Writing a good subject line for an email letter is like writing a good headline for an advertisement. This advice from advertising legend David Ogilvy, written almost 50 years ago in his book “Confessions of an Advertising Man,” says it all:
The headline [or subject line] is the most important element in most advertisements. It is the telegram that decides the reader whether to read the copy.
On the 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.
We know from examining open rates that these statistics are just as accurate when applied to emails.
Here are some tips for writing effective subject lines or headlines:
- Appeal to the reader’s self-interest. Write from a “point-of-you.” “What most insurance agents won’t tell you about term life insurance.” “What you should know about your homeowners policy before you have a fire.” The key word in each subject line is the word “you.” “You” and “yours” are essential to almost every effective subject line.
- Try to inject news into your headline. “Find out how Washington has changed everything you thought you knew about health insurance.”
- Arouse curiosity. “Why is good auto insurance hard to find?” “If a tree falls on your house, will your policy cover it?”
- Ask a question. “Are your earnings insured if your building burns down?” Use numbers and reasons-why copy. “Six ways to reduce your benefit costs.” “Three reasons you should let us review your policies.”
- Use terms that sell:
- how to
- the truth about
- The best subject lines are short. Sure, write it out long first, but then pare it down. Eric Groves in his book “The Constant Contact Guide to Email Marketing” points out that “Subject lines with 49 or fewer characters had open rates 12.5 percent higher than those with fifty or more and click-through rates for subject lines with 49 characters or fewer characters were 75 percent higher than for those with 50 or more,” according to a survey by email monitoring company Return Path.
- Particularly when writing email subject lines, avoid “spammy” copy such as: words like “free,” “guaranteed, ” “fast,” “quick,” and so on; all CAPS; punctuation gone wild like !!! or ???
You might want to do what Eric Groves at Constant Contact suggests and save the emails with subject lines you admire in a folder, for inspiration when writing your own subject lines.
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