Email subject lines: just give it to me straight

15/6/2016 |

Email subject lines: just give it to me straight

“Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg” Those grabby headlines you read in newspapers don’t just happen. Since newspapers began, headline writers have been brought in specifically to craft the messages because it really matters that you get it right.

Subject lines for emails are the same. These are headlines that give your reader an initial message about the content and how you want them to respond. By writing effective subject lines, you help your reader (as well as yourself) with time management and productivity. You also avoid messages being filed before they’re read, misinterpreted, or unwittingly sent into junk folders.


Best (and worst) email opening rates by subject line:

Mail Chimp sends over 10 billion emails a month for its customers. The company tracked 40 million of these emails to find out which subject lines were effective. Emails with the worst opening rates (1-14%) said something like, “Last minutes gift. We have the answer” or “Shop early and save 10%.” Those with the highest rates (60-70%) had a company name in the subject line, followed by words like newsletter, update, invitation. “We’re throwing a party” also made it to the top.

The conclusion reached by Mail Chimp was simple. Be honest, be clear, don’t sell—inform. The chimp advises, “Your subject line should (drum roll please) describe the subject of your email. Yep, that’s it.”

Spam message on computer screen

Testing your email subject line before you send:

Productivity Ninjas agree. Every time you type into the subject line, ask yourself:

– Am I being honest about the urgency? This either builds trust with your readers, or tells them to file/trash next time before reading.

– Will the reader know (generally) what this is about so they can decide quickly the action required?

– Have I played switch and bait with my reader? That is, if this is a promotional email, did I hide it with a subject line, “Urgent update for your business.”

– Have I inserted words, caps, or punctuation that set the wrong tone, e.g. REMINDER, LAST CHANCE, Are U there?

– Will it pass a spam test? (That is, never include their name, or words like “buy now”, “discount”, “send funds”).

Email subject lines by action required

Check out the words and phrases in these subject lines. They provide examples of what your might include in order to direct the reader to the right action.

Today, Change in plans, Re. today’s meeting, Urgent (only if you really mean it): Drop everything and act, e.g. your boss has invited you to a last minute meeting and needs an answer

You’re invited, Confirm your attendance, Reminder, Follow up, Please send: Take action within a specific time frame, e.g. an invitation, free tickets, request for information

Documents/information attached, Information you requested: Acknowledge and act, e.g. a report, analysis, services you’re provided, invoices

Documents/information attached for your records, Directions, Background info FYI: Review and file, e.g. tax receipts, references, C.C.s and B.C.C.s

Promotion, sale, special offer, discount: Act or trash, e.g. coupons

My cat/dog/child/funny joke/reminder: Trash or read then trash, e.g. jokes and photos friends or your mother send you

Finally, email subject lines need to have the right tone. “Are you going to send that report soon?” is passive aggressive, “Just so you know, the car’s okay” is alarmist, and “We need to talk” has the same effect electronically as it does in a face to face conversation. Take you moment to check what you’ve written, no matter how busy you are. Subject lines matter!


By Beth Parker

Beth Parker is a Canadian author and ghostwriter engaged in a continual struggle to balance the needs of her business with the welcomed chaos of five children, a husband and various pets. She has a BA (English), University of Toronto, and an MA (Journalism). In her fictional spare time, she paints pictures.

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