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Writing Email Subject Lines That Get Results

Posted by Bill McRae Filed Under Content Strategy & Creation, Advertising, Content

What could seem simpler than writing an email?

If you’re writing promotional email campaigns for tech B2B clients, there’s actually little that’s simple about creating targeted, attention-catching e-blasts that get results.

Here at McBru we manage a number of ongoing email and e-alert programs for our clients, and we’ve honed a mighty discipline out of the process of writing, designing, and managing promotional email campaigns.

But in the past couple weeks, the McBru writers and designers have had the chance to slip on our running shoes and put our email writing expertise to the test. Out of the blue, several clients hit us with near-simultaneous requests for fast-turn-around e-blast mini-campaigns. We raced into action and produced the e-alerts at record speed—and to the delight of our clients.

But the hair’s-on-fire pace made me realize just how much knowledge we have institutionalized into our e-alert writing and design processes here at McBru.

As part of a two-part series on writing marketing emails that that get results, here are some tips for the toughest part of email marketing: Crafting a great subject line.

Writing subject lines that demand attention, create curiosity, and get click-throughs is both art and science. A subject line has to grab your attention as you scan your inbox, distinguish itself from spam and other promotional emails, and prompt you to click on the link and open the email itself.

Just how you go about doing this depends a bit on what you are offering: Telling the reader upfront what they will gain by clicking on the link is the tried-and-true method: Who wouldn’t want to “Watch the world’s best cat videos!” or “Win a trip to Las Vegas!”  In our tech B2B world, we typically offer readers a chance to explore new mobile technologies, learn new cloud strategies, or pick up the latest tips and tricks for developing apps. But the implied promise is similar.

In other words, make your reader an offer they can’t refuse. Make it clear what benefit they will get from opening the email.

Another successful strategy for creating strong subject lines is to pique the reader’s curiosity with the promise of tantalizing information. One attention-getting way to do this is to write subject lines that include numbered lists. Sounds odd, I know, but who can resist subject lines like “3 top secrets of celebrity weight loss” or “4 ways to improve your love life.” For our tech B2B clients, we’re more likely to write about three reasons that Android is a better dev platform than iOS, or the top five advantages of desktop virtualization, but you get the idea.

A well-crafted subject line that promises inside information is like catnip – just make sure you can deliver on the information that you’ve promised!

A few subject line best practices:

  • Subject lines that start with a verb are often top performers. “Test drive these Win 8 apps on Ultrabook” is a stronger subject line than “Intel announces new Windows 8 applications.” If it’s not possible to start your subject line with a verb, make it as action-oriented as possible.
  • Be wary of words that attract spam filters. To be an effective, a subject line first has to get past the spam detectors that try to keep unwanted emails out of your inbox. Filters are designed to weed out subject lines that contain words commonly linked to spam. While “free” might seem like the ultimate attention grabber for subject lines, in fact it also gets the attention of spam filters. If your subject line is product name- or promotion-heavy, it’s always a good idea to send trial subject line tests – just send yourself an email with the subject line to make sure it gets past the filters.
  • Be careful of posing questions in subject lines. It may seem like rhetorical questions such as “Want to earn $10,000 a month writing apps at home?” would make a great, attention-grabbing subject line, but by posing a question, you give the reader the chance to answer “no.” While yes or no questions don’t make effective subject lines, other type of questions can be effective. “The stars of Netscape: Where are they now?” or “How can Open Source save you money?” pose questions that can only be answered by clicking through.
  • Keep subject lines short, and put your strongest message first. Most inboxes display the first 60 characters and spaces of an email’s subject line. You can write subject lines longer than that, but past 60 characters, you can’t be certain that your audience can read it.