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The Top 10 Keys to Writing Attention-Capturing Subject Lines

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All the great email content in the world isn't going to do your brand a bit of good if no one opens your email—which is why you need attention-grabbing headlines. So apply these top tips and become a master at writing subject lines!

1. Use the 50/50 rule

It seems absolutely preposterous that you spend as much time crafting the subject line, along with the preheader, as you do writing the entire text of the rest of the email, but savvy online marketers are well aware that it is mandatory. It takes time and concentration to write great subject lines.

2. Throw out CAPS LOCK

When a subject line is in CAPS, it is the email equivalent of screaming at your customer. If you throw in a few special characters, exclamation points, and other symbols... you're going to look like a spammer, and that is going to earn your email an express one-way ticket to the spam folder.


3. Shun spam words

While we're on the subject of relegation to the spam folder... keep in mind that there are few better ways than to include the top spam trigger words, such as 100% Free, Act Now, All Natural, As Seen On, Bad Credit, Bargain, Dear Friend, Discount, and Fast Cash. You won't have to worry that your subscribers will dump your emails as spam; the blacklists used by Internet service providers (ISPs) will likely prevent your messages from getting through at all.

4. Don't mislead

If you are promising something in your subject line, you had better be sure that you are going to provide the goods in the body of the email. The easiest and fastest way to lose the loyalty and trust of your email subscribers is to deceive them, so make sure that your subject line is ethical, legitimate, and directly relevant to the content of the entire email.

5. Have realistic deadlines

This tip can be considered an expansion of the previous one: Featuring a deadline in the subject line often leads to significantly increased metrics; but you'll run into trouble if you create a deadline for essentially no other reason than to spike your opens, but then the subscriber realizes that it's all imaginary because your offer is actually available at any time.

6. To Reply or Not Reply

Your subscriber will appreciate learning right in the subject line whether you are asking for their response or other input. If you are seeking their feedback, you might be well advised to state that right up front, in the subject line, asking for their reply or their thoughts on whatever topic. Similarly, if no response is required, an "FYI" could help clarify the intent of your subject line.

7. Proofread Mercilessly

You cannot possibly proofread your subject lines enough or have enough people double-check them. Very few errors you can commit in an email are going to trash the entire image of your brand than making it seem as if it was written by a kindergarten dropout. (Learn from NASA: A missing hyphen in the rocket's computer code caused Mariner I to explode upon takeoff.)

8. Edit Even More Mercilessly

It seems that every browser, email client, or mobile device displays a different number of subject line characters. Some will readily accommodate 60 characters or more, whereas others will truncate at fewer than 30! The best-practice in writing subject lines is to keep them extremely short to ensure that the majority of your subscribers are able to read them in their entirety.

9. First Things First

Keeping in mind the nasty truncation problem, it is imperative that you place the most relevant words first in your subject line. Don't dawdle, get to the point quickly, and realize that the subject line acts as a headline; you want to capture your subscriber's attention with the first three or four words.

10. Have Fun

Unless you're marketing a funeral parlor, subject lines shouldn't be funereal. They should be fun! At least sometimes. Lighten up every now and then to capture your subscriber's attention with humor!

Subject lines can make or break your entire email marketing campaign so give them the attention they deserve.


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Curt Keller is the founder and CEO of Benchmark Email, a global do-it yourself email service that offers Web-based email tools in Spanish, German, simple Chinese, traditional Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, and English.

LinkedIn: Curt Keller

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