How to create a winning subject line

Improve email marketing at your digital marketing agency

Earlier in the year we looked at top tips for effective email marketing. Our article explored the advantages and disadvantages of email marketing, six key elements of email marketing, and how to measure the success of email marketing.


In this article we supplement our earlier article by focusing on one key element of email marketing – subject lines. We will look at:


  • Why email subject lines are so important
  • Five principles of a winning subject line
  • Five steps to help your digital marketing agency create a winning subject line


Why email subject lines are so important


An estimated 47% of email recipients open an email based on the subject line alone. And 69% of email recipients are likely to view – and even report – andemail as spam from the content subject line.


So when creating a subject line you have one chance to get it right. It is your only opportunity to grab attention in a crowded inbox. No pressure! 


To help you do this, let’s take a look at five principles that can help you create a winning subject line.


Five principles of a winning subject line


  • Personalisation


Research shows that email subject lines with some level of personalisation can boost open rates by 10-14%. One way to do this is to include the name of your recipient or something else relevant, for example their company, home town or pet’s name. 


But even just making the subject line casual and friendly can help to build rapport. One thing to try here is to choose a sender name that is human and not intimidating, for example just a first name @ domain name. You can then use this sender name casually in your subject line from time to time. For example if your sender name is Henry and you work for a coffee company you could try using the phrase “Henry the coffee guy” in your subject line, and this would gradually become familiar to the recipients.


Also try to personalise the email subject line using information from the actions your customers have already taken. For example if they have visited one or your premises, browsed a page on your website, completed a form or made a prior purchase.


  • Make people feel special


If you can make people feel special, you gain a very strong psychological advantage. They will feel as if they’re on the inside – one of the gang – and this can engender brand loyalty and keep the consumer receptive to hearing from you and hopefully then buying from you.


So consider using wording in the subject line that makes the recipient feel important. For example, “For our most valued customers only”, “A personal offer just for you”, or “Your exclusive invitation”. And also give a hint of what’s inside the email as an extra incentive.


  • Identify with pain points


Recipients are more likely to open an email if it appears the sender understands and identifies with their pain points. So your subject line needs to convince the reader that if they open the email there will be a solution to their problem.


On a similar theme, people will also be attracted to anything that could potentially save them time or effort. So if your subject line can hint at a shortcut to achieve their goals or a helpful resource that could save them time, energy and money this will encourage the reader to open the email.


  • Harness the power of FOMO


No-one likes to miss out. So harness the power of FOMO in your email subject lines to encourage them to take a look. If you can create a sense of urgency by hinting at a limited time or availability offer, you could be on to a winner. 


So try either using words such as “urgent”, “hurry” and “limited” in your email subject lines. An alternative is to include specific start and end dates for special sale or promotion, so that there is a clear window of opportunity in which they need to take action.


  • Invoke Curiosity


Curiosity is another key human emotion that can be used in email subject lines. So using an enigmatic subject line that hints at the content, or gives part of the story, could encourage the reader to open the email to find out the rest.


The email content needs to promise what it delivers to maintain trust. And it also needs to be relevant to your brand to avoid confusion, as if it’s too convoluted it could end up being classed as spam. But the overall concept of filling a gap in the curiosity you have piqued, can work very well in terms of open rates.


So with these five principles in mind, how can you then ensure that you create a winning subject line? Let’s take a quick look at five steps in this process.


Five steps to create a winning subject line


  • Step 1: Be clear about the purpose of the email


The wittiest subject line in the world will still not work if it doesn’t relate to the purpose of the email. For example, are you trying to connect with the reader, inform them about something, offer them a special deal or get them to sign up for a newsletter? Keep this purpose at the forefront of your mind when you craft the subject line.


  • Step 2: Hint at the call to action


In parallel with the purpose of the email, think about how you want the recipient to respond to the email. What is the call to action? Try to reflect this in the subject line so that they open the email and will also already be receptive to what it is that you want them to do.


  • Step 3: Start with a few different versions of your subject line


It can be surprisingly difficult to create a seemingly simple subject line. So rather than spending hours agonising over a few words, create a few different versions of your subject line so that you can then use the time productively to narrow them down to the one you eventually use.


  • Step 4: Seek a second opinion


Another important part of the creative process is to seek a second opinion on your subject lines. So ask colleagues, family or friends which version they prefer and why. A second pair of eyes can help you to see things completely from a different perspective, and may lead to an even better version.


  • Step 5: Evaluate the effectiveness of your subject line


As with any other aspect of digital marketing, email subject lines are an interactive process. Once the emails are going out, you need to monitor the open rate and evaluate how effective your subject line is. You may want to run two or more versions of the subject line in an A/B test to see which subject line performs best. Even if the results surprise you, you will then have data to inform the campaign going forward, and make your subject line as effective as it can be.


We hope that this brief guide has provided useful information on:


  • Why email subject lines are so important
  • Five principles of a winning subject line
  • Five steps to help your digital marketing agency create a winning subject line


We will explore other aspects of email marketing over the next few months so do visit us again here soon at Xcite Digital.