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The Dos and Don'ts of Email Subject Lines

November 18, 2023 | Jimit Mehta

We've all been there: staring at a blank email subject line, wondering how to sum up the contents of our message in just a few words. Should you be clever and use a pun? Should you keep it short and sweet, or provide a bit more detail? The truth is, crafting an effective email subject line can be a tricky balancing act, and getting it wrong can have some serious consequences. After all, your subject line is the first thing your recipient sees, and it can make the difference between your message being opened and read or relegated to the dreaded spam folder. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the dos and don'ts of email subject lines, and give you some tips to help you nail that all-important first impression.

Keep it short and sweet

When it comes to email subject lines, brevity is key. In fact, research shows that subject lines with fewer than 50 characters tend to perform best. That's because people are inundated with emails every day, and they simply don't have the time or patience to wade through long or convoluted subject lines. By keeping your subject line short and sweet, you'll make it easier for your recipient to quickly understand the purpose of your email and decide whether or not to open it.

So instead of trying to cram everything into your subject line, focus on the most important or attention-grabbing aspect of your message, and use as few words as possible to convey it. This will not only improve the chances of your email being opened, but it will also demonstrate respect for your recipient's time and attention.

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Use clear and specific language

When crafting an email subject line, it's important to use language that is clear, specific, and easy to understand. Vague or ambiguous subject lines can be frustrating and confusing for recipients, and may even result in your email being overlooked or deleted. To avoid this, make sure your subject line accurately reflects the content of your email and clearly conveys what your recipient can expect to find inside. This might mean including specific details, such as the date, time, or location of an event, or using industry-specific language that your recipient will recognize.

Above all, avoid using overly general or generic language, as this can make your email seem unimportant or uninteresting. By using clear and specific language in your subject line, you'll not only improve the chances of your email being read, but you'll also show your recipient that you value their time and attention.

Avoid all caps and excessive punctuation

When it comes to email subject lines, using all caps or excessive punctuation can be a major turnoff for recipients. Not only does it come across as shouting or overly aggressive, but it can also trigger spam filters and cause your email to be automatically flagged as junk. Instead, aim for a subject line that is written in proper case and uses only the necessary punctuation to convey your message.

This will not only make your subject line easier on the eyes, but it will also help to build trust with your recipient by demonstrating that you are a professional who takes the time to craft thoughtful and well-written emails. Remember, your subject line is your first chance to make a good impression, so make sure it's one that your recipient will appreciate and respond to positively.

Make it relevant to the recipient

When you're crafting an email subject line, it's important to think about your recipient and what will resonate with them. A subject line that is relevant to the recipient is much more likely to catch their attention and encourage them to open your email. So before you hit send, consider who your recipient is, what their interests are, and what they might be looking for in an email from you. This might mean including a personal touch, such as their name or something you know about their business or industry.

Or it might mean tailoring your subject line to address a specific need or pain point that you know your recipient is dealing with. By making your subject line relevant to the recipient, you'll not only increase the chances of your email being opened and read, but you'll also build trust and credibility with your recipient, making it more likely that they'll want to engage with you in the future.

Personalize when possible

In today's world of mass emails and automated marketing campaigns, personalization can be a powerful way to stand out from the crowd. When you personalize your email subject line, you show your recipient that you value their individuality and have taken the time to craft a message that speaks directly to them. Personalization might involve using your recipient's name in the subject line, referencing a recent interaction or purchase, or tailoring your message to their specific interests or needs.

By doing this, you not only increase the chances of your email being opened and read, but you also create a sense of connection and engagement that can help to build long-term relationships with your audience. Of course, personalization is not always possible or appropriate, so use your best judgment and consider your recipient's preferences and privacy concerns when deciding how to personalize your email subject line.

Use urgency sparingly

Creating a sense of urgency can be a powerful way to motivate people to take action, but it's important to use this tactic sparingly when it comes to email subject lines. Overusing urgency can come across as manipulative or spammy, and can actually reduce the effectiveness of your message in the long run. Instead, focus on creating a sense of urgency only when it's truly necessary, such as when promoting a time-sensitive offer or deadline. When using urgency in your subject line, make sure it's genuine and not overhyped or exaggerated.

Be clear about why your recipient should act quickly and what they stand to gain from doing so. And always balance urgency with respect for your recipient's time and attention. By using urgency sparingly and thoughtfully, you can create a sense of excitement and engagement around your message, while still maintaining trust and credibility with your audience.

Avoid clickbait tactics

Clickbait tactics are often used to entice people to click on a link or open an email, but they can also be annoying and misleading. When it comes to email subject lines, it's important to avoid using clickbait tactics that promise more than you can deliver, or that don't accurately reflect the content of your email. This might include using sensational or exaggerated language, making false or vague promises, or teasing information without providing enough context. Clickbait subject lines can damage your credibility and reduce the chances of your email being opened or read, as recipients will quickly become frustrated or lose trust in your messaging.

Instead, focus on creating subject lines that accurately reflect the content of your email, and that provide enough information to help your recipient understand what they can expect to find inside. By avoiding clickbait tactics and focusing on delivering value and relevance to your audience, you'll build trust and engagement over time, and increase the chances of your email being read and acted upon.

Test different subject lines for effectiveness

Crafting the perfect email subject line can be a challenge, and what works for one audience or message may not work for another. That's why it's important to test different subject lines for effectiveness, and to continually refine and improve your approach based on what you learn. A/B testing is a common approach to testing subject lines, where you send two different versions of your email with different subject lines to a small segment of your audience, and then analyze which version performs better in terms of open rates and click-through rates.

Based on this data, you can then choose the most effective subject line and send it to your entire audience. Testing different subject lines can help you to better understand your audience's preferences, and to refine your messaging to better resonate with them. It can also help you to identify what tactics or approaches are most effective for your particular brand or industry. So don't be afraid to experiment and try out different subject lines, and to use the data you gather to continually improve your email marketing strategy.

Consider the tone of your message

The tone of your email subject line can have a big impact on how it's perceived by your audience, so it's important to consider this carefully when crafting your message. The tone you choose should reflect your brand personality and voice, as well as the specific message you're trying to convey.

For example, if you're promoting a sale or discount, you might choose a more upbeat and enthusiastic tone to create excitement around the offer. On the other hand, if you're sending a more serious or urgent message, you might choose a more urgent or urgent tone to convey the importance of the message. It's also important to consider the relationship you have with your audience, and to choose a tone that's appropriate and respectful.

For example, if you're emailing a group of long-time customers, you might use a more casual and friendly tone, whereas if you're reaching out to a new or unfamiliar audience, you might use a more formal or professional tone. By considering the tone of your message and choosing an approach that's appropriate and effective, you can create a subject line that resonates with your audience and helps to achieve your marketing goals.

Don't be afraid to be creative, but stay professional

Email subject lines provide an opportunity to showcase your brand's creativity and personality, but it's important to balance this with a professional and polished approach. While it's tempting to use clever puns, wordplay, or humor to grab your audience's attention, it's important to ensure that your message remains professional and respectful. One way to achieve this balance is to focus on using creativity to reinforce your messaging or brand values, rather than simply using it for its own sake.

For example, you might use a creative metaphor or analogy to help explain a complex concept or benefit, or use a clever play on words to highlight a unique feature or benefit of your product or service. At the same time, it's important to avoid using offensive or inappropriate language, or making jokes or references that could be misinterpreted or offensive to your audience. By being creative within the boundaries of professionalism, you can create a subject line that stands out and captures your audience's attention, while still maintaining the credibility and trust that's essential for effective email marketing.

Final thoughts

Crafting the perfect email subject line is a crucial part of any successful email marketing campaign. To create subject lines that grab your audience's attention and inspire action, it's important to follow some basic guidelines.

First, keep it short and sweet, using clear and specific language that's relevant to your audience. Avoid all caps, excessive punctuation, and clickbait tactics, and use urgency sparingly. Personalizing your subject line can also increase open rates, as can considering the tone of your message and balancing creativity with professionalism. Finally, testing different subject lines can help you to refine your approach and identify what works best for your audience. By following these dos and don'ts, you can create subject lines that engage and inspire your audience, and help you to achieve your email marketing goals.

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