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Email Subject Lines definition

Email Subject Lines (© adiruch-na-chiangmai /

Email Subject Lines (© adiruch-na-chiangmai /

Email marketing is one of the most powerful tools available to any marketer and is often listed as being perhaps the biggest game changer when it comes to increasing engagement and conversions. But in order for email marketing to work, building a list is not enough. Those emails also have to be opened and that will ultimately come down to the subject line.

How Long Should Email Subject Lines Be?

There is a surprising ‘art’ to writing great email subject lines and it’s not easy to get right. The first thing to take into account here is the limitation of the medium. Most e-mail clients will only show 50 characters or less for the subject line. So, if your subject is:

“Great news everyone, here’s an exciting new type of product that will revolutionize the way you clean your home forever!”

People are actually only going to see:

“Great news everyone, here’s an exciting new type o…”

This looks bad and it’s not exactly eye grabbing…

So, keep your e-mails short and punchy!

Avoid Salesy

Another tip is to make sure that your messages don’t sound too salesy. Again, this is very important because people’s email boxes are just full of marketing messages and most people are frankly sick of it. Ask yourself: would you open an email with that title? If the answer is no, then probably you’re going about it the wrong way.

Of course, you also need to avoid anything that is going to sound like spam or include potentially offensive/abusive language – as most email clients will filter that stuff right away! Instead, focus on what should be the focus of your e-mails: value. Just as you’re aiming to provide value in your site content, you need to convey that value within the message.

Curiosity is Your Friend

Likewise, you can use a little bit of curiosity to get people to open the message. This is a good strategy because if someone sees something in their own inbox that they aren’t familiar with, then they’ll often open it anyway.

openPR tip: You should view each e-mail as a valuable product and as an article. In that case, your subject line is your title and the same rules apply here as they do in writing blog posts. People actively seek out and read articles and blog posts, so it stands to reason that if you use the same kinds of titles, people should actively seek out and read your e-mails. That’s the theory anyway…

So what kind of article title works well?

One place we can turn is to what’s known as ‘clickbait’. Clickbait is the stuff that’s currently clogging up Facebook but which you can’t help but click. These are the e-mails that use curiosity and vagueness to really make us want to find out more. At the same time, they will often make wild claims or try and sound controversial – both of which again make us curious and make us want to click.

You’ll likely have seen this type of content before. It tends to look something like this:

“When you find out what this angry woman did on the train next, you’ll be outraged!”


“This one weird trick is turning men in muscle machines! But should it be banned?”

This type of content as you can maybe imagine attracts clicks like wildfire and the reason for this is simply that people want to find out what the articles are referring to because the titles are so vague. That, and when the topic sounds like it might be controversial, or when it promises amazing things, it’s again very hard to look away. You’ll be left always wondering: I wonder what that woman did do…

So, am I recommending that you use this strategy for your subject headings? Actually, not at all. The problem with this type of heading is that people have become rather desensitized to it. We see so many of these clickbait headings that we’ve come to expect them and we can’t click on every headline that sounds like it might be completely outrageous. Thus, these types of titles are gradually losing their power.

More to the point though, very often these headlines fail to deliver on their promise. That is to say that when you click the link and open the article, it actually disappoints with no content that’s all that shocking. In some cases, the link leads to a page that’s completely covered in ads and we end up just feeling disappointed that we were effectively conned into clicking it.

This then means that we lose our respect for the website, the social media marketer or whoever else it was that convinced us to click on the link. In other words – it damages the reputation of that marketer.

And of course this then means that we’re much less likely to click on their headings in future. We think that it’s probably ‘just more spam’.

Knowing what you now know about effective email marketing and how important it is to build that trust and that authority, you can hopefully see how this is a bad move. One subject heading that tricks people into clicking on it will completely ruin the trust you’ve worked hard to build and lose you your audience.

So instead, we need to look at articles that offer something different and interesting. That’s why an article about an excited banned muscle building pill sounds so appealing.

What you have to do, is to find a way to come up with titles that sound just as compelling, just as life changing and just as emotionally resonant. The only difference is that you’re going to actually pledge to deliver on that promise by making sure that the content matches up to the exciting sounding quality of the title.

So this means just making sure that your content is so unique, so useful and so interesting that it will be enough on its own to make people rush out to buy it. To do that, you have to get more creative about how you write your content. Make sure that you’re reading on the latest news in your niche, whether that means looking at research papers or reading industry magazines. Likewise, make sure that you’re thinking of news angles on old topics, things that you can bring to the table that no one else can and ways to appeal emotionally to your audience.

Let’s say your niche is SEO. Here are some dull headings that just won’t get clicked but that you see all the time nevertheless:

“10 Mistakes SEO Newbies Make”

“5 Things That Are Hurting Your SEO”

“SEO Tips for 2016”

“5 Tips for Better Keywords

This is tired, it’s old and it offers nothing new to your ‘persona’.

So instead, try things like this:

“Getting Technical: Everything We Know About How Google’s Algorithm Works”

“How to Land That One Big Guest Post That Changes Everything”

“The Psychological Toll of Being an SEO Specialist”

“How to Sell Your SEO Services in Person”

“How to Use Latent Semantic Indexing Correctly”

“Top SEO Tips for People Who Can’t Write”

These titles now promise something much more interesting that the same tired content – they answer specific questions and problems and give new insight. They should appeal on a more emotional level to the kind of person who is a full-time SEO provider. What’s more, they use titles that include advanced sounding terms that people will want to learn more about.

Addressing Your Readership

Don’t be afraid to be a bit persona and chatty in your subject headings. Remember, these are e-mails and this is where many people will have conversations with friends and family members. Those are the emails that get opened, not the e-mails that sound like they were written by a robot. So, make sure your messages are more similar to the kind of thing that your list might get from their friends and less similar to the kinds of things that they might get from other marketers.

One very easy way to do this is to include the name of the reader in your subject heading. You can actually do this very easily using most Autoresponders. So, for instance, you would compose your message within your autoresponder to say:

“Hey [NAME], here’s something fascinating!”

And it would come through as:

“Hey Jacob, here’s something fascinating!”

This has a big impact because we are all psychologically wired to take notice when we see or hear our name. Psychologists call this the ‘cocktail party effect’. That is to say that if you’re in a room filled with a lot of back chatter, then you will automatically filter most of it out. But the minute you hear someone say your name, your ears will prick up and you’ll start taking notice. This happens simply because we’ve spent our entire lives listening out for our names and as such are inclined to listen whenever they come up in conversation. We’ve been trained through decades of classical conditioning to want to hear when people are speaking to, or about us.

At the same time, we unconsciously feel that if someone is using our names, then they must know us.

Using ‘RE:’

There are other methods you can use in your subject headings to get people to click too that work on a similar principle. For instance, it’s not uncommon to see subject headings that start with ‘Re:’ which thereby makes us assume that the message is a response to something we said. Again, this helps it to stand out in a crowded inbox. Some marketers will go as far as to say things like:

“Re: Our earlier discussion…”

Again though, this is bordering on manipulative and can frustrate your readers. Using just “Re:” on the other hand actually isn’t bad in itself because it is simply short for ‘regarding’. So when you say “Re: How Web Apps Can Confuse Google” you’re actually just saying that that is what your subject matter is ‘regarding’.

You also want to make sure that people don’t feel the use of their name is manipulative. If they click on your message because they think it looks personal, then they might be frustrated to find more marketing talk.

How do you avoid this reaction? One important tip is to make sure that your message doesn’t feel manipulative overall. Use the name of your recipient but do it in a way that doesn’t look like you’re pretending you know them. Likewise, don’t over use it. The idea of the name is simply to draw attention to your subject heading so that you can impress them with the rest of the title – you’re not pretending to be their friend.

Better yet, you can use the message itself to justify your use of their name. In other words, you should try to create a feeling as though you’re building a relationship with your readers. That means that you should use a more conversational tone, that you should speak directly ‘to’ the reader and that you should invite them to message back or to weigh in with their opinion. These strategies will all make your mailing list feel more like you’re having a conversation with them, rather than just marketing ‘at’ them.

Now, if they feel as though you are almost talking to them, then you can use this phrasing without upsetting anyone.

Use these tricks and you should find that your emails get opened more, get past the spam filter more and generally perform much better than they otherwise would. Now you know!

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