectives. Even experienced marketers can get email subject lines very wrong. There is always a certain element of trial and error involved in this sort of thing, but follow these basic guidelines and you should be on the right path. 


Don't be "salesy" and avoid words like…..

​I don't think there is one person alive who likes a sales email and what better way to make sure your email isn't read than to open with an overly "salesy" subject line. There is nothing that will secure your email's position in the trash can faster!

Avoid using sales language, and yes, this does include using capitols! Try and think what would make you open an email. You would want it to the point and above all it would have to look like it's going to benefit you in some way. 

Sales language is often masked as a way to make the reader think they are going to benefit from opening the email, but most of the time it's the company sending the email who are going to benefit by selling you the product. Most people have seen enough sales emails to realise when they are being sold to, It's very obvious and excessive sales language does not help open rates in any way.

Sometimes your email won't even need manual intervention to end up in the trash. Ever wondered how certain emails end up in your junk mail? Well dependant on your email provider, they will scan incoming emails for keywords that are known for being in spam subject lines. Likelihood is you won't even get noticed if you are using poor keywords.

Hub Spot have put together a fantastic list of keywords that are often pulled up when scanning for spam. When constructing your email, avoid these words and phrases at all cost. 


Add a name or location in the header

​Using tags to personalise an email will drastically improve your open rate. This generally depends on the quality of the data you have managed to collect, but if you have managed to get a first name or a location with the email address you could be onto a winner.

For example  "Let me guess James, you need more clients" sounds so much more enticing than "Let me guess, you need more clients"

The fact my name is in the subject line makes me want to open it purely because I'm intrigued, "Is this email directly aimed at me?"



Test your email with an A/B split test

​This is arguably one of the most important factors in the success of an email campaign and if you're not doing a split test you could be literally throwing emails into the trash.

Essentially split testing is like asking your friends what they prefer, except with a split test you actually get an accurate piece of feedback based on your target audience. You can find out the numbers needed for an accurate split test here.

If you're looking to perfect a subject line, you're going to be focusing on the open rate of the email. The higher it is, the more effective your subject line has been. Don't stop at one test though, it can take a number of efforts before you have found the perfect line. Test it against multiple other subject headlines until you have developed the perfect one. If you use email software like Mailchimp or Mailerlite, they offer you a split test set up.


Keep it short and sweet

For a start, people generally only scan email subject lines, so a big long essay isn't going to grab their attention. I find short punchy subject lines are the way to go. You need to hook the reader in fewer than 10 words, that's always my target.

Another thing to bear in mind is how subject lines are displayed across different devices. Here is a graph showing a recent campaign I sent out for one of my businesses. As you can see the majority of people opened the email on a mobile. Now mobile phones have varying screen sizes, meaning different amounts of your subject line is visible. Mass Transmit have developed a brilliant infographic telling you how many characters each mobile device can display on their email applications.

If the majority of your audience opens emails on their mobile device, you simply have to consider how much space your going to have available to you.


Ask a question that everyone knows the answer to

​Asking a question is thought provocative, even if it's something the opener knows the answer to. Human nature dictates you have to answer a question when asked, even if only inside your own head. Making the question one that everyone wants to say "yes" to like "Want more website traffic?" makes people think twice about what they have been asked. "Of course I want more website traffic", and the email is opened.

Who doesn't right want more website traffic, it's like saying "want some free money" who do you know that would say no to that! Questions pique interest and they leave an unanswered problem that the reader can only solve by opening the email.


Be funny and a little bit cheesy

​This only works in a very specific sector. Funny subject lines do attract attention; you'll notice your eyes are always drawn to something that looks amusing. I wouldn't go down this route if your focus is business to business, although I have seen it used very effectively by some marketing companies. I find it's very powerful in a business to customer environment.

Here's an example for you. I'm running a promotion this month in my coffee shop. (I don't actually own a coffee shop, but say I did) If you buy one of our lovely cupcakes you get a free Latte. This is certainly a business to customer campaign and therefore a funny subject line would work here. I would go for "Thanks a Latte" It's short, snappy and provides a little humour.

Don't use humour all the time in your subject line, especially if you are targeting the same email list on multiple occasions. People get tired of reading funny subject lines if they start coming in from the same source.


The round up

Emails are a powerful marketing tool, but if nobody even opens your well crafted email, what's the point in sending it in the first place. Your subject line is the hook that will get a reader's attention. A well-crafted one can completely change the dynamic of an email, even the click through rates and eventually return on invest will skyrocket. Long story short, a good email subject line will dictate the success of your campaign, so spend the time crafting and testing it.