When I wrote my email newsletter last week, I gave it the headline: “What Marketing Identity is Holding You Back?”
I thought it was one of my stronger articles, but it didn’t get a good open rate – about 1,000 less than usual.
So asked myself: What if the problem was the subject line? And I decided it was time to refresh my skills in writing them. I did an online search to discover what makes a good subject line and what made a poor one. And I investigated how I could write better subject lines that got more opens.
I found a lot of articles through a Google search, and the best one I found was titled: “The Best 17 Email Subject lines for Increasing Open Rates” by Amanda MacArthur.
It was based on extensive research by a group of top marketing professionals from several companies. And it also included a one-hour webinar recording where the experts talked about their favorite subject lines – the ones that consistently performed the best.
In today’s article, I’m going to summarize some of these approaches to subject lines. But first I’ll talk about why subject lines are so important if you want to get more people to open and read the emails you send.
Why subject lines are so important
A subject line is essentially the same as a headline used for an advertisement, an article or promotional text for a product or service. It’s what gets someone to read your email.
But how important is the subject line or headline? According to Don Nicholas, the managing director of Mequoda Group, extensive testing of subject lines has proven that the subject line itself is responsible for up to 75% of the results from an email.
Why is this? It’s because if you have a poor subject line, fewer people will open and read your email, and if you have a good subject line, many more people will open and read your email. It’s as simple as that.
Also remember, subject lines are used in emails but also appear at the top of blog posts. A good subject line in a blog will get the post found more often via Google. You want to phrase your subject lines in a way that your ideal clients might search for. Of course, your subject lines will include important keywords used by your ideal clients.
By the way, nobody can tell you exactly what a good or acceptable open rate is. It depends on so many things such as the age of your list, how often you send out emails etc. Your aim is to improve the open rates you currently have, no matter what that is.
Since email is so important in marketing today, subject lines can make the difference between success and failure in your marketing.
What elements in a subject line result in more opens?
The answer to this goes back to the fundamentals of marketing. Ultimately people are interested in one thing over everything else: “What’s in it for me?”
To accomplish this, your subject lines should convey benefits, arouse curiosity, point to ideas that are useful, suggest solutions to problems and offer easy but powerful ways to get something done or make happen.
Out of the 17 subject line approaches outlined in the above-mentioned article, the following five were cited most often as being consistently effective.
1. The How To Email Subject Line
This old standby is tried and true. As long as what you are writing about is of interest to those on your list, it will get a better open rate (relative to poor subject lines). Subject lines like this point to a particular strategy or approach that you’ve successfully used yourself or with clients. People are always looking for new ways to do something.
– How to turn managers into leaders who transform companies
– How to help your clients get results in half the time
– How to get more of your priority projects done in less time
Remember to spare your readers the hype. Make sure you deliver on what you’ve promised in the body of the email or this approach can backfire.
2. The List Email Subject Line
Use this when you have a list of things to share with your readers. People like lists because they are compact, organized and easy to absorb. We like to put things into organized systems that are easy to remember and apply, and List subject lines make that promise.
– The 7 ways management consultants can increase their fees
– 10 proven strategies manufactures use to decrease costs
– The 3 key ideas that will make your brand more magnetic
The list approach works much the same as the how-to approach – It raises immediate curiosity and interest. You want to know what those 7, 3 or 10 tips or ideas are so you can apply them to yourself and your business.
3. The Fascination Email Subject Line
This is when you have something that is unusual or unique you want to introduce to your readers. You see this kind of subject line on the web with those little ads at the bottom of the page: “Try this weird little tip to eliminate belly fat in a month.” But you can use the fascination approach and still look yourself in the mirror in the morning!
– Discover the most effective ways to turn prospects into clients
– The leadership discovery that is transforming organizations
– How this discovery dramatically increased my client’s profitability
The words “discover or discovery” are very effective at triggering curiosity. The word “secrets” however has been overused and no longer gets quite the response it used to.
4. The Targeted Email Subject Line
This is a subject line that mentions your ideal clients. A subject line like this effectively says to your ideal clients, “This is for you.” The format is often: “______” [Topic] for “______” [Target Audience]. You don’t want to overdo this. For instance, If I always used the phrase “Independent Professionals” in my subject you’d probably get irritated. But if used judiciously, it’s very effective. Also, notice that this kind of subject line can be included in a How To subject line and a List subject line.
– Social Media best practices for business coaches
– Blogging strategies for software companies
– Leadership essentials for the printing industry
Remember, any time you point to your ideal clients in a subject line, there’s no guessing whether it’s for them or not. You can also target specific issues or challenges:
– Timesavers for really busy people.
– Authentic marketing for people who hate to sell.
– Low-stress communication approaches for introverted people
5. The Reason Why Email Subject Line
In Reason Why subject lines you intrigue the reader with the promise of learning why a certain approach, technique or strategy is valid. You can often pair this with a List subject line. Use this when you want to explain something many people don’t understand and need to understand.
– 5 reasons why manipulative selling actually reduces sales
– 7 reasons why an email newsletter is a marketing necessity
– 10 reasons why most leadership training doesn’t work
All of these stimulate interest and response. The issue is brought up in the email subject line and piques our curiosity. “What exactly are those reasons?” we think, and find ourselves opening the email.
Bonus: The Urgency Email Subject line
This one is tricky. It can work really well or backfire on you. If you are always making things urgent, especially in a promotional email, it starts to ring false. But if you have a real deadline, an Urgency headline is appropriate.
– Final Notice for Article Writing Course
– The Early-Bird Fee for this program ends tomorrow
– Last Chance to get your three program bonuses
I used the first one above last week. Sent on Monday, the course started the day after, so it really was the final notice. And it did result in many people signing up at the last minute. You don’t have to be over-the-top or manipulative. In fact, explaining the purpose of your urgency in a matter-of-fact style gets less resistance and more readership.
A few things not to do in writing subject lines.
Above all else, don’t lie or exaggerate. If you have something legitimate to discuss or have a product or service that you stand behind 100%, then a subject line that stimulates curiosity and readership is a good thing. You don’t need to use hype.
Don’t make your subject lines boring. “You can’t bore someone into doing business with you.” – David Ogilvy
Write your subject lines too quickly without taking these ideas into account. By spending just a few more minutes creating a subject line that stimulates curiosity, and addresses the self-interest of your ideal clients, you’ll almost always increase your open rates.
Don’t be clever or cryptic. I’ve seen a lot of clever or cryptic subject lines that were all about the subject line itself, not what the subject line was pointing to. Also, the words easy, fun, hot, cool, amazing, jaw-dropping, shocking etc. don’t really say much and only add to the perception that your email is hype.
Don’t fail to track the results of your subject lines. Create a little chart with your subject lines and your open rates (which you can find in your email management program such as AWeber or Mail Chimp) and see if you can discover the subject line approaches that work the best. What gets measured improves.
Turn subject line writing into a project
Make it a goal to increase the effectiveness of your subject lines for email newsletters, promotional emails, and blogs. You’ll get more attention, spark curiosity, get more readers to absorb your content, and ultimately attract more of your ideal clients.
Cheers, Robert M.
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