I’d assume that, much like myself, you too are overwhelmed when searching terms like “best subject lines,” “catchy subject lines,” or “subject line best practices.” I am not here to be add to the overwhelming feeling, but rather share my own personal (and ongoing) quest in writing the perfect, catchy subject line.
You Have an Inbox, Too
I’d hope that email marketers, of all people, should understand this concept: people have messy, loud inboxes. This is by no means a solid, peer researched study, but I just asked to see the personal inboxes of three coworkers and all of them had unread emails in the thousands. I won’t be winning any research awards anytime soon, but the principle stands that people, for the most part, choose not to clean their inboxes because they subscribe to a lot of junk they just simply do not care about. This could set us off on a whole discussion of re-engagement email campaigns, but we’ll leave that for a later date.
So, what’s an email marketer to do? First, ignore what inbox you’re showing up in. Second, shoot for this little badge, aka the important badge. The important badge helps your email to stand out among the rest.
Now how do you get there? I honestly don’t know. You’re not going to get that badge every time you send out an email. Trust me, I’ve tried testing on all of my test email accounts and it’s just so hard to re-create. Why? I’m sure it’s a handful of factors, like search history, cookies, inbox behavior, and sender reputation. My only recommendation is having a solid data and attribution system set up on your systems so you can analyze what your email subscribers are interacting with, but I’d bet some money it also has to do with current events and whatnot. I realize my thought process is all over the place, but the basic principle I’m advocating for is constant, rigorous, and inventive subject line testing. Let’s get into some more ideas along that thought then.
Let’s Keep it Business Casual 💼
Disclaimer: I use that emoji ironically
Trust me, I know. This feels like too simple of an approach at times, right? I swear it’s not, though. I’ve personally had a lot of success with email open rates when I use very casual, easygoing language in the subject line and preheaders of my emails. Here’s where my head’s at:
If my friends email me with very casual language, that probably has something to do with why this witty, casually written Patagonia email subject line is showing up as a priority message, right? I’ve been subscribing to their emails for years and not once have they ever claimed that gold ticker mark. I do not think the urgency play is always in the right - although I often condone it when there’s a big sale or important action you think your customers would be bummed about missing out on - because it’s just abused way too much these days.
My thought process goes along the lines of how you send and receive personal emails. Do you overload your subject lines with emojis? Or words in all-caps? Or click-bait phrases? There’s a time and place for those practices, but to do them all the time? I think we’re missing something about email when we go that route: the beauty of email often lies in its simplicity.
Many of my friends rely solely on email to communicate with friends. It’s just a part of conversing that’ll always be there. It separates us from the oftentimes elementary practices we see in IM, SMS, and iMessage communication formats and gives us a level of sophistication in terms of language and formatting that texting can’t, and frankly shouldn’t bring, to the table. I know it’s a difficult and hazy line to walk, but I think you’ll find some success giving this approach a try.
Why lie? There’s no point in making claims that just simply aren’t true. We can even go into the CAN-SPAM legality repercussions of promising one thing and actually offering another, but let’s just stick with the part of it being not cool.
If you truly just want to provide your customers with the best possible information, then keep it straightforward and stick to the truth. If you don’t heed my advice, you could potentially have to dish out $40,654 per email in violation. Whether we’re dealing with millions or thousands of subscribers, the ramifications of violating the CAN-SPAM act are radical.
What Are You Talking About?
Those of you with budgets large enough to afford advertising on social and search know a thing or two about the importance of consistent messaging. Note that I did not say, “Know a thing or two about copying and pasting the same taglines on everywhere marketing channel.”
Someone could see an ad for your sale on Facebook, type it into Google a couple days later, and that all might have an effect on how the inbox treats your eventual email. But as I mentioned earlier, it takes more than just copying and pasting that content into an email. Rather, it’s looking at the content you have, mapping through each aspect of the email creation, and determining how it’ll all fit together. And then the real fun begins once you start throwing in dynamic content - which gets me to my next point.
Email = The Ultimate Testing Grounds
Emails get a notification if the user has alerts turned on. In terms of overall exposure and potential for interaction, I’d say inbox real estate is among the highest today. I do get excited when my favorite brands send out a sale email; I’ll more often than not peruse the inventory for whatever is on there. And you’d know that too if you were tracking and attributing that data properly.
Yes, this still has to do with subject lines, I just tend to be long-winded about these things. If you’re not using an Email Service Provider (ESP) that allows for dynamic subject lines, you should look into the costs of switching over to one that does. Dynamic content on its own is ridiculously helpful, but when you get into the subject line, it’s just a whole new ballgame. For me, I just geek out because it’s a totally free feature that allows you to do some serious testing on what resonates with specific subscribers. You can go the route of using first names, segment-specific language, or even region. All factors can play a huge role in how email clients determine your importance to the subscriber.
And then you can track that and use the data to influence tests the next time around. In short, the catchy email subject line lies in your ability and willingness to test subject lines that speak to your subscribers like they’re actual people.
I realize there’s a lot to digest up there, and I’m still trying to perfect my catchy subject line game too. The points above are just some of the suggestions based on what I’ve done and seen success from. So my advice? Try them all. And then try them again. And then look at your own lists and determine some other tactics you can take. If you still can’t seem to find a solution, go ahead and give us a call or fill out the form below and ask for Tyler Norris - we’ll figure it out!