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How to write a subject line that sells

November 4, 2009

The subject line is one of the most (if not the most) important parts of an email campaign. If it fails to intrigue and interest the recipient there is every chance it will simply be deleted before being opened. You probably have about 5 seconds after they open their email to capture your customers' attention - the subject line may be small but it is highly significant to the success of your campaign. This month we'll look at some of the points to bear in mind when writing a subject line that sells.

The importance of the subject line in any email campaign should never be underestimated. It really could make or break your campaign. It is the first (and sometimes the only) thing that your customer will see. Whom the email is from and what the message suggests about the content of the email are the sole factors upon which your email will initially be judged.

If it makes the email look like it could be spam or fails to excite the recipient you can be sure that it will be headed straight for the trash.

So, what are the features of a good subject line?

Firstly the email must stand out; it must compel the recipient to want to open the message. If you understand what motivates your customer, and can distil that into the subject line, then you are likely to get them to click. Think of the subject line as the campaign, crystallized into one single sentence.

It's not easy to do but by following these tips you'll be some of the way there: 

  • Be clear and concise - matter of fact rather than over the top
  • Emphasise the customer benefits in terms of their experience - not the features from the company point of view
  • Be personal and personalise - use their name and talk in their language
  • Stay away from the hard sell - ask a question that pulls them in rather than making a bold statement that may turn them off.
  • Tease them - create an interest but encourage them to click to find out more

It's easy to get caught up in 'ad speak' when writing a subject line. Doing so however is usually a huge mistake. The subject line is not a strap line but a request to your customer for a moment of their time. You have intruded into their inbox (even though you've sought permission to be there) and should remember your manners.
Brash, marketing speak is likely to trigger a rejection response. 

Establishing trust and credibility is vital

This needs to be done at the point of the subject line, so stay away from hyperbole and speak to them in a one to one style. Hard sell strategies won’t help you build relationships when it comes to email and no matter what the campaign’s objectives - improving customer relations has to be an important consideration. Speaking your customer’s language is the best way to establish trust as well as garner interest and using a one-to-one style is essential...
Personalisation is the single most successful technique in an email marketing campaign - and should start from the subject line onwards. Use any customer data you have at your fingertips to build a subject line that is personal and personalised.

At the very least you should know the recipient’s name, and how they prefer to be addressed. This type of information will not be available to the spammers that sadly may be competing for your reader’s attention.

Spam is becoming an increasing headache for legitimate email marketers and it is primarily in the subject line that you have the opportunity to stand out from the deluge.

In order to avoid your email being mistaken for spam there are a few pointers to bear in mind:
Personalisation is a powerful tool not least because it is the antithesis of spam, spammers don't care about the recipients of their messages - and it shows. 

Avoid hype filled language

Stay away from the word FREE, or indeed any word written all in capitals, and multiple exclamation marks!!!

It takes a creative mind and good customer knowledge to build the perfect subject but don't forget the basics - check grammar and spelling and above all test. If you are having difficulty condensing your offer into one specific benefit, try two or three variations and test the response on a small control group.

Testing is the only sure way to know what works and what doesn’t. If your campaign results are disappointing then it may be worth re-writing the subject line and re-sending the email to those who didn’t open it the first time round, one failed attempt isn’t necessarily the end of the game.

It really is worth spending a disproportionate amount of time on crafting your subject line. If you get it right it could be the key to successful campaign. Click-throughs aren't the be all and end all of a good campaign, but they are a very good place to start.
If you would like further information please email [email protected] or call 0161 817 2929

Posted by Jenni Malley
Writing copy

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