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Six Tips for Writing Better Subject Lines

Create interest with your first few words

MartinLieberman, Managing Editor

by Martin Lieberman,  Constant Contact Managing Editor

As Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music,"Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start." When people on your mailing list read your messages, they may not begin with A-B-C, but they do begin with your subject line.

The subject line is perhaps the most critical aspect of your message. Think about it: The subject line is often what readers use to decide whether to open an email at all. In fact, a 2007 study by Jupiter Research showed that 35 percent of email users open messages simply because of what's contained in the subject line. Usually it takes three seconds or less to make this decision. If your subject line isn't compelling enough, your message could end up unread or in the trash folder.

With that in mind, here are six pieces of conventional wisdom to consider when writing your subject lines. In all cases, it's a good idea to consider the type of message you are sending before you apply any of these tips. A promotional offer would call for a different type of subject than an informational mailing, for example.

Be Quick

According to Return Path, subject lines with less than 50 characters have open rates that are 12.5 percent higher than those with 50 or more characters, and click-through rates that are 75 percent higher. Don't give away all your content in the subject line; just offer a taste by sharing the most important piece of information.

Be Informative

Your subject line should convey not just what's inside your email, but that the contents are important, timely, and relevant. Essentially, the subject line should say to the recipient that if she doesn't open your message, she could be missing out on something of real value. For example, "These special offers won't last long."

Be Personal

A personalized message will cut through the clutter of an over-filled inbox. No, you don't have to mention the recipient by name. But using words like "you," "your," "we," or "our" will help make a warmer impression than a generic or impersonal subject line would. "The Park City Symphony needs your help" would be an effective pitch, for example.

Be Interesting

To increase your chances of having your email opened, your subject line must intrigue your recipient the same way that a good headline on a news article does. You want to stimulate and excite the reader so he or she wants to open your message right away. And then, of course, your email has to deliver on that tease. Asking "Does your dog have a favorite toy?" is one way to capture your readers' attention.

Be Trustworthy

Your subject line is another communication of your brand image, and accordingly, you do not want to mislead recipients by promising one thing in your subject line and then delivering another. Similarly, if you call something out in your subject line (such as a special offer or event details), make sure this information is easy to find in the body of your mail. Believe it or not, a good subject line can make customers feel better about your business or organization.

Be Inspirational

The more active your subject line, the more compelled your recipient will be to act. You can accomplish this simply, by using verbs. For example, "Money-saving tips" may not inspire someone to open your email, but "Save money with these tips" probably would.

Of course, incorporating all six of these tips into one subject line would be quite a challenge (we did say keep it short). That's why it's a good idea to test various subject lines, and keep watch of your open rates and the response from your readers to see which ones are the most effective. You may be surprised what a difference five or six words can make.

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