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How to grab attention with email subject lines that get results

Estimated reading time: 6 mins

What makes YOUR email so special? And why should I read it, punk? This is what goes through the mind of email readers countless times a second, as they scan their inbox.

You want your important email to be read, but how do you successfully attract the attention of your recipients to it?

Almost everybody with an inbox is bombarded with countless emails, all vying for attention. None of us have the time, patience or appetite to read all the emails we receive, so inevitably, we filter. Only a small, precious percentage are actually read – the rest confined to the ‘read it later’ pigeon-hole, or even the trashcan.

Not surprisingly, 33% of email recipients decide whether they will read an email by the subject line alone. Nobody with something important and valuable to communicate can afford to be lazy with their email subject line!

How should we develop that amazing subject line?

Ask yourself this first…

If your message is so important and/or urgent, then why use email in the first place? If you have the means to contact the recipient, or representative of the recipient, then why not use the (old-fashioned) telephone? A critical, operational issue where the cost of failure is high shouldn’t really be communicated by email. A worthwhile validation check.

Who is your audience?

Perhaps obviously, you’ve gotta write a subject line that your audience will react to. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time. It’s all about relevance. Where it becomes less obvious is how to actually write subject lines that are relevant to people. More on relevance in a moment…

Personalization

Using a personalized subject line increases the chance of your email being opened, by as much as 42% in some industries. This isn’t new news. Perhaps what you might not know is that simply inserting the recipient’s first name in the subject is not good enough. Readers are becoming de-sensitized to this tactic, because the mass-mailers used by marketers makes it so easy. [If you’re a member of my newsletter group, you will know I use this very thing, but read on and I’ll explain more.]

Personalization is more than just using a name. When you have more data about the reader than this (such as their interests, their role, their job title, their current problems, the project they’re working on, etc) then you have a great opportunity to make the subject line contextual to the reader. Again – relevance. Relevance is more powerful than personalization, if you were to use only one tactic. Just a few more things to say, and then we’ll get right into crafting a relevant email subject line…

When a Subject Line is not a Subject Line

Take a look at your inbox – on your phone, tablet, mac or PC. What do you notice? You notice MORE than the ‘proper’ subject line, don’t you? Because (chances are) your mail application is showing you the first line or two from each email. See below – recognize something like that?

So the first couple of lines are also subject lines, of a sorts, as they’re telling the reader what the email is about, too.

So if your first two lines are something like

‘Hi Bob, hope you are well and nice to see you again last week. I am doing well…blah blah.’

then you have wasted a great opportunity to increase the chance of your email being read. What a shame. Instead, the first line of your email should be treated with the same respect as your proper subject line.

But even better than that – your opening line normally contains a greeting to the reader (‘Hi Bob‘) so why use their name in the proper subject line at all? Use it to personalize the subject line in a more creative way.

Use a Headline Analyzer

If you haven’t used a headline analyzer to craft your subject lines, then you’ve missed a trick. But don’t worry, nobody else is either. So this is a secret hack.

I use CoSchedule Headline Analyzer, and it’s awesome. It’s easy to use – enter your subject line and it will give you a score (the higher the better!) It’s designed for blog/article headlines, but it works just as well with e2mail subject lines too. It might take you a while to find that sweet subject line, but it’s worth the time invested. For example, my blog open rate increased by over 37% when I started using it – and for me, that’s a great return when 99% of my revenue comes in through ad clicks.

These tools encourage creativity. They guide and encourage you to be bolder, more powerful, and more emotional. The result is a subject line that has a greater impact, provokes emotional triggers, and is more likely to be opened.

Talking about Emotional Triggers…

If you’re not triggering emotions, then you are missing a trick. Emotional triggers provoke a powerful response.

Internet marketers having been using these for many years. However, emotional triggers are rarely used within internal emails and business emails. Why? Perhaps because they’re too cheesy for business, or considered unprofessional, but I think the truth is that humanity has been sucked out of corporate behavior. In business, we’ve become too stale.

But it needn’t be that way, and there is certainly no written rule (or unwritten rule either) that say we can’t add emotion to our communication, or play on them.

Want some examples? Well here is a great resource to get you going. It’s chockablock full of words that trigger emotions – enough to get you going and develop your own style. Look for the ‘power’ words too that could be used to convey a sense of importance and urgency.

The main point is to experiment, use the Headline Analyzer tool, and craft something emotional, powerful, and readable.

Most of all – keep it RELEVANT

I’ve mentioned relevance twice now (three times if you include the section heading!) Relevance is the most important aspect of a well crafted headline that will get results. Follow this advice!

A subject line about animal husbandry won’t be opened by cartographer. Actually, I just made that up, but you get my point. To find the relevance, try answering these questions:

  • For the audience, what are the one thing you know about them (i.e their role, their function, their interests), and how is it relevant to your email communication? (e.g. all recipients work in Sales)
  • What is the one thing that will prompt your audience to take action, based on your communication? (e.g. competitor pricing has changed)
  • What is the one thing that makes your email required reading now, and not tomorrow? (e.g. competitor has a discount that last two weeks from today)

Then, pull these together into a draft subject:

Sales Team: Competitor X announces 2 week discount pricing starting today

And then I ran it through the Headline Analyzer. It gave me a score of 34 (not good). I then experimented with some changes, interjecting power and emotion words, until I eventually settled on:

Alert: ruthless CompetitorX just announced immediate price frenzy

A much more engaging and urgent title! The Headline Analyzer gave it a score 0f 70 – a marked improvement.

You now have the tools – go and make it happen

It’s over to you, now, to go make your subject lines interesting and relevant. I’d love to hear back how this has worked for you, so please leave a comment.

Additional Resources:

Photo Credit: RivalIQ.com

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This post is part 18 of 20 in the series Effective Communication
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About the author /


Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

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