Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Writing Effective Subject Lines

Subject lines are one of the most important components of a successful promotional or newsletter email. Working in tandem with the from line, the content of a subject line is the key determinant for whether a recipient will open an email, delete it immediately, ignore it, file it for future access, report it and/or filter it as spam. The subject line content is also a major component in the algorithm of many ISP and recipient-level spam filters. In other words, a poorly written subject lead may not only go unopened, it may not even reach the recipient’s inbox in the first place.

Keep these six principles in mind as you approach writing subject lines for your messages:

  • Inform: Subject lines should convey something important, timely or valuable, and should say to the recipient: "If you don’t open and read this email, you'll miss out on something of real value."

  • Intrigue: Your email is competing with 50 to 100 or more other emails for the recipients' attention. To increase the chance of having YOUR email be opened it must intrigue the recipient, the same way a well written headline does. It must stimulate some part of the recipient’s brain, prompting them to open the email immediately.

  • Entrust: Your subject line can support or hurt your brand image. Subject lines that over promise or mislead will ultimately destroy trust with recipients, damaging your brand and driving customers away.

  • Action: Subject lines are a major driver of click-through rates, as they “direct” recipients to pay attention to specific articles, products and information. Every email you send should have an overt or implied strategy behind it. You hope that specific products are purchased over others or that recipients read a specific article and then visit your Web site seeking additional information. Subject lines should reflect your goals and help direct recipients to take the desired action.

  • Empathy: While your emails may be distributed to thousands or millions of recipients, they are being received by individuals. Subject lines must recognize this and “speak” to the needs and interests of your recipients as individual customers, readers or prospects.

  • Togetherness (Subject Lines and From Lines Must Work Together): Largely because of the dramatic increase in spam email in the last year or two, recipients increasingly look at a combination of the from and subject lines to determine whether it is from a trusted source. As a result, the job of a subject line now must not only entice someone to open an email, it must discourage the recipient from deleting it as an unwanted email.