Get the Open: Our Top 12 Tips for Writing Grabby Subject Lines

Wednesday, March 02, 2016 Listrak 0 Comments

by Laurel Morse, Manager of Copywriting & Content Strategy

A subject line is the most important thing you'll write in your email. Period. Because if you don't get the open, nothing else matters. But never fear – there are a few proven tricks you can keep up your sleeve to make sure you've got a fighting chance.

Tip #1: 
40-45 characters is your maximum; any longer than that and you'll get cut off in some inboxes. See?



Tip #2:
Front-load your subject line (and your pre-header, too) with what's important/grabby/persuasive/different so you're leading with your strongest stuff.




Tip #3:
Be different! Contrast is everything
– and I mean with length and phrasing, not with color. Be the kid with the mohawk in a room of crew cuts. Many marketers stick to the 40-character guide and don't push the length envelope. You know what was the subject line of one of Obama's most successful emails during his re-election campaign? "Hey". That's it. Just "Hey". And it did brilliantly.




Tip #4:
Be clever with your phrasing, especially if you're advertising a sale. If I never saw the word “sale” again, I’d be a happy person. Nearly all emails that hit my inbox regularly have some iteration of "sale," "save %," "$ off,” or "BOGO" in them. I like saving money as much as the next person, but after a while they all blend together. These are a few of the better ones:






Tip #5:
Avoid using all CAPS and typical SPAM-trigger words. In addition to getting you flagged as a spammer, it's annoying and counterproductive. I should be interested in this brand's emails, but I just can't get myself to open for fear of more caps:



Tip #6:
Making up words (usually
portmanteau-style) or using abbreviations is surprisingly effective because it makes you pause and think. It stops you in your tracks as you're skimming through your inbox and piques just enough curiosity to get the open. Continue this through to your email content and you've got a stand-out winner.






Tip #7:
Write it last. Get through every single thing you have to say in the guts of your email (and your landing page, if you have one) and THEN write your subject line. You’ll know your content more thoroughly, and I promise it'll come out better.

Tip #8:
Come up with at least 5-8 options. It's really not that hard. Once you've figured out the most important/grabby thing your email, try different phrasings of the same thing, such as...

Questions/quizzes: If your equipment broke, what would you do?
Top # lists/reasons why: Top 5 reasons to maintain your equipment
Quotes: "I was really hoping my stove would break today!"
Curiosity-provoking: What you'll never hear a foodservice manager say...
Simple statements: Maintain your equipment with <<yourbusinessname>>

But wait! There's more! You need a pre-header, too.

Pre-headers support the subject line in the inbox and help introduce the topic of the email. You've seen them – they’re the typically gray preview text right after the subject lines that gives just a little more info, baiting you to open the email.

The pre-header is the whiz to your subject line steak sandwich. The rainbow sprinkles to your kiddie cone. The small medium fry to your cheat-day burger. Your email just wouldn’t be the same without it.

Tip #9:
Some people say a 90-character pre-header is the sweet spot, but this depends on how your email is designed – whether or not you’re displaying the pre-header in the email design or hiding it. 90 characters is an awful lot to design around if you're displaying it in the email itself, so take that into consideration. Only write as much as you need to. 

Tip #10: 
Try a different phrasing of your subject line and see what you come up with, or use the opportunity to call attention to a different attribute of your email. Regardless, the phrasing should be fluid and natural.



Tip #11: 
When designing for mobile (responsive), try styling it so it hides the pre-header the mobile layout. You want this valuable above-the-scroll real estate saved for the email's important body content, not a repeat of what they already read in the inbox.


Tip #12: 
Test, test, test! Try to find patterns in what your audience responds to, and use whatever data you find to your advantage.

Have you had any successes with subject lines? Share them with me in the comments below.

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