Email subject lines: Give it to me straight

1/7/2016 |


Newspaper headlines don’t just happen:

“Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg”

Since newspapers began, headline writers have been sought to craft the headline because it really matters; the engage the reader, or, they don’t.

The subject line of an email should do the same, provide a headline for your reader, It’s the introduction to what follows; the initial message about the content and how you want them to respond. By writing effective subject lines, you help your reader (as well as yourself) better manage priorities, choices, and productivity. You also avoid messages being filed before they’re read, misinterpreted, or unwittingly jettisoned to the junk folder.

Best (and worst) email opening rates by subject line

Mail Chimp users send over 10 billion emails a month. They opted to track 40 million of them seeking which subject lines were effective. Emails with the worst opening rates (1-14%) said something like, “Last minute gift”, “We have the answer”, or “Shop early and save 10%.” Those with the highest rates (60-70%) had a company name in the subject line, followed by words like newsletter, update, invitation. As an aside, “We’re throwing a party!” also made it to the top.

The conclusion is simple; be clear, don’t sell—inform. The chimp advises, “Your subject line should (drum roll please) describe the subject of your email. Yep, that’s it.”

Keep the ideas below in mind when crafting your subject line:

 Wear the recipients “shoes”:

As you create a subject line, ask yourself:

  • Will your reader know what the message is about and be able to quickly decide the action required?
  • Were you clear with any necessary time expectations?
  • Have I misused a sense of urgency? i.e., do I really need to indicate the message as “High Importance” !!!!! ?

Create Context:

Include descriptors at the beginning of a subject line to provide context for your reader:

Confirming an action to be taken?  Preface with a descriptor such as “Please Confirm”, “Change in Plans:”, “Reminder:”, “Action:” or “Request:”

Delivering information or documentation your recipient is expecting?  Preface with a descriptor such as “Delivery”, “Documents Attached:”, “Information You Requested:”

Sending a time sensitive message?

  •  First; a self-check – if it’s truly time sensitive, is email the correct communication tool to use? If you decide the answer is yes, then preface with a descriptor such as Today:”, “Change in Plans:”, “Urgent:”

Mind Your Tone:

Finally, be mindful that the email subject line portrays a tone. “Are you going to send that report soon?” may feel passive aggressive or “We need to talk” can be perceived as intimidating……… Always pause for a moment to read what you’ve written and how it will be perceived by your recipient on a busy day in their busy world….



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