7 clever tips and tricks to improve your email subject lines in 2019

Libby Margo in Email marketing on 8th of Oct 2019
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7 clever tips and tricks to improve your email subject lines in 2019

Struggling to get your customers to open your emails? You may need to take a look at your subject lines.

Believe it or not, the subject line is the most important element in your email marketing strategy. Why? Because it’s the first impression a recipient has of your email — and we all know that first impressions are everything. You undoubtedly know that email subject lines matter because they’re usually how someone decides whether to click on your email — or ignore them completely. In many cases, an email campaign’s success or failure hinges primarily upon the quality of its subject line.

According to Radicati’s latest email statistics report, over half of the world’s population uses email in 2019 — and the average office worker receives 121 emails a day. That’s a lot of emails for one busy person to handle! We also know that the average person has an attention span of 8 seconds (Microsoft), a significant decrease from the average attention span of 12 seconds at the turn of the 21st century.

To capture the fleeting attention span of your email recipients, crafting a subject line that not only stands out from the rest but invites them to take action is crucial. So, what makes your reader want to take that extra step to actually open one of your emails? In this article, we discuss 7 tips and tricks that you use to improve your email subject lines:

1. Keep subject lines short and sweet

Do a quick Internet search on “email subject lines” and you’ll find that the topic of subject line length pops up a lot. Why? Because unlike the many other elements that make up a subject line, the length is the easiest one to measure.

Subject lines are designed to grab your reader’s attention quickly. It has been found that subject lines with less than 30 characters have higher open rates (Email Monks). Furthermore, longer subject lines are likely to get cut off, which can lead to disappointing open and engagement rates. Work on designing compelling subject lines that are interesting, precise, clear, and can get your readers clicking. Make every word count and if people don’t respond to your first email, don’t give up hope. Send a follow-up email with a new subject line to give your email a second chance.

2. Personalize, personalize, personalize

It’s out with the sales jargon and in with personalization. With a wealth of data under our belt, customers expect us to know exactly what they want — and they don't want to see another yawn-inducing generic email subject line.

Adding personalization to email subject lines can alone improve open rates by 17% (DMR) and conversions by 10% (Aberdeen Group). When it comes down to it, the emails we loved most were indeed personal. They made us feel – we smiled, we smirked, we got excited. Like getting a funny text or Snapchat from a friend, we started looking forward to that unique personality in our inbox each day.

Here are some ways you can personalize your subject lines:

  • First name: Using your reader’s first name in your email subject lines makes them feel valued. Out of the dozen or so emails that land in your inbox each day, the ones that are likely to catch your eye are the ones that mention your name in the subject line.
  • Birthdays and anniversaries: If a subject line makes reference to a customer’s birthday, the open and click-through rates are often strong (Experian). Don’t know your customers’ birthdays? Send out a quick survey, using an incentive such as a discount on products during their birthday month.
  • Interests: Sending an email with a subject line that talks about dog grooming tools to a cat owner is an email marketing sin. Doing this will only do one thing: show that your business does not know your customers at all. Use your knowledge of your customers to engage with them one-on-one in your emails, taking your personalization to the next level.
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By leveraging the power of personalization and segmenting your audience into different categories, you can create email subject lines that appeal to their interests. Essentially, your aim here is to create subject lines that let readers know there’s something in the email that would be relevant to them.

3. Limit your sales pitch

While email marketing excels are driving sales for retailers and e-commerce businesses, there are some dangers to being too promotional with your email subject lines.

According to a study by Litmus, the number of promotional emails that retailers have sent to their subscribers has doubled on average since 2007. Your customers have been blasted with free shipping offers, limited-time discount offers, and seasonal promotions for so long now. Therefore, beating the “buy, buy, buy now!” drum too hard will result in more subscribers ignoring your emails — and maybe even hitting the dreaded “unsubscribe” button.

To avoid seeing your open rates go down (and your unsubscribe rates go up), we suggest implementing the following soft-sell tactics:

  • Educating customers: Customers don’t always know they need your product until they’re educated about the product or about the circumstances that drive its need. Consider sending emails comprising how-to guides, video tutorials, and informative content pieces to pave the path to success for your customers.
  • Providing news and updates: Informing readers of news and updates relevant to your business or industry can keep them engaged.
  • Cause marketing: We know that cause marketing helps non-profit organizations but did you know that they may also help brands differentiate and drive business? Letting your subscribers know what causes your business support is likely to tell them that you don’t just care about selling things.

To find out how you can use Autopilot to add personalization variables to your subject line, read our Help Center article here.

4. Consider using emojis

If you’ve glanced at your inbox lately, you will find that emojis are showing up more and more frequently, particularly in email subject lines. In fact, one report suggests that emoji usage in email subject lines have risen 609% year-after-year! (Email Marketing Daily)

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Emojis are useful for many reasons. For one thing, they help save space. Space is a very crucial consideration when it comes to crafting subject lines, especially considering that emails are now opened more on mobile than desktop (Email Monday). In fact, almost every report on email open rates found that mobile was responsible for at least 50% of all email opens. So, if you want your entire subject line to fit on a mobile device and you only have 30-40 characters to play around with, adding an emoji can be the key to saving space.

Secondly, emojis can be useful for conveying emotion. Words can’t always convey emotion (especially when you only have 40 words to play with), but an emoji can. Given that many brands today are constantly struggling to form an emotional connection with customers, emojis may assist in bridging that gap. Of course, emojis aren’t appropriate for every brand (especially if you work in an insurance firm or run your own accountancy practice). But if your brand is quirky and if your target audience comprises millennial or Gen Z users, consider using a cheerful emoji or two.

Finally, emojis have been found to impact email open rates. In fact, a report by Experian found that 56% of brands using emojis in their email subject lines had a higher unique open rate than text-only subject lines. Why? Because they catch your reader’s attention in seconds and highlight your main points in a succinct manner. And in an era of rapidly declining attention spans where customers only allocate 51 seconds to reading each email (Nelson Group), emojis may come in handy for overriding the shrinking attention spans of your audience.

5. Create a sense of urgency — but tone it down a little

Are your subject lines compelling readers to act? If your emails create a sense of urgency, your readers are more likely to make decisions quickly.

One psychological principle that’s practically impossible to resist is the fear of missing out (FOMO). You can use this fear in your subject lines by adding an element of scarcity (i.e., limited availability) or urgency (i.e., time-sensitivity).

One thing to note, however, is that creating urgency involves paying attention to the phrasing and timing of your message. Although you want your recipients to act, you don’t want to seem too desperate. In fact, subject lines with the keywords “now” and “today” are starting to underperform (Neil Patel).

On the other hand, subject lines that give recipients a bit of time to take advantage of promotions deliver higher engagement rates. In fact, slightly less urgent words like “soon” and “tomorrow” boosted open rates by 10% than the words “ now” and “today” (Radicati Group). Another great example of this is the Qantas Travel Money email, below. The subject line creates a sense of urgency by using the words “don’t miss out.” And while no deadlines were specified, the tone of the subject line still conveys that this offer will not be available for a long time. So while this was technically a “please purchase from our website” email, it didn’t feel desperate.

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6. Use superlatives

Superlatives can help change how readers interpret your subject lines. Some phrases affect open rates positively; for example, the phrases “brand new,” “latest,” and “exciting” have been shown to increase open rates of 37%, 24%, and 19%, respectively (Econsultancy).

While using superlatives can result in more of your customers clicking, it’s important to be wary when using them. Why? Because these days, everyone out there is touting the best thing you’ll ever eat, wear, do. But used well and with the right audience, they can pack a punch. Take Broadsheet, for example. As one of Australia’s most respected online city guides for news related to food and drinks, fashion, shopping, and entertainment, Broadsheet frequently uses superlatives in their email subject lines. As a Broadsheet reader myself, I know they’ve done their research when they say that something is the best, so I know I can trust the content in their emails.

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Consider which superlative phrases are likely to add value to your subject lines. Some may work for your brand but others may not — the key is to keep testing.

7. A/B test before you send

Stop guessing and instead find out exactly what boosts engagement with your emails by running an AB split test, using the following Autopilot template:

Use a portion of your primary list to test 2 different email subject lines. For example, you may want to test the engagement of a discount, so create 2 subject lines: one mentioning the discount and one without. With an A/B test, you’ll start to understand more about what language to use and what drives higher engagement rates. Once you have the data from the test, you can now take action by sending the winning email to a larger portion of your list.

The path to higher open rates

A lot of effort goes into creating email content, from the design of the email right down to crafting the perfect call-to-action prompt. However, all this effort will go down the drain if an email remains unopened in your customer’s inbox thanks to a non-optimized subject line. We hope that this article has provided inspiration for your next email send.

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