How to Write a KILLER Email Subject Line

The email subject line is easily one of the most overlooked aspects of email marketing. In this post, we’ll talk about what specifically turns a mediocre subject line to a killer one and how you can write a better email subject line today.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, “If a tree falls in the woods…” The same can be said of the countless number of emails that hit your inbox. Some, whose writers swore held the stuff of legends within, don’t even get a whiff of the inbox; your email service provider identified too many red flags and sent them to your spam folder. How do we keep that from happening to your precious offers? Read on.

Email subject line: The Good, Bad and Ugly

Let’s say at the very least your email is reaching the user’s inbox but your open rates aren’t as high as you’d like them to be. The first thing to consider is that not all email subject lines are created equal. In fact, many, many hours of testing has shown that’s not the case:

  • Studies show that 48% of emails get opened because of a well-written email subject line.
  • Studies also show that 68% say a poorly written email subject line is the primary cause of spam complaints.

Those numbers are incredible, right? Obviously, there are other determining factors to stay aware of, however, a good subject line holds a lot of power and not putting focus here could cost you dearly.

Peel away the ‘internet marketing’ veil and again, you’ll see that the same things that cause intrigue in real life work online as well. When you put more emphasis on connecting the core values of human logic and psychology, you create a powerful hook that will tease the mind and create the behaviors you want (starting with opening the email!)

Email subject line: The 5 main types of hooks

Your email subject lines will vary based on the purpose of the email. However, each will touch a specific nerve. It is important that your subject line is a condensed version of what to expect in the email body. For the sake of brevity, here are the 5 types of hooks that will skyrocket your open rate:

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) – One of the original (and highest-converting) hook types. This works especially well in email subject lines because of its boldness and the motivating power of scarcity.

Pro Tip: Use elements of time to create urgency, e.g. “Time is running out on…”, “X is available for a limited time only!”

Curiosity – There are few emotions stronger than curiosity, and savvy freelance digital marketers have known (and used) this for ages. Create the need for closure with strong lead-in copy and readers will have little choice but to dive into your email to find the answer.

Pro Tip: Use questions for the subject email line and answer those questions in the body, e.g. “Why does X matter right now?, “Is X the next big trend?”

Vanity – Playing to your subscriber’s sense of self is a good tactic to use for higher email open rates. Primarily, you want to give a feeling of higher esteem or being the first to know something in his respective circle. Some marketers go overboard, though. Inducing a fear of being shamed or somehow lesser than can start your campaign off on the wrong foot, so it’s best to avoid taking it in a negative direction.

Pro Tip: Use words like ‘report’ and niche specific details,  e.g. “[Free Report]…”, “X authority says Y is Z [You won’t believe it!]”

Pain point – This is arguably a favorite of savvy marketers as it cuts through to the heart of why subscribers subscribe in the first place: the cure they hope to find with you. If you understand your core audience thoroughly, you can reel the reader in tightly and make it nearly impossible for them to skip you by. Your email could offer the solution (or the pathway to one).

Pro Tip: Use terms and phrases associated with identifiers of your buyer persona, e.g. “Why most X doesn’t work (And Why This Will!)”

Personalized – Including the subscriber’s first name in the email subject line can greatly bolster the open rates of your emails. The reason is simple: people love hearing (or seeing) their name used. It creates an immediate familiarity with the sender and unless she’s signed up to many lists that required her first name too, having that bit of extra information makes your email sequence that much warmer.

Pro Tip: The more information you have on the subscriber, the friendlier you can make the email. This includes birthdays, items previously purchased and more informal language. Be sure to stay on-brand though; it’s easy to unintentionally give users a reason to unsubscribe if you aren’t careful of your approach.

Recommended Read: Playing the Long Game with Freelance Marketing

When it comes to email subject lines, the more focus you put on getting them right, the better your email open rates will be. Do one (or all) of the steps outlined above and you’ll definitely see a progression in your email marketing efforts.

Question(s) of the day: What do you, as a consumer, like seeing in your inbox? How would you implement that into your own campaign? Let us know in the comments below!

  • a couple of years ago

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