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Email Marketing Tutorial: How To Write Better Email Subject Lines

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Here are five surefire ways to write subject lines that will get your subscribers to actually OPEN your emails!

Hi guys, it’s Alex — and in this post, I’ll be sharing my five tips for copywriting compelling email subject lines.

Now, I’ve spoken before about the importance of your headlines! Headlines are strategically written, attention-grabbing statements with the sole purpose of getting your reader to engage with you – to either click an ad, continue reading your sales message, or yes, even watch your YouTube video. They are the VERY first thing your prospect reads. So, yes, you guessed it, subject lines are essentially the HEADLINES of your email marketing…

But to nail a compelling email subject line that stands out among a flood of other emails… And gets your subscribers to open and actually READ your message? Now, that’s a tall mission.

A great subject line needs to communicate the promise of value. It needs to tell your subscribers that what’s inside will benefit them and it needs to build trust. And it needs to do it all in just a few short words.

Which is why your subject line is the most important element of your email, and should never be an afterthought.

It is the pickup line, if you will. The page-turner. That split-second first impression you give the crowd as you make your entrance to a party that’ll determine the rest of your night. You get the picture.

And if you’re a copywriter, I’m sure you have noticed some pretty impressive subject lines in your inbox that really made you go — “I see what you did there!” and click open.

There are dozens of creative tactics floating around out there for writing a compelling subject line, but in this email marketing tutorial I’m showing you my fave five – the go-to subject-line writing rules that I’ve seen work time and time again for boosting open rates and building long-term trust with subscribers.

Now, before I dive in, be sure to hit the subscribe button over on my YouTube Channel so you don’t miss any more marketing and copywriting tips from me.

Every single week, I release a new video where I share the secrets I’ve learned from working with some of the most amazing brands across the world since starting my copywriting business 8 years ago.

Which brings me to a couple of important disclaimers: When writing subject lines, make sure they align with the brand voice you’re writing for. Different audiences will respond to different styles and languages, so it’s critical that you take that into account in your email marketing. Really, this applies to any form of copywriting!

I once used “WTF” in an email subject line for a client and, well, let’s just say it didn’t go over well. And I gave the poor customer service team quite the headache to deal with. Oops sorry guys!

Also — keep yourself up to date with the latest keywords and phrases that may trigger the spam police. Spam accounts for a shocking 48% of email worldwide, and spam filters are getting tighter and tighter, especially in gmail, and the last thing you want is to have an email that you spent hours on ending up in the junk folder! Because it doesn’t matter how good your email is if no one is reading it!

Keeping deliverability rates high is one of the greatest challenges email marketers and copywriters are facing today. So stay tuned, because in the near future, I’ll be releasing another post on how to increase your chances of your emails actually being seen.

Ok, now that we’ve got that covered, let’s dive into my five tips for writing a compelling email subject line.

Tip #1: Create Some Urgency

Creating a sense of urgency is probably the oldest trick in the sales book, and that’s because it’s an undeniable way to compel customers to take action. It works for the very simple psychological reason that people HATE missing out.

Urgency implies that there is a short-window of time for someone to act – increasing the likelihood that they will. We are inherent procrastinators and, when given a choice, we’ll always choose to put things off until later. That is, unless it’s urgent and FOMO is at play.

Now listen, I’m not here to encourage you to replicate a salesly infomercial from the past. The idea here is to apply urgency in a creative and authentic way, that truly provides value to your subscribers.

For example, you can be specific about an upcoming deadline and the benefits they’ll receive by acting now, not later.

Like…

  • You have 2000 rewards points to claim by January 1st.
  • Your 50% promo code expires in 48 hours.
  • We only have 10 of these left, Alex.
  • You’re missing out on our weekend deals.

Communicating scarcity and urgency is an easy way to boost those open rates, but be careful not to rely on these tactics too often. Only use them when the occasion genuinely calls for immediate action, or else you’re gonna look like the brand who cried wolf!

Now on to our second tip. Can you guess what it is…

You open your inbox and see the subject line….

Does this freak you out too?…..

Yup…

Tip #2: Evoke Curiosity

Who doesn’t love a bit of mystery? You want it in your new relationships, in your Netflix season finales, and yes — even in your inbox.

Curiosity fuels our human desire for closure. Using mystery in your subject line creates an open loop, which triggers a strong urge in your subscribers to fill that gap of missing information.

A great way to apply this tip in your subject line is to use a cliffhanger. Like — “When was the last time you…” or “Remember That One Time…”

Another creative way to pique curiosity is to ask your subscribers a question or promise them something interesting inside, and don’t be afraid to sound a little strange or unusual.

  • For example this subject line from Refinery29… “I got Botox—& THIS is what I looked like”
  • Or this one from Kate Spade… “You have to see what’s in this bag”
  • Or this one I wrote for Numerologist.com… “Is this freakishly-accurate for you too?”

One thing to keep in mind is to not be too mysterious to the point of obscurity! And of course make sure that your email does provide information and closure, or else your subscribers will feel betrayed and you’ll lose their trust.

So, I’m curious to know, what is one of the best email subject lines you’ve seen in your inbox lately? Comment below and let me know!

Tip #3: Don’t Be Afraid To Be Controversial

This is a little more “risque” than the rest… but if your brand has a personality that isn’t afraid to push the envelope, or question the norm — by all means, be bold!

Today’s audiences are expecting more authenticity and personality from brands they subscribe to. So sometimes it actually helps to use controversy to polarize your audience… as I like to say polarity creates popularity.

Here’s a powerful subject line used by LinkedIn over Thanksgiving: “Black Friday shoppers are the worst customers.”

My first reaction? Whoa — that’s a strong statement. But my next reaction? Hmm! I better read that to see if I’m one of those people!

Sure, LinkedIn may have seemed a little judgy, but here’s why this subject line totally worked: While it was polarizing, they weren’t actually selling anything on Black Friday, so they weren’t at the risk of calling any of THEIR customers the worst in that moment.

It was a highly relevant subject line given the time of year that likely resonated with a wide majority of their audience when it came to the madness of holiday shopping.

The email led to a well-researched article with the same title, which meant the controversy also had consistency and credibility backing it up. It wasn’t just a play to get more clicks.

Again, while controversy is indeed a powerful weapon, this all depends on the audience you’re catering to. So don’t be afraid to be controversial, but do be mindful and make sure you’re still honoring the brand voice.

Tip #4: Get Personal

If you think a subject line doesn’t give you enough time and space to pack an emotional punch — think again.

One of the best ways to engage email subscribers is to connect with them emotionally. You don’t necessarily have to leave them teary-eyed or jumping for joy, but eliciting emotional resonance in your language, even in the simplest of ways, is incredibly powerful.

One of the easiest ways to do this is through personalization, such as adding the reader’s first name to a subject line. Ironically, even though we all KNOW that’s nothing but an automated input in marketing emails, it still works.

According to Optinmonster, addressing subscribers by their first names in the subject line can boost open rates by 10%-14%…

I know I’m more likely to click on a subject line that says “Alex, you forgot these items in your cart” compared to just “You forgot these items in your cart”.

And keep in mind that personalization is becoming more and more expected in marketing, and this extends far past the subject lines. Marketing is no longer about spraying ONE marketing message all over the internet to everyone. The future of effective email marketing will be sending behaviour-based emails in REAL TIME to your subscribers, based on their specific actions, interests and engagement habits.

So for example, if you know that majority of your subscribers open your emails on mobile, use a subject line that creates a link between your email content and an activity or situation that your subscribers can identify with immediately. Such as: “Will you put down your phone to save a child’s life?” That one’s by UNICEF. Now that’s a powerful subject line.

Smart segmentation of your email list is imperative and increasing personalization in your messaging across all channels can lead to a 500% increase in consumer spending.

Another great way to create emotional resonance in your subject lines is to speak to your reader’s hopes, fantasies, and dreams through future pacing. Or, in other words, helping your audience visualize what could be possible for them in the very near future in just a few words.

For example:

  • Unleash your inner Beyonce.
  • Imagine yourself one year from today, Alex…
  • And we’re down to number five on the list.

Tip #5: Tell Them Exactly What’s Inside

Sometimes, simple and straightforward does the job best.

There’s a good chance that you’re sending emails to a bunch of subscribers who have inboxes filled to the brim with countless other emails from colleagues, companies and family members vying for their attention. So, how do you increase your chances of YOUR email getting read first, instead of others? The answer is to cut to the chase!

Give them the what, who, how, and where right off the bat!

This is even more important if you’re sending them a product or information that’s essential to their customer experience.

For example:

  • Your copywriting course PDF download link inside.
  • Here’s your ticket and your invoice for the show.
  • Your 2 week fitness challenge has arrived.

It’s not strategic, but it gets the job done and these sort of emails create trust with your audience. They’re not fancy, they’re practical.

So there you have it, five of my favorite ways to write a compelling email subject line. Now, of course, you’re not going to cram all of these tips into ONE subject line. The goal is to determine the type of message you’re sending and choose the method that works best! Then use a mix throughout your email marketing campaigns and newsletters.

And rule #1 is to always focus on adding value first. Clickbaity subject lines will only hurt your conversions in the long run.

Watch This Instead

 

If you liked this post, don’t forget to leave me a comment below! And, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel catch my video next week.

Till then, I’m Alex. Ciao for now!

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