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Email Subject Lines that actually work

Adrian Singer, 10-09-2007
When it comes to EMail Marketing, we sure know a thing or two about that topic.

Software Projects is what's called a commercial sender or an Email power-house. We deliver an average of 100 million emails per month for our customers.

Before you start screaming SPAM, these emails are messages from our customers to their subscribers, that include anything from domain renewal notices, payment reminders, company newsletters and forum notifications.

In fact, if you run any decent size site these days, be it a forum like NextPimp, a web service like BlogRush or a subscription service like NetFlix, you want to make sure emails you send out get delivered to subscribers on time every time. And with the current anti-spam measures, there's just no way you can do this on your own.

White listing, Bonded Sender, Rate limits, Greylisting, Relationships with the top seven email services and trigger happy spam reporters, are just some of the things you'll have to deal with.

Use your own local mail-server or php script to deliver emails in high quantities and you can expect most of the emails to land in subscriber's Spam boxes if they ever even pass the per-IP-rate-limit filters.

Anyway, what I'd like to focus on today is Email Subject lines.

Assuming you're using a reliable Email Marketing service (Constant Contact, AWeber, SoftwareProjects, Endai etc.) to deliver your email messages, the first big challenge you face is - how do you get your recipients to actually open up your email, when it's so easy to hit "Delete" or file it for later?

The difference between a great subject line and an average one, can be the difference between a 70% open rate and a 5% open rate. And since "Email Open" is one of the first steps of your sales funnel, a better open rate is the easiest ways to boost conversion rates.

Over the years we came up with 4 common characteristics all great subject lines share -

#1. It needs to reference something you know about

#2. It needs to be something that is important to you

#3. It needs to have an expiration or urgency factor

#4. It needs to be something you yourself can act upon


To illustrate why all great subject lines should share these 4 characteristics, I'll give you a few examples.

Consider the following subject lines:

Example 1: Global Warming is destroying our planet

This subject line is about something you know. We all know Global Warming is bad. But how important is it for you to open this message right this second? Unless you're "green", chances are you have 10 other items on your ToDo list for today, that seem more important.

Strike - Not important

Example 2: Your Florida home taxes are rising

Assuming you do own a home in Florida, this subject line is about something you know and it's probably also very important to you. Nobody likes to pay higher taxes.

So we're going to get more opens than the first example. But is there a real urgency factor to opening this message right now? Not really

Strike - No urgency factor

Example 3: New WordPress Version fixes Security Breach

Assuming you do have a blog powered by WordPress, you're going to care very much about a message like this.

It's about something you know and since it references a fix for a security breach, it is probably both important to you as well as instills a sense of urgency that is going to make you want to act right now.

But what if you're not an engineer? You're not the person in the company who is responsible on installing WordPress on the company's blog.

Chances are you're either going to ignore this message altogether or if you're a good guy, forward it to your sysadmin so that he or she can take care of it.

Strike - Not something you yourself can act upon

Example 4: Your Mortgage is late. Pay today to avoid a penalty

One of the best subject lines we use, which can easily be applied for other scenarios, including promotional ones.

This subject line, that we use with one of the mortgage companies we work with, gets open rates in the 90%+

Sent to the person responsible to pay the mortgage, it is about something you know, it is important, it instills a sense of urgency and it is something they can act upon right now.

So there you have it.

Create subject lines that incorporate these 4 characteristics and you're bound to boost your open rates.

Dan McAndrew, 06-16-2009
HI Adrian,

The vast majority of emails that I have sent have been B2B emails to open up communications with senior decision makers. Often CxO level.

This was through my sales career and in more recent years in my sales agency. I thought with things getting tougher and togher out there it might be good karma to share the most effective subject line, by far, that I used in B2B...

It was 'Conference Call' which funnily enough seems to fit the four points above. We would keep emails short and sweet and only use two or three sentaces.

1. Tell them what you have got
2. Tell them what it will do for them
3. Tell them what you want them to do next

This simplicity of this worked perfectly and got pre-qualified buyers to come to us 'en mass'

Hopefully that can help readers.

Take care,


TubeH, 07-23-2010
I have never dealt with e-mail marketing so far, but your articles seems to be worth attention. Thank you!
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