Writing Effective Email Subject Lines

Email marketing is a dying art and has been pushed to the back of the queue in the ever-growing list of channels that organisations now need to focus on, in order to keep up with the latest digital marketing trends.

Writing Effective Email Subject Lines
Date: 5th September 2016
Categories: Email Marketing, Digital Marketing

How To Write Effective Email Subject Lines

Marketeers seem to have forgotten that email marketing is a “push channel”, which means that we don’t have to wait for people to come to us; we can engage with our target market when prospects are at various stages of the customer lifecycle and gently nudge them in the right direction.

Therefore, email marketing is essential to the success of a well-formed marketing strategy even in this age of advanced marketing technology. What’s important is that marketers differentiate their communications from the norm and follow a strategy.

Subject lines are without a doubt the most debated component of an email and for good reason. They are the first element of an email that users see and therefore the ability to achieve email opens, clicks and conversions relies on the subject line being relevant, interesting and engaging enough for users to carry out the desired actions:

Email open click and convert.

Basing subject lines on objectives

Setting objectives for email campaigns helps marketers create initial ideas for subject lines, by making them think about the content that email is likely to contain.

Basing a subject line on an objective encourages marketers to think about the subject line at the very start of the email creation process. This also prevents marketers from writing a rushed and potentially ineffective subject line at the last minute, just before sending the email, which is a frequent occurrence and an easy mistake to make.

With objectives set and a subject line written, writing the content of the email becomes much easier. Using the subject line to prepare the framework of a persuasive email encourages the reader to take the next desired action, which is to click on a link and/or call to action.

Split-testing subject line types

With the subject line and the email content already written in principle, the next step is to ensure that the subject lines are split-tested in order to provide an insight into the most effective type of subject line for the target audience. For example:

Teaser: “You won’t believe the results of this email campaign…”

Statement: “Email marketing still works”

Question: “Does email marketing still work?”

Informational: “95% of email marketing campaigns are flawed”

Call-to-action: “Find out how to improve your email marketing”

By split-testing the different types of subject lines on a target audience, marketers will quickly be able to identify the type of subject line their audience is more receptive to; this intelligence can then be used for future email campaigns to generate better email open rates.

Customer-centric language

Sometimes marketers make it too difficult for prospective customers to understand what is being promoted within emails. Brand-centric emails that outline the features of a special offer or service do not make prospects feel like they need to open an email.

By telling a prospect what is available, the prospect will mostly likely think that they know everything there is to know, because of the subject line. If the subject line is most customer-centric and focuses on the benefits to the prospect, the prospect may be more inclined to open the email to find out more and ensure they understand what’s being offered.

Grammatical tactics

Other ways of writing engaging subject lines include using simple grammatical techniques such as the rule of three, adverbial phrases and verbs at the start of sentences.

Rule of three

Perhaps the oldest trick in the book, the rule of three works well because people can remember groups of three easily, particularly because of the rhythmic way in which a list of three nouns are spoken.

Adverbial phrases

If you don’t know what an adverbial phrase is, ask a 7 year old, as it’s now in the UK’s national curriculum. Simply put, an adverbial phrase is a group of two or more words operating adverbially (i.e. phrases that do the work of an adverb in a sentence). An example of this would be “To understand more…” or “Just around the corner”.

Starting sentences with verbs

Using verbs at the start of a sentence immediately gives an instruction and therefore the user knows exactly what they are supposed to do. For example, “Open this email to find out…” or “Claim your offer in this email” both make it obvious that the user has to open the email in order to make the next desired action.

Loss Aversion

Human beings are hard-wired to avoid pain and gain pleasure, which means that every action people take when faced with the possibility that they might lose something, the idea of having an opportunity to prevent this from happening becomes an attractive proposition.

In order to create this effect with an email subject line, marketers need to identify what is appealing to their target audience. If price is a major pain point for customers, creating a special offer to relieve the impact of the price and then suggesting that customers might lose out on the special offer, would be an example of using loss aversion to make the decision of purchasing a product much more appealing. For example, “Claim your 50% off voucher – offer expires today, don’t miss out!”.


There are many elements and tactics that can be applied to a simple subject line; what’s important is that the time is taken to get it right, however menial it may seem, as the impact of having a high-performing subject line could be significant to the results you’d expect further down the line.

If you need some help with your email marketing strategy, or simply want some advice on email subject lines, contact The LDA here.

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