Are your emails stuck in one sided relationships with your target audience? Are you paying attention to your email subject lines?

It’s a rising epidemic: You want to share information about a new product/upgrade/discount/opportunity/etc. with your subscribers, so you write a decent email and hit “send” to delight your readers.

But you only see a mere response after a week. What happened?

Before you start criticizing your copy, stop for a while and see your own email inbox. Isn’t it inundated with messages from work colleagues, peers, financial institutions, and a slew of brands trying to get your attention?

Ditto is the case with your subscribers. Your email is going to compete with the plethora of other emails in their inbox. And when people experience inbox overload, their scanning process becomes ruthless, and the chances of your email catching their eye become slim.

So what can you do to ensure your email gets noticed? Well, there are dozens of tips to increase your open rate, but perhaps the most important one pertains to email subject lines.

With less than 5 seconds to get recipients to notice your email, your email subject lines need to be convincing, memorable and eye-catching.

Did you know?

  • 35 percent of email users open emails based on the subject line alone. (source)
  • Emails featuring personalized subject lines have a 26 percent higher chance of being opened. (source)
  • The best email subject lines tell what’s inside the email. (source)

The stats indicate that subject lines really play a starring role in your email marketing campaign.

How to Write Powerful Email Subject Lines

What you write in your email subject line can have a significant impact on whether the effort you’ve put into crafting your email pays off or not. Here are some tips to make your subject lines compelling:

1. Use Actionable Language

Why are you sending the email? Do you want the recipient to schedule an appointment, download an ebook, or take part in an event? If you want to trigger an action, then consider using actionable language in your email subject lines.

Example 1:

Reserve Your Vatican Tickets for Summer 2016

Example 2:

Download the ebook everyone is talking about

Action verbs like “reserve”, “download”, “buy”, “enroll”, etc. will compel your subscribers to open your email. The reason is that these words create a sense of curiosity and urgency in your target audience. However, you don’t necessarily have to rely on action verbs for actionable language. Example, “Don’t Miss Summer 2016’s Holiday Surprises.”

2. Cut out the Boring Details

Email subject lines that include words like “monthly wrap up” and “daily news” will give your readers a snore (unless they’re extremely loyal to your brand). Several other brands are likely sending daily news and monthly updates, so your subject line would just be a molar extraction sans anesthetic.

Likewise, a subject line that looks like a novel won’t tempt your readers to check out the email’s content. MailChimp’s study revealed that email subject lines with an average of 50 characters receive more clicks from recipients.

So rather than taking the same route as others, be a rebel and do something different with your email subject lines. For instance, you can write something shocking/unconventional to hook the recipient. For instance, “The bonobos ninjas are processing your order” sounds much exciting than “order #xxx is being processed.”

Another example: “It’s Nutella. It’s Cocktail. It’s Nutella Cocktail” is catchier than “Company xxx just created a new Nutella drink.”

Hostelworld Limited is one company that does a good job at making email subject lines exciting. How do these sound?

  • Bond with your travel pals
  • 11 hiking hostels to unleash your inner nature beast
  • Sunday best: historic, luxurious, or extreme?

These email subject lines stay within the character limit, and they’re exciting enough to pique the interest of the kind of audience that Hostelworld caters – spontaneous adventurers.

3. Use Negative Superlatives

Did you know that negative headlines work pretty well when they inform and alert?Outbrain’s study found that headlines featuring negative superlatives (“worst” or “never”) performed 30 percent better than headlines featuring positive superlatives.

It is because:

  • Headlines with positive superlatives have become letdowns. People are sick of hearing about the “best ways” to do something.
  • Headlines with positive superlatives are overdone and appear cliché. No one pays much attention to them.
  • Headlines with negative superlatives come off as authentic. Readers see them as unbiased and impartial.

That’s why you should test negative superlatives in your email subject lines and see the impact on your open rate.

Example 1:

Avoid These Digital Marketing Atrocities

Example 2:

Here’s Why Your Instagram Following Will Never Grow

Example 3:

5 Worst Mistakes You’ll Make in Your Freshman Year

Your readers will stress about making mistakes, so figure out how you can utilize their emotion of fear in email subject lines. Of course, you need to back up the subject line with helpful, problem-solving content, so that you’re not perceived as someone on a ranting spree.

4. Personalize the Subject Line

Personalizing email subject lines is an easy task that can be done with the recipient’s first or last name and have a positive impact on open rate. It’s safe to assume that personalization makes the reader feel the email was written for them especially. Make sure to get the name correct when implementing this strategy.

On a side note, using the word “you” for personalizing your subject line may do more harm than good. Emails with “you” in subject lines were reported to be opened 5 percent less than emails without the word “you” in subject lines. So avoid sending emails like “Are you interested in our discount?” or “We’re excited to have you on board.”

Instead, try using the recipient’s name. PeoplePerHour’s emails include the first name of their subscribers. Other companies like Booking.com also leverage personalization for their email subject lines.

Example 1:

Need some coding done, Dan? Use express hourlies!

Example 2:

Dan, last-minute deals for Zermatt and St. Moritz. Get them before they’re gone.

Example 3:

Dan, here’s the content you requested.

You can also test merge tags when personalizing email subject lines. The term is used for the content that is unique to your recipients. For instance, if you’ve information about the neighborhood of your subscribers in your database, you can use the neighborhood merge tag in the subject line. Most email clients will allow you to do this.

5. Play up the Utility Card

You don’t want to come off as a “sales robot”, and robots generally convey utility. When email subject lines talk about utility, they send a powerful message that catches the attention when recipients are scanning.

You can play up the utility card by itself or combine it with curiosity to prompt a feeling of “what would be next?” and see the impact on your open rate. However, stick with just utility if you’re sending emails to busy people, who may not have the mental capacity or time to put together missing pieces of information.

Example 1:

The web designer hourly rates around the world

Example 2:

5 strategies to get your first 100 – 500 website visitors

Example 3:

Latest research on the Heartbleed bug

You’d also be better off playing just the utility card and leaving curiosity on the side when your email intends to inform about an emergency situation. Nobody wants to solve a puzzle or guess what’s next when their information has been hacked or when they’re expecting news on a natural disaster.

6. Bank on Recognizable References

In your email subject lines, you can utilize terminologies of recognition, which will give your recipients the satisfaction of self-recognition. It’s like saying, “Hey, we’re both alike; you and me both get the joke, because we belong to the same community.”

Using idiosyncratic references is a smart way to increase demographic identification. You can even insert quotes about something a certain group of recipients would be familiar with. For example, using a line or phrase from Game of Thrones in your email subject lines will make them more attractive to the millennial demographic among your recipients.

Use the email’s timing to guide you whether or not you should unleash the power of recognizable references. Using a reference around an event or a particular season is a smarter strategy to pique readers’ interest because they’re already in the mood.

Example 1:

Best accessory? A) lanyards B) IDs C) wristlets … (back to school reference)

Example 2:

ThinkGeek’s roses are #FF0000, violets are #0000FF … (hexadecimal color code references to red and blue)

Example 3:

Quidditch fun now available on 3D cardboard … (Harry Potter reference)

These are great examples of chilled out and super-fun email subject lines. In an email inbox full of “HEY, DON’T MISS THIS!” and “HURRY UP BEFORE STOCKS RUN OUT” subject lines, insouciant subject lines with recognizable references bring a breath of fresh air. Such email subject lines work best when popular references are inserted, but feel free to create your own reference and test the results.

Over to You

If your email subject lines fall flat, there’s no point in connecting with your recipients. The tips mentioned above will add value to your attempts. But be careful with the choice of words as some words can trigger your emails to go to the spam box. Run your subject lines and email’s content through the Email Spam Test to ensure your emails get to the inbox of your subscribers.

What are your thoughts? Which brands manage to get your attention with great email subject lines? We’d love to hear your favorites in the comments below.