How To Write Email Subject Lines Every Customer Wants to Open


With dozens of emails hitting your inbox at 9am, how do you pick which ones to open? A more important question is how your clients and customers — the people whose attention will make or break your business — choose which emails to open. If you want to increase your open rates and deepen your relationships with new and existing customers, you have to focus on the most visible aspect of your email — the subject line.

To help you with your writing process, try incorporating these three tips into your subject lines:

Avoid Symbols

Even if it describes a huge benefit to the reader, don’t include a symbol in the subject line. Why? Because it can earmark your email as spam. A 50% off coupon, for example, is highly likely to get filtered straight out of your recipient’s inbox and into their spam folder. According to business coach Jason Womack, “It’s best to avoid symbols in your subject line, unless you’ve gone back and forth with someone several times, and your risk of being considered spam is low.”

Prompt Action

A great email is no different than a great speech. Your words should compel your readers to take action. Not every email will inspire readers to start the next revolution, but every email should clearly outline what the reader needs to do next. As marketing expert Chris Brogan says, “One reason people don’t respond is that you don’t prompt them to do your bidding.” With that in mind, your subject line should lead with a call to action — “enroll for free content” or “please confirm your order” are two solid examples of actionable headlines. Think about what you and your business want to say to your audience. Now, what do you need them to do? Place it in your subject line to frame what they read — and do — next.

Personalize Your Message

There are few marketing channels that allow you to communicate as frequently, directly, and powerfully with your clients as email. Make the most of each email you send by personalizing your subject lines. Popular email marketing platforms like MailChimp and Constant Contact allow you to insert custom fields, such as a customer’s first name (provided you’ve collected it upon newsletter signup), into your emails. By addressing your customer directly (e.g. “John, We Have a Special Offer for You”), you can develop a more direct, 1:1 relationship, while also increasing open rates.

Don’t Forget to Test, Test, Test

Once you’ve decided to incorporate these tactics, be sure to continually test your subject lines. This can be accomplished with A/B tests on individual emails, or you can get even more thorough, staging ongoing tests to provide deeper insight. The best way to set up your first test is to come up with a set of hypotheses and a rubric that will allow you to test them. For instance, you may have a hypothesis that your customers respond better to a more playful, humorous tone. First, come up with a set of subject lines that you think are fun and playful, and another that are more serious or traditional in tone. Then send two versions of your email — one with a playful subject line, and another with a serious one — to random segments of your list, and compare the performance of each. If you do this over the course of multiple campaigns and find that one kind of subject line consistently outperforms the other, you now have some guiding principles for writing your subject lines going forward, as well as some deeper insight into the general mood of your audience.

For more email marketing tips, be sure to watch Jeff Goins Effective Email and Newsletter Marketing course.



John Hermansen

John Hermansen is a San Francisco-based marketing professional. He currently serves as creativeLIVE's email marketing specialist.