6 Tips to Write the Best Email Subject Lines and Boost Your Open Rates

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Email campaigns live and die by their headlines. You might create some of the most engaging emails ever, but if your headline doesn’t attract a subscriber’s attention right away, chances are they won’t open those messages. Because of this, you need to step up your game and create the best email subject lines you can.

Small differences in your email subject lines can have a significant impact on click-through rates. For example, using a word like “free” might seem like a good idea, but it can scare subscribers away due to the connotations with spam.

In this article, we’re going to dive into six data-backed methods to create the best email subject titles you can. Let’s talk numbers!

Six tips to write the best email subject lines for your subscribers

Most people get dozens of emails every day, and there’s usually a split-second decision involved along the lines of, Do I read this or ignore it? The email subject line you choose is a key part in the outcome.

Next, we’ll focus on some data-backed ways to improve your email open rate. Each one is backed by data, although your mileage may vary depending on your audience. Of course, there’s no harm in trying them all and see what your subscribers respond the best to. Let’s get started!

1. Use hobby-related email subject lines

Most industries have email open rates of about 20 percent. This is a global generalization, but is a great rule of thumb. However, one type of email that stands out when it comes to open rates are those related to hobbies. Mentioning hobbies within your email subject lines can be a quick way to boost your open rates, given that the 27 percent open rate is one of the highest recorded (alongside religion, non-profits, government, and the arts.)

If you’re unsure what we’re talking about here, take a look at some examples of the approach:

  • Where to Drink Beer Right Now
  • NEW! Vacation on Mars
  • You’ll Look Great in These Workout Pants

The three subject lines here are inspired by real-life examples offering some fantastic open rates. The takeaway is that because the headlines work in a hobby or fun activity relevant to the reader (and promises suitable content), the temptation to click through is high. By tying in your reader’s interests with your own goals, you’ll ultimately connect the two and reap the rewards.

2. Add emojis to your headlines

It might surprise you that the simple element of adding an emoji to your email titles can boost open rates by up to 56 percent, which is staggering. Even so, only about 6.9% of email titles include emojis.

Some examples of this approach in action include:

  • 🐕Want a Custom Emoji of Tullamore & 6 Months FREE Walks? Book a Walk Today for Your Chance to Win!”
  • 🔥🔥Hot freebie alert! 15 free gifts, you pick 5 🔥🔥

The impact emojis can have on your email open rates is hard to explain. In our experience, most marketers use them to drive attention to messages containing offers. This makes sense, as they’ll be some of your most valuable messages. In this writer’s experience, emojis can help offer visual clues to the content – helping skimmers ‘grok’ your message through emojis can implicitly help them gauge your content’s value.

However, you shouldn’t abuse the power of emojis when it comes to email. If you’re going to use them, stick to a maximum of two for each title, and temper their use in every headline. Otherwise, subscribers might soon stop paying attention.

Finally, pay special attention to the actual emojis that you use, as not all emojis are created equal. Econsultancy tested the open rates for different emoji characters and found that while the best-performing emoji (☃️) increased open rates by 65%, the worst-performing emoji (👉) actually lowered open rates by 9.5%.

3. Use personalized subject lines

Of course, we’re all aware that a vast number of people are receiving the same email we’re reading. Even so, it feels nice when marketers make a bit of effort for emails to feel more personal, and if the content inside is well-written, even offers a touch of ambiguity into whether the email is even part of a campaign.

HubSpot ran the data and found that emails that used a recipient’s first name in the subject line had around a 15% higher open rate.

When it comes to email subject lines, there are several options for personalization, such as including subscriber names and even mentioning specific events:

  • Mary, check out these hand-picked looks!
  • Happy Birthday Mary – Surprise Inside!
  • Uh-oh, your prescription is expiring!

Most modern email marketing services enable you to implement personalization in your campaigns, so this one should be a no-brainer to include. In short, if you’re not using the technique yet, you could stand to squeeze a little more out of your email list.

4. Optimize your title lengths for mobile devices

We’re currently past a tipping point – most people now browse (and therefore check their emails) from their mobile devices.

This is excellent for email marketing because you can reach your subscribers directly and immediately whenever you like. However, mobile devices mean smaller screens – which can make reading long email subject lines a pain.

Here’s how a regular Gmail inbox looks from an average-sized mobile device:

The best email subject lines need to work on mobile devices

You’ll notice most titles cut off around after the fifth or sixth word. Of course, longer titles can therefore lose their full impact. The solution here is to employ some old-fashioned copywriting techniques. Try nailing these simple elements to make your email subject lines more clickable:

  • Keep headlines concise: Marketo found that four-word headlines had the highest open rate, with a steep drop-off after seven words. So whenever possible, try to stay under seven words.
  • ‘Front load’ your email subject line: In other words, offer the most prominent information first, where it will be most visible.

This should get you in the right ballpark. From there, you can refine as necessary, safe in the knowledge you’ve ticked off the basics.

5. Avoid using words such as “free,” “help,” and “reminder”

As we mentioned before, using the word “free” can impact your email open rates negatively. The same effect extends to other words that sound too ‘spammy,’ such as ‘help’ and ‘reminder’. In our experience, if the title reads too much like it was automatically generated – or it’s too salesy – your CTRs will be affected.

Here’s where your creativity comes into play. Good writing dictates that there are a lot of ways to convey the same message, while avoiding undesirable words. Here are two quick examples inspired by real-world email subject lines, including one we’re re-using because it’s just that good:

  • Uh-oh, your prescription is expiring!
  • Best of Groupon: The Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)

There are a lot of psychologic tricks you can use when offering discounts and free offers to make them more attractive. In many cases, you don’t even have to use the word ‘free’ for people to get the idea, so there’s no need to spam it in your titles.

6. Convey a sense of urgency through your headline

If you take a look at your inbox, we’re willing to bet a lot of the email subject lines mention deals and offers that expire soon. Creating a sense of urgency is a marketing trick as old as time, so employing the technique is almost guaranteed to boost your CTRs and open rates.

Some outstanding examples of this approach for email marketing include:

  • Where to Drink Beer Right Now (another one of our favorites)
  • Your 7-figure plan goes bye-bye at midnight…
  • Tonight only: A denim lover’s dream

A lot of marketers use incredibly aggressive language within their campaigns. This can work in many cases, but the understated approach can also work wonders if your writing is good.

The examples we offered here imply time-limits, but they also involve promises. You can have fun drinking a few beers, get the perfect jeans, or find out how to make a lot of money. In all three cases, you’re alluding to earning instant joy for very little work (in this case a finger-press), and human beings are drawn to these types of deals constantly.

Conclusion

Email subject lines are marketing elements you may not consciously realize you’re being influenced by. However, if your headlines don’t catch the attention of your subscribers, chances are they won’t even bother opening your emails.

The good news is that even small changes can have a significant impact on your email open rates. For example, using personalization has been shown to increase clicks, as does using emojis. Our recommendation is to try all the techniques we mentioned above and check what works best with your audience.

Most email marketing services let you test different subject lines against one another, so you can experiment with these tactics and use cold hard data to find which tactics work best for your subscribers.

Do you have any questions about how to improve your email subject lines? Let’s go over them in the comments section below!

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