Subject Lines that make an Impact

You’ve compiled your mailing list, developed a smart campaign and created excellent email content. Shortly before dispatch you are faced with the decisive question: How should I frame the subject line? In moments like these it is important to keep a clear head. So sit down, lean back and enjoy the following five tips for click-friendly email hooks.

A good subject line ensures that attention is drawn to your newsletter in the email inbox. In order to find the right words, it’s good to first be aware of the effect a good subject line has:

  1. A good subject line harbours a so-called “nudge effect”: it is peripherally perceived and is not clearly measurable in its effect (comparable to billboard advertising on motorways).
  2. It has a halo effect and can positively influence the overall impression of the email if it can win over the reader (for example, through a particularly clever play on words).
  3. It possesses sufficient persuasiveness to compel the addressee to open the newsletter.

Coming up with a good subject line requires a little creativity and following a few rules that serve as an orientation. We’ve put together several helpful subject line tips for you.

1. Timely planning

It is wise to already start collecting initial ideas for a click-friendly subject line during the concept phase. Ideally a good subject line is not created just moments before dispatch. You need a good concept to ensure that the idea sparks. Should you need to start sending within the next half hour or so and are still struggling to find a suitable subject line there may be insufficient time to conduct comprehensive research.

At such a point in time it can often be helpful to look back at the original campaign idea. Chances are that you might encounter some older, forgotten impulses that you might be able to quickly take on board for your subject line – and to then check against our further tips (2-9). And remember to think in a timely fashion for the future: the next newsletter or follow-on campaign is probably already in pipeline.

2. Optimise the number of characters for desktop and mobile

Even the best subject line will miss its intended effect if it is truncated in the inbox. To boost your open rates with a good subject line it is recommendable to keep an eye on the maximum number of characters. This varies according to email client, app or mobile device.

For desktop email clients, 35-45 characters are suitable. Individual studies have claimed that reading rates increase at 61-70 characters – but this volume may already be a little too comprehensive. In case of doubt: test the subject line depiction prior to dispatch. This is not only recommendable for desktop versions but also for the depiction on mobile apps.

After all, nowadays approximately half of all emails received are opened on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. While Gmail for Android allows up to 35 characters (as at 2016), other apps fully display longer subject lines. But this varies significantly. Apple Watch users read their emails on their wrists – where there is only enough space for subject lines with 15 -16 characters.

3. Draft succinctly and reduce

"Reduce to the max". As the character limitation in desktop and mobile versions show, this saying clearly applies to the subject line. It comes down to effectively conveying the most important information succinctly. What characterises the ideal subject line? It doesn’t include any superfluous words, syllables or pixels. It is therefore worthwhile to work with abbreviations, symbols and numbers.

A positive side effect of a short subject line: readers assess it as being more attractive while scanning through their inbox. The words used in the subject line should also be short. Avoid long, difficult or cumbersome formulations which impede the flow of reading and may even be truncated in the middle of a word.

4. The most important keywords at the beginning

The brain likes to conserve energy too. In order for the subject line to be convincing right from the first glance it should be to the point. As effective as a clever play on words, alliteration or a nice linguistic melody might be in individual cases, best practice involves making clear and catchy formulations that show added value. After all, there is still enough time and space in the email to give free rein to your creative wording impulses.

The first two words in the subject line are particularly attention grabbing. If relevant keywords are positioned at the beginning, these instantly draw the readers’ attention. Suitable keywords in this regard include those that signal customer benefits and relevance, invoke an action or provide more detailed information. An additional benefit: no matter if the subject line is truncated at 15 or 45 characters – the most important information is conveyed to your subscribers first.

5. Arouse curiosity

A good subject line arouses the curiosity of the reader. It strikes a chord, engages the reader or raises questions. This effect takes place when an arc of tension to the email is created. Omitted information or information that is alluded to drives the reader to think about the subject and to open the newsletter. That’s why a good story already works in the subject line – no matter if with a view to original occasions, quotes or instructions.

It is for this reason that clickbait is enjoying immense popularity – in social media and email marketing alike. The subject lines are usually composed in the style of: "This newsletter will change your life". But these types of sensationalistic teasers will quickly endanger the reputation of a brand. Whoever stimulates a reader to click using false expectations and then disappoints risks losing their credibility – and as such, the subscriber for future sales. The prospects of clickbait for success are therefore rather limited.

As such, arouse the curiosity and interest of your readers by all means – but only promise in the subject lines what you actually can deliver.