This is a guest post from Fundera.
Email newsletters have made a comeback over the past few years. Major publishers deliver dozens of targeted emails to their readers daily, while brands have found success meeting consumers in their inbox to deliver discounts and deals.
These emails, no matter what their goal, seem to make an impact: They’ve been shown to drive sales, boost social media reach, and increase website traffic and engagement. Very few business development tools are as measurably cost-effective as email marketing platforms.
The question for small businesses isn’t so much if they need an email newsletter, but how to execute one. And no issue weighs heavier on the minds of email marketers than what to put in the subject line.
Lots of email marketing campaigns are derailed by boring, ineffective subject lines that leave newsletters unopened, leading to quick unsubscribes.
That’s why it’s important to understand not just why subject lines are important, but how to make yours irresistible to readers.
Why Your Subject Line Matters
The subject of an email is like the cover of a book, or the headline to an article. You have to compel your reader to click and start reading—otherwise, your coupons, links, and other content will head straight to the trash.
Just as with most digital content, a subject line should strike a balance between informative and intriguing, inducing people to click without over or under-promising on what’s inside. Those that don’t accurately represent what’s inside will be judged accordingly: 69% of email recipients report email as spam based on subject lines alone.
Eventually, the strength of your brand may motivate people to click into your emails, even if the subject line isn’t as strong as it could be. But when you’re first starting out, a powerful, funny, or otherwise interesting subject line is essential.
How To Make Your Subject Lines Better
Subject line writing is equal parts art and science. Before listing small things you can do to affect click rates, let’s review general best practices that will form the foundation of how you write your newsletter opener:
Always test your headlines
Good email marketing platforms will allow you to A/B test, or split test, your emails: You send out two versions—or sometimes more—of the same newsletter, with the only difference being your first line.
And here’s your most basic test: Which newsletter got more opens? It stands to reason that one has the more appetizing subject line.
But you can measure additional variables, such as how many people unsubscribed, or went on to visit your website, to give you a complete picture of how effective your newsletter was.
When comparing subject lines, you can test all kinds of variables: length, use of questions, personalization, and so on. You should constantly tweak and test your subject lines to see what resonates with your unique audience.
Segment your audiences
Different people subscribe to your newsletter for different reasons. Some of them might have wanted the deals, while others were compelled by your copy.
The subject lines that might convince one group of readers to open your email may not work as well for your entire audience.
Using the same principle as A/B testing, write headlines that appeal to different audiences altogether. You might find that the collective open rate beats out sending the same message to everyone.
People have short attention spans nowadays—when checking their email, they are most likely on their phones, scrolling through their inbox, reading the headlines of their other subscribed newsletters.
Your window of opportunity to capture the attention of the reader is small. Get their attention with a header that conveys urgency—imploring them to click now by using powerful language or including fast-approaching deadlines.
Keep it short
Generally speaking, this is a good rule of thumb to follow. But it’s especially relevant with subject lines because you only get so many characters to get your point across—especially on mobile, where only about 25-30 characters are displayed.
A major part of good writing is good editing is figuring out what words you don’t need and cut them.
Send it from a familiar, but professional, address
Don’t be too hot or too cold: Your newsletter should come from the company’s address (not a personal account like Gmail or Yahoo), but not from something too formal like “email@example.com” Give your emails that personal touch without looking bush league.
Tips for writing the best subject lines
Now that you have a good baseline for how to write better subject lines, let’s explore 11 different ways that people across the internet use to increase click-through rates, some of which might resonate even more with your subscribers. Mix and match—don’t try them all in one subject line. Test which tips work best and continue to hone those concepts as you go:
1) Personalize them
If you have the data to do so, personalize your headline. When collecting email addresses to add to your newsletter database, consider adding another field or two for the user’s name and/or company name. Including that personalized touch in the subject line will catch their eye.
2) Get oddly specific
Being told that you have an oddly specific amount of money left to spend, or days left to redeem an offer can pique your interest in a way that standard, round numbers doesn’t. Giving people $3.37 to spend makes it sounds like they’ve already made a purchase and have some money to spend; $10 sounds like an attempt to capture your new business.
3) Ask a thoughtful question
Asking a question in your subject is a time-honored way to get your readers thinking, and to induce them to click into your newsletter to find the answer. This isn’t the same as starting a sentence in your subject line and finishing it in the body, which feels like clickbait. Instead, get your readers genuinely curious about your perspective on a pressing issue or contemplative topic. Here’s a recent example from Thrive Global.
4) Use a listicle
The modern internet is built on the back of listicles, just like the one you’re reading now. A headline or subject line with a listicle straddles the line between informative and intriguing—it promises an exact amount of information without betraying what that information is.
5) Put the most important words at the beginning
When skimming, humans tend to focus on the first and last three words of a sentence. Assuming the end of your subject line might get obscured in mobile, focus on putting as much relevant and important information at the beginning.
6) Capitalize the most important word
Capitalizing every word is annoying—don’t shout at your readers. Instead, pick one word that you want to stand out and make it the biggest one in your headline. Whether it’s a deadline (TODAY) or a feeling you want to share (WONDERFUL), give it emphasis with capitalization. Ramit Sethi of GrowthLab does this often, to great effect:
7) Research top subject line keywords
Certain words are just better at convincing people to click than others. Different analyses come back with different results, but some of the top performing subject line words include “upgrade,” “content,” “wonderful,” “get this now,” and “weekend.” Words with negative impact reportedly include “groovy,” “conditions,” and “deals.”
There is an additional benefit to using quality, powerful keywords: They will make it easier for readers to search for your email later if they want to go back to it at a later date.
Though there are some words that tend to work better across the board, experiment and figure out what words appeal to your specific audience.
8) Use powerful language
Language that is colorful, impactful, and unusual is always a plus when writing a subject line. Use unique words and combinations of words that can catch a reader’s attention, or inspire emotional and intense feelings. The second glance they take to read those words again can be the difference between a click and a deletion.
9) Ditch filler
As mentioned above, you have limited space in which to make an impact. Don’t waste what few characters you have on filler words and phrases, such as polite greetings like “Hey there!” No one wants their time wasted with words that don’t convey the reason for your email.
10) Make them timely
You can use your email marketing platform to plan and schedule your newsletters, so why not build your headlines around the day of the week, or even time of day, they go out? Send out a Friday deal with TGIF in the subject line, or a newsletter about beer during happy hour. That attention to detail won’t go unnoticed.
11) Use an emoji
It can feel silly, but in a world dominated by text—and your inbox is almost nothing but—a fitting emoji can catch readers’ eyes and set the tone for what’s in store. Morning Brew’s early-morning newsletter on financial news sets the tone with the coffee cup emoji:
Your newsletter subject line can feel like the least consequential part of your email marketing campaign. It’s just one sentence, and if people know what you’re offering them when your newsletter arrives, will they even pay attention to it?
As it turns out, subject lines are crucially important. They can be the difference between a successful newsletter and a waste of your marketing budget. Use all the tools at your disposal—testing, segmenting, and emoji—and some combination of the tips above to craft an opening line that Charles Dickens would be proud of.
Eric Goldschein is a staff writer at Fundera, a marketplace for small business financial solutions. He covers entrepreneurship, small business trends, finance, and marketing.