How to Write the Perfect Subject Line: 6 steps to monetizing your email campaigns

The quintessential bane of an email marketer's existence, the subject line, will be the proverbial cover by which your book will be judged

As an email marketer, you have a process for every email campaign you create. You probably brainstorm for content ideas, write the copy, work with a creative team for the graphics, carefully select a time and date to send, and track key performance indicators such as open and click through rates.  All of these are critical elements to a successful email campaign, but none of them are quite as crucial as the subject line. The subject line is arguably the largest determining factor in the success of your email campaign. The quintessential bane of an email marketer’s existence, your subject line will be the proverbial cover by which your book will be judged: it will help customers decide whether or not they’ll open your email. If you don’t want all your hard work to go to waste, and you want to pull in some major ROI on your campaigns, your subject line needs to have an “it factor.” Here’s how to draw your customers in with 150 characters or less:

1.)    Answer this question: What’s in it for me?

Customers sign up for your list for one reason only: they assume it’ll benefit them in some way. A surefire way to get a high open or click rate is to give the customer a great reason to read your email. A discount or special is great, sure, but there are other ways of accomplishing this: offer exclusive access to a brand new line of products, showcase killer content on your blog, or highlight a contest you’re hosting. Whatever you’re offering to entice your customers, make sure it’s clear immediately – through your subject line.

2.)    Use a pun or reference to connect with your customers

Many times, brands are so focused on getting the “what” of their email campaign across in their subject line, that they forget the “how” matters also. Is your email campaign promoting a sale on TV’s in time for awards season? Make a reference to one of the “Best Picture” nominations in your subject line.  You can even fit a joke into your subject line – try something like “The ‘90s called and they want your TV Back: Get a New HDTV On Sale This Week.” As long as it’s age appropriate and actually funny, a little humor in your subject line will elevate your brand and help you establish rapport with your mailing list.

3.)    Call out a specific discount or price

This recent trend in email marketing has spread like wildfire mostly thanks to Amazon. If you’re offering a particular line of popular shoes on your site for 40% off this week, you might send an email campaign with a subject line something like “Great Deals on Shoes,” or “Our Shoes are on Sale.” However, 40% off is a pretty great deal – it’s better than the 20% or 30% that most people probably assume you’re offering. So why not try something like “40% Off Our Most Popular Shoes,” or “Our Most Popular Shoe for $25 This Week Only.” Not only will you get customers to open your email, but they’ll be the right kinds of customers – the ones who are interested in buying those shoes for that price.

4.)    Try reverse psychology

It’s the oldest trick in the book – and still wildly effective. Psychologically speaking, if you want someone to do something, tell them not to do it. Apply this to your subject line strategy and watch the open rates climb. Something like “Trust Us, You Don’t Want to See This,” or a simple “Don’t Open This Email,” will surprisingly work wonders.

5.)    Try personalization to really grab their attention

It’s human nature: People feel more connected to someone else when their name is used. This is a well-known business strategy, and it transitions easily to email marketing. Simply using the customer’s first name in the subject line is very effective with something like “Sasha, these shoes were made for you.” It gives the impression to your customer that your brand carefully selected shoes specifically for him/her. Sending birthday emails, anniversary congratulations or recommendations based on previous subscriber activity are other examples of great campaign personalization.

6.)    The sender also matters

This isn’t technically part of your subject line, but it’s the only other part of your email a customer will see before they open it. If you don’t think this is a crucial piece of your email campaigns, consider Barack Obama’s infamous (and highly successful) 2012 re-election email campaign.

Obama Email Subject Line Example


Throughout his campaign, subject lines such as “Dinner?,” “Wow,” and – best of all – “Hey,” revolutionized email marketing and inspired countless memes and Tumblr accounts. A subject line titled simply “Hey” may not seem very compelling, but next to Barack’s name in the sender line, it’s curiosity-inducing at the least.

Next time you’re sending out an email campaign to your customers, give one of these a try. They’ll work – just take a look at how we used these tips as part of an overall email marketing strategy that secured a 661% revenue growth YOY for one of our e-commerce clients.

Want to learn more about the Go Local approach to email marketing or how we can help your business? Contact us today!

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