How to Write Click-Worthy Email Subject Lines

Your goals are set, your content is GOLD and your offer—if you do say so yourself—is irresistible. You know that once your intended reader dives into your email, they will be LOCKED IN.

Only one problem —-> You have approximately 41 characters to peak their interest, courtesy of the almighty subject line.

Some people dismiss the subject line as unimportant, opting instead to focus solely on perfecting the content inside the email. Those people would be, well, WRONG. So. Very. Wrong. 

You can write the most stellar email on the planet, but if your email subject line fails to intrigue those who you send it to, no one will ever see the masterpiece you’ve written. #SadFace

We’ve been around the block a time or two (or gazillion) and know a valuable part of an equation when we see one. And we’re not the only ones.

Neil Patel cites data found by software company CoSchedule that says:

  • 35% of recipients open emails based on subject lines alone…
  • 69% of recipients report emails as SPAM based on the subject lines…
  • 43% of recipients click the spam button based on the email “FROM” name or email address…

With 86% of business professionals opting to use email for business communications, “it’s important to understand that there’s a “right” way and a “wrong” way to integrate email marketing into your business communications. Do it the “right” way and you’ll increase visibility, enhance credibility and establish (or maintain) a competitive edge in the crowded marketplace. Do it the “wrong” way and you won’t. #Ouch

Email Subject Line Best Practices

A subject line has two main purposes: 

  • To spark your audience’s curiosity.
  • To move them to click.

That said, your subject line SHOULD NEVER be clickbaity.

Let us repeat: Do 👏🏼 Not 👏🏼 Be 👏🏼 Spammy 👏🏼 Pammy.

You will instantly lose credibility with your reader if what they click has absolutely nothing to do with the content or offer inside the email. People want the solutions your product/service provides (it’s human nature to WANT things) but they DO NOT want to be lied to, scammed or duped in the process of learning about how you can help them.  

In fact, this is such a poor marketing tactic that clickbait outside of email subject lines—in the form of a blog title or Facebook post—will actually hurt your rankings on search engines and detract from your visibility in the newsfeed. Take those two puppies out of your marketing strategy and you’ve pretty much guaranteed you’ll have to fork out big bucks for ads if you ever want to be found online.  

So what should you do?

Here are five tried and true email subject line strategies that elicit clicks without destroying your credibility. 

1. Offer Something AWESOME, For Free

This is a collective “DUH”, right? Who doesn’t want something awesome, for FREE? Most people realize and accept that not everything is 100% free. Still, they’ll click to see if the strings attached are worth the deal offered.

As an example, a friend recently received an email saying “your BFF is giving you a FREE box!” from a health and beauty subscription service. Was the box 100% free? Yes and no. Technically the BOX (and all it’s valuable goodies inside) WAS FREE, however, this person had to pay a flat $5 shipping rate to get it. 

For the record… it worked. BUT, the sender got lucky. Using the word “FREE” in subject lines is proven to trigger SPAM filters. If your email ends up in SPAM, you guessed it, people won’t read it. That said, rework your words a bit:

Instead of “Your BFF is giving you a FREE box!” use “Your BFF told us to send you this gift!” or “We paid the bill so your BFF didn’t have to.” 

2. Create Urgency

When people think the last few grains of sand are slipping poetically through their fingertips, they reconsider all of their previous dismissals. Maybe they DO need your product. Maybe this service WILL change their business. With time running out, how will they ever know if they don’t act NOW?

The key here is to NOT simply state “Time is Running Out!” because frankly, what does that mean? And we personally recently learned that spam filters often automatically flag emails with “Act Now!” in the subject line (shoutout to ActiveCampaign’s spam ratings). So what are you supposed to do? Make the decision seem so urgent that your audience has no choice but to click: “32 minutes left until…”, “Final 24 hours to…” or “Only X Spots Left.”

Why do these work? One word: FOMO

Okay, so that’s actually four words: Fear Of Missing Out, but you get the point. Consumers (especially millennials according to studies) purchase in the last few moments by sheer fear of missing a great opportunity.

While urgency and FOMO absolutely get the clicks, it only works if it seems authentic. If every email you send has SOS signals and countdown timers attached to it, people will quickly see through your ruse. Don’t be THAT company. 

3. Give Them Social Proof

Essentially the adult, consumer version of “monkey see, monkey do”, social proof makes people think that if others are doing something, they should be doing it, too! Use social proof in your subject lines to immediately catch their attention, such as: “Join the 22,000+ strong community of XYZ!”  

Or if you know of an industry hot shot or influencer using your product or service, lead with that. We may have graduated from high school but everyone still wants to be part of the cool kids’ club!

4. Elicit An Emotional Response

Nothing moves people into action quite like pulling on the heartstrings. Granted it’s a huge task to evoke emotion in 5-7 words but IF you can pull it off, then you’re almost guaranteed to garner enough interest for your readers to want to know more.

Two quick notes about emotion, however: one, it doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be dripping in emotion to the extent that it feels forced or insincere. And two, emotion doesn’t have to be sad. Humor evokes just as much of a reaction and connection as sadness, anger or fear but in a much more positive way. Try leading with a joke setup, ie: “A copywriter walks into a bar and…” or surprise your audience by making a pop culture reference personal: “The Old Spice Man Was In My Shower.” Of course, you’ll need to find a way to weave the subject line into the body of your email so it’s supported, but that’s why writing emails is so much fun! #HelloCreativity

5. Tell a Story

Do you consider yourself an impressive storyteller? If not, it’s time to brush up on those skills because everyone loves a great story. Full of action, emotion, pain, and of course, triumphant perseverance. We want to be moved by your struggles and celebrate your success. We want to feel connected. And that’s what the best stories do…connect us. 

In your subject line, promise a story that no one can refuse. Tease it by quickly mentioning any one part of your story: 

  • The initial problem to solve, ie: “I was 3 days from filing bankruptcy…”
  • The climax (how you figured out a solution): “I sold my webinar for X dollars for X days…”
  • The resilient results, ie: “I finally tripled my corporate income last quarter…”

Make it intriguing enough that people want… no NEED… to hear more. If you’re doing a funnel, then this would make a great series section: email 1: the struggle, email 2: the solution, email 3: the success. Let your audience know beforehand that you’ll be delivering the story like this so they stay engaged and on the lookout. If they know a 3-part story is on the way, they’ll be less likely to ignore your emails assuming they’ve already invested the time to read part one.

The good news is, your audience WANTS to hear from you. They signed up for your emails for a reason. Whether it’s the occasional discount, to stay in-the-know, or learn from an authority in their industry, if they haven’t blacklisted you from their inbox, consider it a green light to connect.

That said, an effective email is only successful if it’s read—otherwise, it’s just a whole bunch of words lingering out in the interwebs. Ya dig?

Need some subject line inspiration? Get 75 powerful plug & play email subject lines now… And did we mention they’re FREE?

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