Win the Inbox: Subject Lines Dos and Don’ts Part 3


How to Write Better Subject Lines for Better Open Rates

As I’ve mentioned before in other Win the Inbox episodes, maintaining open rates is essential. But what if your open rate is stuck? Even if you’re around or beating industry averages, which are 20% or so, you know there are some lists that are absolutely crushing those numbers. How do they do it?

Welcome to the third episode of Win the Inbox’s “Subject Line Series” – a five part exploration of the dos and don’ts of improving your open rate by crafting compelling email marketing subject lines. This is the final episode on subject line “Dos” – in part four I’ll cover the flip side: subject line “Don’ts.”

Everything I cover is available at for you to read in the transcript.

Hi, I’m Phil Hollows, CEO of email service provider, and the host of “Win the Inbox” where I cover one email marketing question in three minutes or less.

The key to getting your emails opened is hooking the reader, and then giving them every reason to read more.

Do be direct.

Use simple, imperative verbs. Tell the reader what you want them to do. You can even ask them to open the email, such as: “Expires Sunday: Open for the best deal of the year”

Do use the word “free” if it’s true, and the core point of the message. Like using CAPS LOCKs and emojis, “Free” is not an automatic trip to the spam folder. It’s safe to use, albeit sparingly.

Talking of free, this is a great time to remind you to not be all sales, all the time. Mix your mailings up with ones that are about something other than the next deal you’re pitching, else you’ll quickly induce subscriber fatigue and your open rates will fall.

Do recognize that people are lazy and greedy.

We want the quick fix, we want it now, and we don’t want to pay for it. Use that that less than noble side of human psychology to get your emails read.

Do use humor and the absurd to draw the reader in.

“5 customer service lessons my dog taught me you can use today” – well ok, that I’ll read! “We’re on the edge of our seats!” is a fun shopping cart abandonment topic. Obviously, be careful about your tone, your audience and your timing. Humor has its risks.

Do dare to compare.

Can you help your reader beat the industry leader? The clock? The tax man? Someone younger, richer, or smarter? Find a comparison that resonates with your audience and build a subject line around it.

Do use authority.

For example, if you’re a New York Times bestseller – or even referencing one – use that as proof. Bear in mind, though, that a lot of spam email uses fake calls to authority in their subject lines and copy, so make sure you’re being relevant, truthful and accurate.

Do use different approaches for different kinds of emails.

Emails intended to generate sales should have short, focused subject lines. For a newsletter, or similar content marketing, where you’re working to build trust, authority and educate, you can afford longer subject lines.

Say you’re following up with people who registered for a webcast, but didn’t show. Send the “sorry we missed you” email as soon as the webcast wraps up, and you can cross-reference the attendee list. For those who did attend, “Next steps” is a great way to start your follow-up sequence, which you’re also going to send ASAP.

Do combine multiple techniques in a single subject line.

“Sorry we missed you” is ok. “Phil, here’s your webcast transcript” sent promptly combines personalization, timeliness, and states there’s something of value that can only be accessed by opening the email.

Finally, remember that in most email apps, you effectively have TWO subject lines. The subject line itself, and the pre-header, or preview, text. You can apply very similar rules to preheaders, but there’s more to it than that. I’ll touch on those in another “Win the Inbox” episode.

Thank you for being here for my take on subject line best practices. If you found this helpful, please like, share and subscribe. You can catch all the “Win the Inbox” episodes at I’m Phil Hollows, I’ll see you next time.

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