Email Subject Lines: 5 proven methods for mastering sales-centric subject lines
What’s in a subject line?
Your email lands with a soft thud atop a heaping pile of spam, duplicate promotions, and messages too important to archive or delete but insufficiently important to deal with promptly — and will rapidly be swallowed by the depths.
Before that lies only a brief opportunity to catch the eye and compel a click. Miss it, and it’s all over.
It’s bad enough when you’re doing the email equivalent of the worst kind of cold-calling (i.e. sending out messages to sketchy addresses from the darkest recesses of your email list), but it’s so much worse when you’re reaching out to leads from a properly-qualified list.
There’s real potential there, so you have a real shot at gaining ground, and you mustn’t waste it.
Enough preamble, though. You want to know how you can polish your email subject lines to bring in your most relevant email sales leads, and that’s what this piece is all about — so let’s get to it.
Here are some vital tips for mastering the sales-centric subject line:
1 Follow best practices
There’s a lot of innate variability in effective email subject lines, because every fresh context will bring unique challenges. That said, there are some broad best practices that apply in almost all scenarios: you can read about some of them here.
They consider things like subject line length, relevancy, and the offered value, and you should follow them unless you have a compelling reason to do otherwise (just as writers should mostly adhere to grammatical standards).
Never settle for a generic approach when sales are on the line. Click To Tweet
Personalization is an interesting point, because the option of including someone’s first name in the subject line is inconsistently useful (sometimes it catches the eye, and sometimes it comes across as annoyingly presumptuous), but you should always write as though you know the recipient.
Stylistic personalization — understanding your audience and shaping your phrasing accordingly — is essential.
Never settle for a generic approach when sales are on the line.
2 Draw from clickbait tactics
You might not like clickbait, but it’s effective — and provided you can actually back up what you promise (i.e. there’s message match between your subject line and the content of your email), there’s nothing wrong with using it.
SEO guru Stephan Spencer has a good breakdown of tactics used in Buzzfeed headlines: all of which illustrate various tricks proven to be incredibly potent.
One that I think can be used to particularly great effect is the classic curiosity construction.
Here’s one possible example: “ Our average customer saves how much?!”
The implication that the answer is shocking even to the sender is a potent hook, and the recipient might want to open it up just to see how surprising that figure is. And once they have the email open, they can be reached by whatever marketing message is most appropriate.
You can also run with mild controversy by getting contentious. “ You’re 100% wrong about [product].
Here’s why: ” has a lot of potential, because it plays upon two aspects of the human condition: the curiosity we just looked at (“What did I get wrong?”) and the ego (“Oh yeah? I’m 100% wrong? I don’t believe you. Prove it.”).
Don’t get too controversial — for instance, stay away from politics if you value your brand — and you should be fine.
3 Use the reliable fear of missing out
Overcoming the “I’ll just leave this for later” email reaction is tough, but one tactic that usually proves effective is leaning on the fear of missing out (usually shortened to FOMO, such is its ubiquity).
FOMO encompasses everything from offering timed discounts or limited-edition sales to detailing how popular your product is with other customers. If you can make the reader worry about being left out of something great, you can prompt a quick reaction.
Note: Your cited limitations don’t need to be entirely legitimate, and if you’re concerned about that, you can stick to vagaries: this is precisely why you’ll see messages like “It’ll be gone when it’s gone” (true by definition in all cases) and “Stock is selling quickly” (implying that a limit is being neared, but not explicitly stating it).
4 Experiment with emojis
Regardless of your personal opinions about their use, the social media age has made emojis iconic (please excuse the pun) — to the extent that they’re commonly used in everything from formal emails to business pitches.
In a time of incredible product and service accessibility, the market leaders are increasingly the brands that excel at connecting with people. This requires showing personality, emotion, and playfulness, making emojis perfect fits.
Consider, though, that this isn’t a targeted recommendation.
It’s just a matter of expanding your vocabulary and understanding that some simple imagery can do wonders for enhancing, clarifying and contextualizing your subject line copy.
I’m on the Phrasee mailing list (it’s a company that uses machine learning to generate effective subject lines and email copy), and almost every email I receive ends in an emoji. It works .
5 Iterate using feedback
Regardless of the methods you end up trying, the most important thing is that you commit to continually testing (and subsequently adjusting) your subject lines.
Language is incredibly broad, particularly with emojis thrown into the mix, and people are complicated — you’ll never quite know which of any two variants will work better, so A/B testing is essential.
Remember the ABT mantra: Always Be Testing, no matter how effective your subject lines become, because there’s no such thing as perfection (if you did manage to hit a 100% conversion rate, you’d have narrowed your audience down to a counterproductive extent).
Commit to continually testing (and subsequently adjusting) your subject lines. Click To Tweet
Resolve to make your email copy better with every passing month, and you’ll see results.
The humble subject line is the key to everything in the email world, and when there are sales at stake, you can’t afford to do anything less than put maximum effort into designing and optimizing your subject lines.
It’s a long process, but you can get quite far through adhering to best practices, using reliable sales staples like FOMO alongside proven clickbait tactics, mixing in emojis, and testing relentlessly.