Subject lines are everything when it comes to email marketing. It doesn’t matter how sharp your email copy is, or how compelling your call to action is if nobody clicks to open the email.
Your subject line has one job, and you can tell right away if it got the job done or not. A great email subject line can get an open rate of 35%, 50%, or even 75%. An average subject line will get an open rate of 5% or less. A poor subject line will get you an open rate of 0%.
There is no worse feeling than going into your email program and seeing that your list of people who volunteered to hear from you, completely rejected your last email. But, at least you can fix the problem. You have to write a better subject line.
There are eight steps to writing a killer email subject line that your readers will be dying to open:
1. Focus on who is reading your emails
2. Pick a trigger emotion
3. Research headlines
4. Write five subject lines
5. Rest and walk away
8. Iterate and Repeat
Know Your Market
Everything always comes back to your audience or target market. Even if you’ve been in business for 20 years, before you write any marketing content, you need to step back and think about who your audience is.
You are a guest in their inbox. You owe it to them to be respectful. Being respectful means not wasting their time with messages they don’t want. What does your audience need right now? How can you make their life better?
This exercise works for service businesses, product businesses, B2B companies, and B2C companies. Business is about solving problems.
Once you’ve reminded yourself who you are trying to serve, you need to pick a trigger emotion.
All human decisions are emotion-based. Every single one. We always seek to justify our decisions with facts, but it’s always an emotion motivating the search for facts.
You want to write a subject line that will spark a specific emotion that will lead to an action. That’s what a trigger emotion is.
For email subject lines, the most effective trigger emotions are fear, curiosity, greed, and hope. If you write a subject with one or more of these in mind, you will increase your open rates.
Questions often get a good response because they capitalize on curiosity. They create and open loop in the reader’s mind. We hate open loops. We want answers. If you combine a question with another emotion like fear or hope, you will see your open rates skyrocket.
Once you have an emotion in mind, but before you start drafting subject line possibilities, you need to do some research.
I like to do a quick keyword analysis on subject lines. Why? Because keywords show you what people are actually searching for. It takes the guesswork out of picking a subject line.
Even though I don’t need search engine rankings for my emails, I try and use sound SEO practices in picking my email subject lines.
After I have a keyword or two to build my subject line around, I sit down and draft at least five different subject lines.
That may sound like a lot, but the truth is I have no idea what subject lines are going to be the best. I’ve been doing email marketing for seven years, and I still test everything. I know that my first ideas are not always my best ideas.
I try and write each subject line in isolation — I pretend that each subject line is the only one I’m writing.
After writing several different possibilities, I apply my secret sauce.
Walk Away Before Evaluating
I walk away for a while. I try and let the subject lines sit for 24 hours or so. It’s hard to be objective about the work you have just finished.
After a day or so, it’s easier to fairly evaluate each subject line. During the evaluation process, I am deciding on which three subject lines to cut. I only want what I think are the two best ones.
Test Your Subject Lines
After I have it narrowed down, I will write the rest of the email and then run an A/B test on the two subject lines.
I use ConvertKit for most of my email marketing. But, any decent email program will allow you to run an A/B test. It will send a small part of your list one subject line and another small part of the list another subject line. The one that gets the most opens over a set period of time will be the winner. The program will automatically send the rest of the list the winning subject line.
Iterate and Repeat
A few days after the message has gone out, I review my open rates. If the rates were low, I take a different direction next time I write a subject line. If the open rate is high, I try and copy what I think worked.
Most importantly, I don’t give up. I keep working to improve the subject lines each time I send out an email.
Email subject lines are hard to write. But, if you invest enough time in the process, you can turn your email list into a reliable source of revenue for your business.