How-To Write Email Subject Lines

July 6, 2010

The subject line often controls whether your email is read and/or opened. So it’s vital that you write a great email subject line. 

And just how do you do that?  Glad you asked.

Subject lines aren’t easy to write, especially if you have to write them over and over again.  Nonetheless, these four guidelines will help you learn how to write email subject lines that inspire more people to read your emails

1 – Short works. Two or three words are best.  If you absolutely need more, make the first two words the most relevant to the reader.  Make them the words with the greatest punch.  And remember, most email software only displays the first 30-40 characters of a subject line.

Yawn: Confirmation of your donation to Acme Charity
Pizzazz: Thank you

2 – Urgency.  Give them a reason to read it NOW.

Environmental Charity
Yawn: Urban sprawl driving away birds
Pizzazz: Birds disappearing

Relief Charity
Yawn: We need your help to aid flood victims
Pizzazz: Homes Destroyed – Families Homeless

3 – Emotional appeal.  Even analytical types like me have to admit humans make decisions based on at least some emotion.  So include words and phrases that stir emotions whenever possible. 

       Also, consider an email subject line that either moves the reader “toward passion” or “away from pain.” 

      Looking back on the previous pizzazz example, possible emotions evoked include compassion, sympathy, and curiosity.  And it moves the reader toward the desire to help: Homes Destroyed – Families Homeless

4 – Clear offer.  What is the main benefit the reader receives in your email? 

Association
Yawn: Everything in our bookstore on sale this month
Pizzazz: Book Sale July Only

I’ll grant that all four characteristics may not be part of every email subject line.  But #1 and #2 ought to be, and #3 is hot on their heels in importance.  A lot depends on what you’re writing about in the body of the email. 

Bottom line: Following these guidelines results in more emails read.  And they can’t respond to your call to action if they don’t read it.  It begins with the all-important email subject line.

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