Formulating Eye-Catching Subject Lines

Annie Coyne

Marketing Associate Copywriter

Email subject lines

In this series, we share tips to create engaging copy for your buyers, from crafting effective emails to e-books, and more.  

In email marketing, subject lines are the first part of your message that readers encounter. After all, if your subject line doesn’t grab their attention, then your readers won’t open your email or click through to access your content, a product demo or other offer – and they’ll never see your fine-tuned copy and CTAs. Are you feeling the pressure to make your subject lines pop? To take some of the weight off your shoulders, we’ve boiled down the most important takeaways for formulating subject lines that are eye-catching and get your core message in front of your audience. As a copywriter that writes dozens of subject lines each week, I leverage these strategies every day.  

Let’s begin by placing ourselves in a reader’s position. On her train ride into the office, Brenda checks her email on her smartphone. Her inbox is crammed with 19 new emails. The first subject line reads: Six remarkable reasons why…

Subject line real estate

Clocking in at 26 characters, Six remarkable reasons why … falls within the typical range that a mobile email app previews: 25 to 30 characters of limited real estate. To unlock the remainder of that subject line, Brenda would have to open the email. But why would she? There’s no incentive; those 26 characters fail to illuminate the value with which the email can provide her. She deletes the message.  

Six remarkable reasons why dancing is good for your health

Here’s the subject line in its entirety, at 58 characters. The clipped-off text informs us of the email’s purpose, a subject of great interest to dance-enthusiast Brenda. But because that information wasn’t readily available to her, Brenda disregarded the email – an understandable response to an overflowing inbox. The email’s sad fate could have been avoided by frontloading key words, as shown below: 

6 ways dancing boosts health

At 28 characters, this subject line frontloads key words and would likely appear in its entirety on a mobile device. Though crafting short subject lines can be a successful strategy, it’s not the only strategy. You can certainly leverage more characters, and if you do, we recommend using 60 or less. As you write longer subject lines, remember to frontload the most critical and relevant words.   

Tactical messaging advice

Balancing subject line length while packing in your key terms is just one step you should take toward getting your message seen. Now we have a second balancing act for you: teasing information. This means engaging your readers with enough material to pique their interest but not so much that you give away all the value of your subsequent copy. For recipients to open an email, they have to believe that there’s more to discover – so don’t divulge all your information at the outset. Consider the difference between these subject lines: 

  1. Dancing improves heart, bone & mental health
  2. Myriad health benefits of dancing 

Yes, #1 is informative and thorough, but it fails to encourage readers that they have more to learn. Brenda could look at that subject line, digest the information it conveys, then continue scrolling, satisfied to have a new fun fact. Dissimilarly, #2 could lead Brenda to wonder what those health benefits are. To uncover the answer, she would have to open the email.  

So, teasing information is one best practice for subject line crafting. Keep reading to discover seven more strategies for leveling up your subject lines.

1. Leverage action verbs and numbers that pop

Before: Improve your health with dance 

After: Dance & enhance your health in these 10 ways 

2. Highlight your expertise with a “How to…”

Before: Viennese waltz lesson 

After: How to dance the Viennese waltz like a pro

3. Pose a question

Before: Dancing the Viennese waltz 

After: Why dance the Viennese waltz?  

4. Present a stand-out statistic

Before: Dance Studios industry is expected to grow this year 

After: Why Dance Studios industry expects 7.6% growth this year

5. Play up fear, uncertainty or doubt (FUD)

Before: Why dancing is good exercise 

After: Is dancing actually good exercise?   

6. Ignite interest with a comparison angle

Before: Health benefits of dancing & swimming 

After: Dancing vs. swimming: Health benefits

7. Save real estate by using acronyms

Before: Earning a master’s degree in dance 

After: Earning an MFA in dance: A step-by-step guide  

Approaching the writing process 

So, those are our proven marketing subject line strategies. Now it’s time for you to leverage them. We know that approaching the writing process can be daunting; a lot of pressure lies on a single subject line. A way to make the process less stressful is by giving yourself options. We recommend writing a subject line in three to five different ways, then choosing the one that you believe is most eye-catching. Track open rates to see if it’s resonating. And if you’re ever stuck, refer back to these tips. 

B2B content, content marketing, email marketing

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