Many of us spend time crafting the perfect email, but then just dash off a subject line almost as an afterthought. We’re here to tell you: Stop. That subject line may be the most important part of your email. Why? Because even the most articulate message won’t ever get read if your recipient doesn’t bother opening the email.

And what’s going to get him or her to click on your message? The subject line. It’s your digital make-it-or-break it moment. Those few well-chosen characters will determine if your recipient opens you or deletes you forever.

Five Tips for Writing a Great Email Subject Line

So, how can you increase your chances of a reader clicking on that email?

We’ll start with the bottom line: Use the same best web writing practices for your subject line that you use for web content. Because essentially, an email subject line is web content, just in a sparse, stripped-down form.

  1. Keep it short: 40-50 characters is the max, but keep in mind that on mobile devices, readers may see only half that. So make sure you frontload the subject line with the important information. “HealthWalk: This Sunday! With [Your Organization Name Here]” gets the “what and when” in using the first 25 characters. Think of it this way: Words are money and you’re stingy—“spend” them sparingly and only for the really important things.
  2. Respect your readers: Readers see through your “Read me! Please!” techniques faster than a cute cat video can go viral. And they will hit the delete button just as quickly.

    Don’t click bait (“You Won’t Believe …” Yes, I do believe, I believe I’ll be deleting your email) or use phrases that are dripping with spam (“Free!” “Get 15% off!” “Last chance!”)

    Using readers’ first names is a tricky one; try to avoid it unless you can do so carefully and judiciously. (“Monthly Reward Statement for Jan” is more respectful than, “JAN, a Deal Just For You.”)

    And stay away from smileys, cutesy icons or ALL CAPS (who wants to be screamed at in their inbox?)

  3. Indicate if you need a response: If your email is time sensitive, mention that in the subject line. (“Response needed by EOD 6/14.”) In other words, nix the flowery intro, and just cut to the chase.
  4. Edit: Check for spelling and grammar errors, or cut and paste errors, just as you would in your email. Your subject line is your first impression on your readers. Make sure it’s professional, not sloppy.
  5. Include the relevant information: Just like good web content opens up a conversation with your readers, so should your subject line. If you’re emailing a newsletter, the subject should include an interesting snippet from an article, not “May 2014 Newsletter.” If it’s an announcement, event or an activity from a local organization, include the relevant details in the subject line, not just the name of the organization.

It may seem daunting—how can you make your email stand out, among the dozens or even hundreds of emails your readers receive every day? But with a little planning and consideration, you can craft a perfect subject line that is just begging (respectfully, of course) to be opened.

 

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