Monday, July 7, 2014

Open Sesame: 11 Tips for Writing Subject Lines

Subject lines may look short and simple to write, but they're not.

Similar to outer envelope teasers, subject lines are gatekeepers that can keep readers out ... or invite them in. So, it's no surprise that there's more to creating successful ones than just stringing together words. Direct response writers know every detail counts.

We use details to snag reader involvement that leads to response. And to do this, we're always looking for new tricks to try. So, yes, we give careful consideration to every little detail including the use of personalization, punctuation, special characters, and even those eye-flow-stopping | vertical | bars | also | called | pipes.

While you need to be aware of how different web browsers display special characters and how spam filters will react to subject line punctuation, testing is the tool that helps you learn what works and what doesn't. That's especially important with email since best practices seem to constantly change.

Here are 10 tips for creating subject lines that get opened. As always, test to see what works best for your audience and offer.

1. Verbs. Start subject lines with active verbs to create momentum. Recent emails delivered to my inbox started with: Join, Indulge, Meet, View, Find and Lose.

2. Questions. Questions can be compelling ... and tricky. The trick is to ask a question that engages rather than loses your reader. "Concerned about your pet's bad breath?" arrived in my inbox (and got opened) because I buy dog and cat products online.

3. Length. On any given day, you'll find a new study and resulting best practices regarding subject line length. I've seen both longer and short subject lines work. The key is to test. When writing longer subject lines, make sure to put a grabber at the beginning because this is what a scanner see first.

4. Symbols. A year or two ago, the use of symbols ( ☼ ♫ ) became a hot trend and they're still being used today. Symbols are a quick way to draw the scanners' eye, but the rest of the subject line still needs to deliver value or intrigue to get opened. Example: "Flash sale: American Airlines US routes fr $114 R/T - One week only!"

5. Special Characters. I often use vertical bars (a.k.a., pipes) instead of commas to | visually | separate | elements | in subject lines. [Brackets], {braces}, and +s also link, separate, and/or save character space and draw the eye. Example: [Free 42-Page Ebook] The Smart Guide to Lead Generation

6. Punctuation. Punctuation in subject lines may add to your spam score, so test and screen before rolling out. While I'd never put a period at the end of a subject line, I do use punctuation to draw attention and create expectation. Examples:

  • Exclusive Offer: Back up another computer
  • 5...4...3...Time is running out
  • "Million Dollar Secrets" on Tour: Reserve your space today

7. Personalization. There's plenty of data indicating subject lines personalized with the recipient's name have higher open rates. Test it to see if it works for you. Example: "Pat, 50% off site-wide for just 48 hours."

8. Localization. People identify with their city's or neighborhood's name, as well as their own. When it's appropriate, localize subject lines. Example: "Pat, visit our new Country Club Plaza store near you."

9. Numbers. $50 vs. fifty dollars. You tell me which has instant impact. Numerals read faster and frequently take up less space. $s are magical for reinforcing value.

10. Countdown/Deadline. One of the beauties of email vs. direct mail is the ability to time delivery down to the hour to create genuine urgency. Examples:

  • 6 Hours Left ... Biggest Summer Sale Ever
  • Registration closes at 4:00 EST today, August 1st

One More Tip: The power of any subject line is coupled with the FROM line. Some companies use a variety of FROM lines depending on the messages being delivered. Again, test to see what works for you.

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