writing testing email subject lines

Checklist: Writing Killer Email Subject Lines

You are familiar with a lead funnel or pipeline, right? It’s the stages a lead must pass through on the way to becoming an opportunity. There’s an analogous funnel with email marketing where the recipient must first open the email, then click, then convert on your landing page. Email subject lines are clearly an important component that affects your open rate.

Here’s a guide on 1) what variables to consider testing, 2) how to choose the type of email subject lines you want to use and 3) tips to remember and plenty of email subject lines examples. I’m making this guide to use myself so I have a resource to review while crafting my tests and choosing the best email subject lines.

Testing Email Subject Lines

Think of your email subject lines like headings on a news feed – your recipient will scan your email subject line quickly and make an instant decision about opening or deleting it. Fortunately, subject lines are easy to test and change. Here are some aspects to test:
writing testing email subject lines

  • short length vs. long length
  • specific vs. vague
  • question vs. statement
  • webinar vs. download
  • position of buzz words
  • personalized vs. not personalized

Don’t test them all at once – choose one at a time. If your list has at least 2,500 email addresses, then send each of the email subject lines to 5% of your list. Each set of 5% should be chosen randomly and have unique email addresses. The remaining 90% of your recipients get the winning subject line determined by highest open rate. This is called A/B testing.

Log the results in a spreadsheet – even come up with a schedule of the tests you’ll run over your next 10 emails. Let’s move on to the type of email subject line you want to use.

Choosing Type of Email Subject Lines

Promise new information and explain how they will get it

Getting something new has a big appeal so make it clear in your email subject lines. Boost that open rate by telling people how they will receive it.

  • Download our latest study on how to ace interviews
  • Webinar: new study reveals 5 ways to ace interviews

This is a good time to find out what kind of format your audience likes. Start with a webinar and then offer it as a downloadable document later.

Leverage the fear of missing out

The fear of losing something is often stronger than the value of gaining something. There’s a fine line in using this technique effectively in marketing and not manipulating your recipients. Here are two ideas:

  • Our offer for lifetime access ends tonight
  • Don’t miss this webinar on how to find a great career

If you are going to use something extreme, like a deadline, then make sure the offer justifies it. If your subject line is gets your hopes up but the offer lets you down, you may violate your recipients’ trust and that’s not good!

Ask a question

The say, “Curiosity killed the cat!” I say that, “curiosity converted the cat!” Okay, that’s a bit cheesy but asking questions in the subject line makes people curious about the answer, even if the topic is not of interest. Here’s a tip: your audience will trust you more when you include the topic of interest in the subject line!

  • What was she thinking when she took this picture?
  • What’s the most important thing you should do when job hunting?

The first one is a bit gimmicky but plays on natural curiosity everyone has. Your recipients’ expectations will be quite high since you left this question so vague. It’s important not to disappoint them with the offer. The second question creates that same sensation but refines the expectation to be something educational for job seekers. It’s less risky b/c you just need to answer the question sufficiently.

Offer a bonus or something special

A bonus, gift or chance at a prize is quite alluring. It’s what I call “artificial motivation” because you have to using an incentive to get the response you want. I like to make the offer a valuable piece of content (see sample #1 below). Exclusivity (e.g. “be the first”) and scarcity (e.g. “time is running out”) are effective techniques to add in here.

  • Get a first look at our new ebook
  • Share a blog for a chance to win an iPad

One word of caution here: the first time you make a good offer you’ll see a nice lift in your email stats. You may be tempted to keep the offers going. The problem is that the novelty will wear off with your recipients so watch how often you employ this tactic. Also, if you start giving away your own product or service in these offers, you may wind up decreasing the value to those who are considering buying from you.

Email Tips and Guidelines

Tell recipients exactly what they’ll get in detail

The more specific you can be will give recipients a more compelling reason to open your email. Compare these two subject lines:

  • Top 10 tips to improve your career
  • Top 10 tips to improve your resume

In the first one, there’s still a lot of room for interpretation – there are many ways to improve a career. The second line narrows the career space down to resume, which implies “career”.

You might argue, “I want to keep it high-level so that it appeals to more people.” I hear you but think this through… everyone wants to improve their career but the first subject line isn’t clear about how your email will help. Your second email spells it out more specifically and that usually gets more recipients to take action.

Move buzz words to the beginning

Your recipients signed up for your emails for specific reasons – you know those reasons and you know the words that will get attention. Place those words in the beginning of your subject line to grab your recipients’ attention faster.

  • Resume makeover tips to get hiring managers’ attention
  • Get hiring managers’ attention with these resume makeover tips

Look at these two subject lines above. If “resume” is your buzz word, then go with the first subject line. It takes more reading to get to the word “resume” in the second.

Show it is worth their time

Value and benefits create a strong draw in subject lines. Tell your recipients that your email is valuable and you’ll receive benefits. Even adding the word “value” or “valuable” can give you a boost.

  • Get our valuable career guide and find a career you love
  • We usually charge clients for this but today’s its free

The second subject line above actually implies that there’s a monetary value associated with the content.

Personalize for a change

Adding personalized data into the subject line is a great way to catch someone’s attention and get them to read your email’s subject line. First name is obvious but look at other fields you have like

  • [first] [last], you’ve been selected
  • This may help your job search, [first]

Word of caution: space out non-personalized subject lines so you don’t overuse the personalized ones. Your recipients will get used to seeing their first name in the subject line and eventually tune it out.

So here are all these great ideas, tests and tips for crafting better subject lines. Next time, when your email is ready to send – and you forgot to write a subject line – don’t just put the first thing down that comes into your head. Spend 5 extra minutes reading this article and make your subject line a killer subject line!

Please share your tips and guidelines below. Extra points for backing up your results with stats.


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