How to Write a Great Subject Line

The perfect subject line

I’ve got a question for you: what’s the single most important part of an email newsletter?

The subject line, of course. Why?

Because it’s the single biggest thing that affects your open rate.

It’s useful to compare email newsletters with a real business, like a bakery. The subject line is like the entrance of a bakery; if it looks dirty, you probably wouldn’t go inside.

Likewise, if it looks too complicated or too impersonal, you wouldn’t go inside either. It doesn’t matter how good the bread is; new customers will be turned off. The best bakery is clean, simple, and personal (and has good bread, too!)

Emails are the same way. An email that looks spammy, overly-complex, or sterile doesn’t get opened. It doesn’t matter if your content is amazing if no one opens the email to read it. As with bakeries, the best email subject lines are clear, simple, and personal.

In this post, we’ll review some general strategies for optimizing your email newsletter subject lines.

Write the Subject Line First

One of the most common mistakes is waiting until the last minute to write your subject line. Bad idea! Remember, the subject line is the single most important part of your email. Don’t relegate it to last place.

Instead, jot down a few potential subject lines before you start writing the newsletter. Then, as you write, pick one and modify it to match your content.

Personalize It!

Everyone’s favorite word, by leaps and bounds, is their own name. Just as we notice when our name is spoken in a noisy room, we notice our name in a crowded inbox. Stand out by talking to your subscribers directly.

Including your subscribers’ names is easy in MailPoet. As a matter of fact, we already have a guide on it.

Personal pronouns like “you”, “your”, and “we” are also very effective. Remember, the goal is to be personal and friendly.

Ask a Question

Why do questions work? Well, because people are curious beings. If you noticed, I began this post with a question, answered it, then asked another question. Pretty neat, huh?

Using words like, “Why”, “How”, “What” and “Who” are an easy way to turn a mundane sentence into a dynamic question-answer pair. “The subject line is an important part of your email” becomes, “What’s the most important part of your email? The subject line, of course.”

Be a Mystery and Change the Tone

If you’re well-known and have a large audience, consider being a little mysterious. The quintessential example of this tactic is the Barack Obama U.S. Presidential campaign. During the campaign, Obama’s team sent out emails with subject lines like, “Change”, “Some scary numbers” or just “Wow.”

Now, these are probably too vague to use for the average non-presidential candidate. But, if your newsletter tone is typically very official and formal, it can be useful to temporarily change it to a more informal, mysterious one.

Sales and Offers

If you’re sending a sale or offer in a newsletter, try to keep it fresh. Don’t have the same “50%-Off Sale Today” format all the time.

Keep it Short

These days, many emails are read on a mobile device. Small device = smaller screen = less space for your email subject line. As such, you should aim to keep your subject line less than 50 characters. Additionally, put the important words first, to ensure that they aren’t cut off.

Be aware that Android’s email client displays a smaller subject line than the iPhone’s email client.

There are a few tools online that help evaluate your subject line:

Be Clear, Not Clever

Generally speaking, it’s better to be clear than clever (if you can’t be both!). Your average subscriber gets dozens of emails per day. They likely don’t have the patience to wade through jokes or clever lines to figure out what your email means. Get to the point, and fast.

So, while I could given this newsletter a vague title like, “What is important?”, I instead was straightforward and just said, “Hey, this is how you write a good email subject line.” The cleverness is saved for inside the email.

Add in Identity Words

If your newsletter audience has a strong self-identity, play it up in your subject line. Are your subscribers self-employed consultants? Remind them and play to their identity by using a subject line such as, “Why Being a Consultant is Awesome” or “5 Things No One Understands About the Secret Life of a Consultant.”

Use Numerals, Not Written-Out Numbers

Various experiments have shown that including the numeral form of a number performs better than the written-out form. That is, 3 Steps to a Better Work-Life Balance” gets more opens than Three Steps to a Better Work-Life Balance.”

Consider Timing and Scarcity

People hate to feel like they’re missing out on an opportunity (a concept known as FOMO). So, take advantage of this phenomenon by adding time and scarcity words to your subject line. For example, “Your Prescription is Expiring Tomorrow”, “Where to Get a Drink Tonight”, or “Our Sale Ends in 6 Hours.”

Don’t Forget About the FROM Name

In many ways, the FROM name is just as important as the subject line itself. It doesn’t matter how awesome your subject line is if your emails say FROM: blahblahblah123@yahoo.com. Choose something simple and straightforward. If your website is called “Tennis Library”, don’t send emails from “Jack Smith.” Keep it consistent with your website.

(Don’t know how to change your FROM name in MailPoet? You’ll need to change it in two places: on the MailPoet > Settings > Basics page, and on the Third Step of the Newsletter Editor.)

Harness Social Proof

Social proof is important. Really important, just ask this woman. Or this guy.

If you can include a brief testimonial or plug in your subject line, do it. If George Clooney likes your small business, say so!

Don’t Do These Things!

Finally, as a reminder: you should never do any of these things in your subject line:

  • Use spammy words like “FREE” or “OPEN THIS NOW”. If you manage to make it past a spam filter (and that’s a big if), you will be perceived as sending junk content.
  • Write in all capital letters. Using A FEW words here and there in capital letters can be effective for emphasis. But you should NEVER write the entire subject line in ALL CAPS.
  • Over-sell in the subject line. The objective of a subject line is to have them open your email, NOT make the sale. The subject line is a hook – it grabs a reader’s attention just enough for them to open the email. Do your selling inside the email.

Happy subject-line-writing!