Step this way for some common sense on creating email subject lines

Subject lines are vital and almost mystical source of debate. But is there anything as off-putting as those that try too hard? By Rob Martin.


The suited and booted young estate agent or realtor who uses phrases such as ‘character features’ to describe a room with low ceilings or a ‘low maintenance garden’ for a former garden now covered in concrete.

The telesales agent you can’t get off the telephone. The car salesman who tries selling you a brand-new BMW when you’re actually in the market for a second-hand car.

Modern business has mastered the hard-sell wrapped up in the soft delivery technique. But most people can see through the bombardment.

When it comes to subject titles for group emails, for example, the temptation is to include words such as ‘Win’ and ‘Free’ to maximise the chances of those emails being opened. But user-fatigue means they’re probably much more likely to end up in the trash can.

So what’s the answer? I mean there must be a winning formula, right? A collection of words or phrases which all but guarantee success – lines that arrow in one direction, towards that sweet spot in the brain that says: “I will read this email”.

You will of course find many online blogs advising how best to construct subject lines and while they offer some obvious advice, like avoid spelling errors, they really border on the useless.

We’re told that a third of all email recipients decide whether or not to open an email based on the subject line.

One blog site I visited, which promises to teach you how to construct a winning subject line, advised to always start with an action-orientated verb, a call-to-action or an inspirational and vivid prompt.

Now I can see how that might work in some cases but surely not for every email you send out? Such a rigid routine would make your company appear like some crazed control-freak issuing orders on the hour.

“Do this, do that” – Just the thought makes my head hurt.

Another advised “make people feel special”. The modern email user isn’t half as foolish as these self-help bloggers believe. They’re well used to promotional emails and the various techniques used to encourage people to open correspondence.

The plethora or variables involved means constructing the perfect subject line is an impossibility.

Just as everyone is different so too will be their reaction to the subject line you’ve written. The time of day, or even year, matters as does the mood of the recipient at the very moment your email arrives.

A much more sensible approach to constructing email titles would be to write honestly and naturally.

Avoid the hard sell from the second that your potential customer passes your virtual shop door. If you want them to put their hand on the handle, turn it and walk in then don’t pressurise them from the get go.

Treat your potential online customer as you would like to be treated.

In doing so you’ll attract those who are genuinely interested in what you have to say and who are much more likely to transact. Also they’re more likely to come back again.

And whatever you do…..don’t buy the ‘construct the perfect email’ blogger’s advice. They’re going for the hard sell just as much as that estate agent or realtor is.

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