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Email Subject Lines: How To Wordsmith Winners!

Updated on August 18, 2010

Email subject lines are a critical element of email marketing success. Many experts in the field say that the only thing more important in email marketing than the subject line is the “From” line, and there’s not much I can do about that, so let’s talk about the next big thing, the subject line.

As an email marketer, it’s important to remember that people check their e-mail quickly, and you only have a split second to grab their attention.

Here are some tips I’ve gleaned from my own research, as well as my own experience, having sent millions of emails over the last few years.

Create a swipe file.

Create a swipe file. This is a simple and effective way to harness the power of some really good marketers and save yourself years of learning curve. All a swipe file is is a collection of great marketers e-mails! It’s very easy to do. Simply subscribe to the best marketers email newsletters in your particular field, and start reading what they send out. Simple. And if you start getting more than you want to wade through, simply set up a rule to have all of these letters skip your inbox and go straight to your swipe file! Then, when you are ready to craft an e-mail subject line, simply scan your swipe file for inspiration and ideas.


Make an announcement or share news.

People love to learn new things, and if you can make your subject line newsworthy or interesting you have a winner.


Create curiosity.

We’re all curious. And if you can raise a little curiosity in your subject line, the chances of them reading it go way up.

Create urgency.

“Promotion ends at midnight” or “Only 3 spots left” or “Offer ends Thursday” are the types of phrases that grab the readers’ attention and make them wonder what they’re missing out on.

Emphasize a benefit.

People buy benefits, not features. Think through your subject line to see if you can place the major benefit of your e-mail copy in the subject line somehow. It’s difficult, because you don’t have much room, but if you can do it, it works really well.

A Note About Personalization

There is a healthy debate among marketers about this one, but in my opinion it’s OK to eliminate the personalization in the subject line. As a matter of fact, according to Pinpointe research, keeping your subject line short is more important than personalization, and unfortunately if you personalize you are adding a word! So I recommend keeping their name out of the subject line, but always use it in the body of the email.


Be Negative!

 know, doesn’t sound nice, but the fact is that negative headlines pull 7 to 1 over positive ones. In other words, given the choice of “7 keys to success,” or “7 terrible mistakes,” the mistakes headline will always get a higher open rate.

One Last Thing...

One last thought on email subject line wordsmithing, and email copywriting in general: never forget you are only writing to one person! Think about this person as you write. Don’t write to a “list,” write to a single person. It will make all the difference in your tone, delivery, and overall success.

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