3 Formulas for Brilliant Email Marketing Subject Lines

Chanelle Smith

Chanelle Smith

Published on

November 18, 2016

When you send an email to subscribers, you always have a goal in mind. It could be to sell them something, to get them to forward it to their friends, or to get click-throughs to your website. But no matter what your goal for the email is, you won’t reach it if you can’t even get your customer to open the message.

Since every company’s customer base is different, there’s no one right way to ensure your emails get opened, but here are three formulas to put you on the path toward writing email marketing subject lines that consistently get clicked.

Formula #1: What they want + what you have = mutual benefit

email marketing subject lines equation one

Admit it: when you’re scanning your inbox, you’re more likely looking for reasons to delete emails than looking for reasons to keep them.

That’s why you need to tell your readers exactly why they should open your email right in the subject line. It could be anything from sharing an industry secret to offering a promotional price on a product, but whatever it is needs to be in that subject line.

But does that mean giving all your secrets away up front? Nope. A tip from newsletter pro Amy Hall is to share only a portion of valuable info in the subject line, compelling customers to open the email to get the full story.

Tip: For an extra clickable subject line, try writing it in that buzzworthy list format we all know and love (15 Reasons to XYZ!) to see how it fares.

Don’t make the subject line too long, though. A subject line that’s too long will get cut off and anyone quickly scanning through their inbox won’t have the patience to click through and get the whole story. Give your emails a fighting chance to avoid the trash and keep email marketing subject lines under 50 characters.

A tip from email guru Adam Ramshaw:

Value your customers’ time by using clear, concise language to communicate the subject. Don’t use puns or turns of phrase that take more than a second or two to understand.

Ramshaw notes that in a recent study, clear subject lines got clicked a whopping 541% more than so-called clever ones.

Formula #2: Personalized + the right tone = subscribers that feel valued

email subject lines formula 2

If you ask for subscribers’ names along with their email addresses when they sign up for your email list, you have a golden opportunity to use the extra information to your advantage. Consider including a first name in the subject line using customization tags. It subtly implies that they’re a person to you, not just an entry on a list.

Another way to personalize your outreach is to send your email from a name and email address that’s easily recognizable. There’s no hard and fast rule as to whether you should use a person’s name vs. your company name – just know your customer base, think about which would be seen as more trustworthy, and go with that.

Another thing you can play with is your tone. For the most part, a casual tone, rather than a stuffy or academic one, is going to land the best. Write your email marketing subject lines as if you were sending your email to a friend. You can even use a question, but make sure it’s open-ended rather than a yes or no question.

Compare the examples below. Which one would you click on?

Example 1: Is your refrigerator running?
Example 2: 6 reasons your fridge is running (+ how to catch it)

Adding urgency to your subject line can also be a good technique, so long as you use it sparingly. If you’re offering something for a limited time or need customer responses, you can try phrases like “deadline Friday” or “response required” in your subject line to get as many eyes on your email as possible.

Urgency, though, is not the same as spammy language. Dr. Michael Einstein of Email Overload Solutions reminds us that emails with words like “free”, “limited”, and “gift” in the subject lines are at risk of being blocked by spam filters.

Read Michael’s post here for more info, including a full list of spam words to avoid.

Formula #3: Timing + knowing your audience = higher open rates

email subject lines formula 3

First things first, make sure to optimize your send times for the time zone that most of your readers are in. Prime sitting-on-the-couch time in the Eastern time zone is at the exact same time as rush hour on the west coast, so timing does matter!

You should also consider the industry most readers are in and look into some research on when people in that industry are most likely to be at their computers checking email. Tip: Try a web search for “email usage statistics [industry name]”.

Even though timing matters, what’s really important is tailoring your subject lines to your specific audience(s). An email marketing subject line that an existing customer clicks may be slightly different than one that a prospect clicks, so find a tool that allows you to use rules to customize the subject line based on the target audience.

Important to remember as you go forth and use these formulas to compose clickable subject lines is this from marketing expert Zach Heller:

There is no one magic, universal email subject line that will work for all audiences and applications. Know your product, know your audience, and don’t be afraid to try new things.

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