Do you want magnetic – even hypnotic email subject lines that forcefully compel your subscribers to click and read? Of course you do. Who wouldn’t?
But sometimes what works and what doesn’t can be surprising.
And email can seem like more of a mystical art than a science. However, there are tried and tested tactics you can use for success. And you should … because the most important part of your entire email – even more important than your call to action, is the subject line.
If those first few words don’t hook your readers and powerfully draw them in with an immense gravitational force, they’ll be somewhere else in cyberspace in mere seconds without ever having seen those beautiful words you wrote on the inside.
So let’s look at what you can do to get more of your emails opened with fantastic, ultra-compelling subject lines.
1. Pay attention to the first few words of your email body
This often becomes the pre-header. OK … those words aren’t technically part of the subject line, but I’m mentioning them here anyway because they often show up in the same place! When viewed on certain email platforms – including Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, Apple Mail, and AOL – they’re going to appear in the inbox right next to the subject line as the pre-header. They fill in any leftover space, so this is especially important for you if your people are checking your messages at desktops, laptops, or bigger tablets.
These first few often-neglected words can make it or break it for you. You must make your readers want to see the rest of that sentence.
Any of the following will start your email with a bang:
- Begin your email at the climax of an action-packed story – “Jimmy reached for the wire-cutters with trembling fingers …”
- Attach celebrity-power to your subject line by dropping the name of a popular public figure – “You won’t believe what Leonardo DiCaprio just did!”
- Make a shocking statement – “This 8-year-old was a millionaire by age 7…”
If you’re working in MailChimp, you’ll see handy fields labeled at the top of each email template for the pre-header. If you use ConvertKit, just make sure the first words capture attention.
Placing graphics at the beginning of your post can cause unwanted text to show up in the preheader. With some email service providers, you can still intentionally choose your preheader text with HTML. Just make it the first text after the <body> tag.
You can also hide the text so it shows up in the inbox listing but not the body of the actual message.
Grab the code from Litmus here.
Remember to send test emails to all your devices. And here’s a tool for finding out how it will look on ipads and iphones.
Whatever you do, don’t let them see “View this in your browser.”
2. Put the most powerful words of your subject line in the first few words
As of January 2015, 66% of all email was checked on smartphones and tablets, according to the US Consumer Device Preference Report (from MovableInk).
Mobile users will see fewer characters in your subject lines. Pack the most zing into the first 3-4 words for the best results.
3. Ask a question
Even better, ask a question that makes them feel they must open the email to find the answer. Appeals to vanity and positivity work, but a strong fear-based question can also shine.
- Gluten sensitive? Don’t ever eat this!
- What’s your fashion personality?
- What kind of a friend are you?
- Which of these smoothies will you make today?
- Can’t sleep? Try this.
- Want more energy? Eat this.
4. Make a helpful list for your subscribers
People love new tips that make their lives easier. The key? Make sure you’re providing true value. And be specific.
- 7 Easy Ways to Drop 7 Pounds in 2 Weeks
- 11 Ways to Learn a Foreign Language without Even Trying
- 3 Things Never to Eat on a Cruise Ship
- 6 Steps to Better Networking
- 10 Tips to Increase Your Email Open Rates
5. Tell them how to do it
- How to triple your email subscribers faster with surveys
- How to be elegant
- How to make facebook ads the easy way
- How to conquer blank page syndrome [3 steps]
- How to fix common laptop-projector problems
6. Appeal to Their Curiosity
Make them have to know the answer – give them a teaser
- Do this before you board your next plane
- 5 reasons not to sign up for my new Copy Support service
- Are your kids playing this dangerous new “game”?
7. Name a Big benefit
- 50% off everything today
- A sweet new book for ya
- Native fruit stops cancer cold
- The Secret to Unlimited Energy – revealed!
- Your sales page checklist
- Here’s that video you asked for
- Steal my best headlines
8. Get Intimate
Use the recipient’s name in the headline.
- Can you help me, Judy?
- Amy, are you coming?
- Joe, have you seen these?
- Jackson, we’re waiting for you.
You can also develop a sense of intimacy by using the words “you” and “your”. Campaign Monitor recently ran a test on combined email lists totaling 3,941,735,015 recipients. They found that adding “you” or “your” to subject lines raised the open rate 4.07% when it was placed at the beginning and 6.20% when it was added at the end of the subject line. 
9. Use time to add a sense of urgency
- Three days only – wait ‘til you see who’s coming …
- Only 24 hours left for our lowest pre-registration prices ever
- 75% if you jump in by midnight tonight!
10. Take Out the SPAM Triggers
If you have certain words or phrases that trigger the automatic spam filters, your email may never reach the inbox. Make sure your email is free of words like
- “Free access”
- “Buy it now”
- “for you”
- 100% free
If you’re unsure about the headline and body copy, you can run your email through an automatic spam tester at www.isnotspam.com and see how it fares. Hopefully, they’ll return feedback that looks like this:
Summary of Results
SPF Check : pass
Sender-ID Check : pass
DKIM Check : pass
SpamAssassin Check : ham (non-spam)
To decipher that:
SPF Check – SPF stands for Sender Policy Framework. This check is to make sure the email is coming from an authorized sending host for the listed domain. It helps to catch spammers sending from forged email addresses.
Sender-ID check – Sender ID is a similar Microsoft protocol to help validate the sender address
DKIM – DomainKeys Identified Mail checks to see if you authorized the email coming from your domain
SpamAssassin – is Apache’s open source project for checking email content and filtering out spam before it ever gets to your inbox. It runs on a server and analyzes both header and text with a huge list of trigger words.
Underneath the summary, you’ll find the expanded, detailed version. The whole thing takes about 3 minutes at the most, and it’s completely free.
Finally, know your list.
It’s important to know not only what they like, but also what they like to open.
For example, I’ve found that although many people like to read my blog posts combining copywriting topics with movies themes about Bolivian elections or funky aliens … when my readers are working at their desks and filtering email, they prefer something they can use immediately for better marketing results.
Your lists may respond better to short, punchy questions or certain phrases. In the end, testing and repeating will show what works for you.
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