Are your email subject lines working hard enough?

Are your email subject lines working hard enough?

Here are seven tips from TMW content editor Claire Bussey for strong, engaging subject lines that encourage people to open your emails:

1. Be specific

If you bumped into someone you know on the street and they said "My weekly news!" or "Latest alert!" - you'd be unlikely to stop and chat. In fact, you'd probably walk quickly in the other direction. But how about if they said "What are you doing for New Year's Eve?", "We finally finished the kitchen!" or "Fancy trying that new pub on the high street?"

You need to instantly engage people. This means avoiding vague subject lines that tell the reader nothing about the content of the email. Yours is one of many emails that your customers receive on any given day. If you don't interest them from the get-go, they won't stop to listen.

2. Add context

No matter how big your brand, people are not sat waiting for your newsletter. Yet subject lines like these pop up every day: 

  • June's newsletter
  • Weekly alert 9 May
  • Offers of the week

Try a more enticing subject line, like these ones from Emerald Street that suggest the content is bite-sized and interesting:

  • Five French films everyone should see
  • The best of independent breweries

Avoid unhelpful subject lines like this one from TfL :

  • New travel information

This email was about how London's transport network will be affected by the Olympics. Pretty important stuff for anyone living in the capital. TfL could achieve a higher open rate with this more specific - and more personal - subject line:

  • Will the Olympics affect your travel?

3. Front-load key information

With subject lines, as with all online content, key messages need to come first. In this way, you cater for people who are skim-reading their inbox in a hurry. Some newsletters have strong subject lines but, because they begin with the name of the email newsletter, the lines lose their punch. This also makes them unscannable in a crowded inbox.

4. Make your 'Sender' line work in harmony

If your name is already in your 'Sender' line, you don't need to repeat it in your subject line. Your customer already knows who you are, so repeating your name is a waste of precious words.

5. Remember smartphones

Space is even more of a premium on smartphones so key messages need to be conveyed in the first 5-6 words. The subject line for a Debenhams email appears as:

  • Don't miss our deal of the day…

Rather vague, isn't it? How do I know whether to open? The full subject line is "Don't miss our deal of the day… 15% off women's clothing" - a pretty decent deal, but on a smartphone the key information is lost. A quick fix for this would be to swap the subject line around:

  • 15% off women's clothing: don't miss our deal of the day

6. Be topical

This will help you stand out in a crowded inbox. With holiday bookings up by as much as 60% thanks to the recent bad weather, this easyJet subject line ticks all the boxes for me:

  • Escape the rain - holiday deals from £145

7. Test, test, test

Split testing subject lines on a regular basis is the best way to find out what works well for your audience.

NOTES: Ref for holiday stat: