There’s a famous quote by ad supremo David Ogilvy: “On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

The same is true of your email subject lines, making them one of the most important aspects of email marketing. It’s vital that your subject line catches the attention of your readers. Here are the five top tips to bear in mind.

Short or long?

How long should your subject be? The trick is to find a balance. Your subject line should be fairly short and to the point, to let readers know immediately and without fluff what the email is all about.

short or long subject line

However, for the purposes of clarity, an email subject also needs specificity. Keep it too general and it’s likely to get lost in an inbox full of similar subject titles. So in other words, you need to convey content of your email both concisely and precisely.

There’s no hard and fast rule, so the best thing to do is split or A-B testing. In your campaigns, try some shorter, try some longer, and see which gets you the highest open and click-through rates for your specific audience.

Read the papers

The similarities between email subject titles and newspaper headlines aren’t superficial. Both seek to grab your attention in a context where readers are likely to skim-read for the most interesting stories. They often have to be punchy and inventive as well as informative.

Email marketing headlines

To get a good sense of how your subject lines should work, read the papers and see how their headlines are written. Note which of them personally grab your attention.

While your emails probably don’t have such sensational subject matter, newspapers show how headlines can be lively and creative.

Emotional marketing analysis

Try using free tools like the EMV Headline Analyzer from the Advanced Marketing Institute. This will give you an automatic rating based on the keywords you’re using, as well as categorising the kind of emotional impact made by your subject line.

Marketing emotional value

Such tools are limited and usually don’t take into account all factors to be totally relied upon, but they can help you to think through the language you are using and how to tailor your subject lines to leave the biggest impression.

Use action words

Use action words to keep your subject lines lively, and active verbs rather than passive verbs. Not only do active verbs tend to take up less space, but they lend a sense of immediacy. This is often given as advice to jobseekers writing their CVs, because active verbs leave a much stronger impression.

Email marketing action words

If you can further develop this into a call-to-action—instructing the reader to do something—even better. For example, “Preorder now” is greatly preferable to “now available for preorder”.

Take your time

Don’t settle on the first subject line that comes to mind. Write yourself a few examples and spend some time refining the copy of your email to make sure that it matches the headline.

Time to send

It always helps to imagine yourself as the recipient. If you got the email you’re about to send in your inbox, would you open it?

Always spend as much time considering your headline as you do your newsletter. After all, your emails are a waste of time and effort if no-one clicks on them in the first place.

Need help with your subject lines? Contact Marc at Winbox for some friendly advice.