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Writing Email Subject Lines to Pique Genuine Interest

The second article in our Email Messaging Best Practices series

Unless you get a recipient to open your email, you have no shot at laying out your selling proposition to elicit interest and further engagement. As a result, the most important element in any email is the subject line. Yet, you’ll often see many subject lines that are too long, too uninteresting and too oblique.

Here are a few best practices and other ideas you can adopt to help increase the open rates for your emails — in order to substantially increase the opportunities to tell your story, to attract recipients into your sales pipeline, and to start them on the road to a potential conversion.

Keep it short and simple.

You’ll want to do this for two reasons. First, since people tend to read and skim through their inboxes very quickly, you have a few seconds at most to intrigue a reader to open an email. Second, you want as much of your subject line as possible — preferably the whole line — to appear in the vertical listing in a typical email inbox window. (Hint: Try sending the email to yourself first to see how much leeway there is.)

Build a benefit into the subject line.

As opposed to waiting to offer a real benefit until the headline or the body of the email, see if you can relate that benefit right in the subject line. That way, you’ve already begun some forward thought motion that will carry the recipient into your more detailed information/proposition inside.

Ensure the subject line relates to the interior content.

A blind or oblique subject line might get recipients to click and open an email. But if it’s not in sync with and supported by the ensuing email content, recipients will feel they’ve been tricked into reading it. Chances are, you’ll lose these readers almost immediately — along with any chance to start building trust or a relationship.

Write specific preheader text to boost open rates.Email preheader example

The inboxes for many email readers now display a “preheader” — a short piece of summary text to augment the subject line. On desktop/web readers, this typically appears next to the subject line, below the subject line on mobile. As preheaders have been proven to increase open rates, it can be worth your while to insert custom targeted preheader text — instead of letting email readers default to pulling in the first few words from the beginning of your email.

Weed out unnecessary words. Prioritize powerful ones.

Your subject line is a bit like a billboard on a fast-moving highway. Make the language as spare and telegraphic as possible by eliminating any words that are not adding context or impact. Also, see if there are ways to move your most potent words — including action verbs — towards the front of the line. A place where they can catch more eyeballs and begin some forward thought motion.

Think of additional ways to inject urgency.

Is there something you can offer to entice the recipient to read your email now instead of putting it off? Possibilities include a limited-time offer or discount, an informative whitepaper, a specific registration deadline, a free introductory consultation, etc.

Consider leading with a provocative question.

Do the prospects in the group you’re targeting have one or several common pain points? If so, leading off with a question can enable you to cut right to the chase. While getting the recipient into a mindset that is instantly receptive to a viable solution.

Personalize the subject line with the recipient’s name or company.

The use of variable data fields are often an effective touch. Especially if you’re already a known quantity to the recipient or working with a highly-vetted list. Just be careful to use this technique sparingly to keep your emails from developing a patronizing tone, which can begin to feel insincere and become annoying.

More in our Email Messaging Best Practices series


Neptune Web is a full-service Boston-area interactive web and digital marketing agency with expertise in Website Design, Web Development, Digital Marketing Strategy and Execution.

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