Nicolas Cage had 60 seconds to steal a car. You wish you had half that long to get someone to open your email. In truth, most readers will give your subject line less than 3 seconds before they decide to delete or open.
How do you make the most of those 3 short seconds?
Write a subject line they can’t resist.
That means your subject line has to achieve two goals: First, it needs to grab their attention. Second, it needs to motivate them to click. That’s a lot of work for only 6 to 10 words to do – or more precisely, not more than 60 characters. (That’s the length of email subject line that gets the best open rates.) So let’s get to it.
Second that emotion
Hitting the right emotional note achieves both goals of a good subject line. Emotions move people.
Fear is one of the best motivators. There are a number of ways to combine fear with another emotional motivator to write a subject line that pulls a reader in. Here are some examples:
Fear + Urgency: Don’t lose your spot in next week’s “Noobie Cupcakes” class
Ah, FOMO: the “fear of missing out.” We all suffer from it in one form or another. This type of subject line is best for time sensitive emails, say one about an event or a special sale.
Here’s the golden rule about using Fear+Urgency subject lines – don’t abuse them. If these are the only type of subject lines you send, or worse – if you’re lying about the urgency – you’ll lose the trust of your reader.
Fear + Pride: Are you making these 3 common icing mistakes?
Everyone wants to do a good job, whether it’s a personal or professional endeavor. People are always interested in learning ways to do better or to avoid making a mistake. A Fear+Pride approach is great to use when you’re sending a piece of educational content.
Of course fear isn’t the only strong emotion that motivates. It has its place and can be used well and wisely. However, you definitely want to tap into other emotions as well. Using only fear as a motivator can just start to make your emails look too depressing.
One positive counterbalance to the fear motivator is joy. Like fear, joy comes in many different flavors.
Joy+Surprise: The most fattening cupcakes you still have to eat
Go against the grain. Give a little license. Say something unexpected. Shock people out of the mundane and conventional for a moment. This type of subject line is a great approach for informational emails based on trends, newsjacking, or statistics. The sort of “fun stuff you should know” emails that add variety to the flow of educational and sales emails.
Actually, it’s also a great approach for your educational and sales emails. If you’re hitting the Joy+Surprise just right, you can really use it for any email.
Joy+Hope: Watch a toddler discover his yummy cupcake was made with beets
Enjoying a moment of fun and light improves everyone’s spirit. And sometimes, we can all certainly use a little emotional pick-me-up. This is another subject line type that can be used well for any type of email. (And yes, I know that example is 61 characters long. So shoot me.)
Personalize and specify
Writing subject lines that are personal and specific taps into another critical emotion in marketing and relationship building – trust. One of the goals of running an email series in the first place is to develop the trust and relationship that makes it more likely a reader will buy from you or share your content. Use these tips to establish and build that trust:
- Use the word “you” or “your”
- Use a person’s name for the “From” field – people like emails from other people. You can add the company name as well, but lead with an actual human’s name.
- Include a specific geographic location if appropriate.
- Be exact. If your email discusses 3 solutions or will improve results by 48% – say so.
- Ask a question that you really want them to answer: “How can we help?” “What did you think of our last webinar?”
One last note
Email open rates vary greatly by industry. One of the best ways to write subject lines that work for your email list is to track and test which emails they’re actually opening, so you can use those as models for future emails.
Your list is unique. If you don’t look at which subject lines are motivating your readers to open your email, then any list of subject line tips is only going to get you so far. Always remember you’re writing to real people, so stay on top of what those people want.
Elisa Silverman is a B2B content writer with a background in law and technology, who’s spent a career helping diverse groups of people communicate well with each other.