Email marketing is one of the most effective channels for customer acquisition and retention. But if everyone is sending a newsletter, how do you make sure your email marketing campaigns stand out in someone’s crowded inbox?
One answer: Subject lines. As the first thing email recipients see, newsletter subject lines have a huge influence on whether a subscriber opens your email or deletes it. In fact, 65% of marketers say subject lines have the greatest impact on open rates. What’s more: A poorly written subject line can send your newsletter straight to a spam folder, preventing it from reaching potential readers.
Here’s how to write newsletter subject lines that pass email filtering rules and capture the attention of your subscribers.
What is a newsletter?
A newsletter is a form of written communication that sends regular updates about your business to your audience. While newsletters can take many forms, they’re most often sent digitally through email.
The purpose of a newsletter is to build relationships with current and potential customers, so you can engage current customers and hopefully turn subscribers into buyers. Businesses often send multiple types of newsletters—from exclusive sales to new product announcements to personalized email campaigns—in order to foster a strong relationship with their target audience in different ways.
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10 best practices for writing subject lines
- Create your email first
- Be concise and to the point
- Be creative
- Personalize where relevant
- Create a sense of urgency
- Use numbers and emojis to grab attention
- Use a consistent tone and style
- Add complementary preview text
- A/B test to optimize
- Consider seasonal subject lines
Email subject lines are both an art and a science. Here are 10 subject line best practices:
1. Create your email first
Write the content of your email before you draft a subject line or preview text. This allows you to refine what the campaign will be about before you give it a subject line, so you can ensure you’re delivering on the promise of the subject line in the email.
2. Be concise and to the point
Short subject lines are the best subject lines, and not just because a word limit keeps you focused. A subject line within three to six words, or under 50 characters, ensures it’s visible when a reader is skimming their inbox on a mobile device.
3. Be creative
Your character count may have a limit, but creativity is limitless! Catchy subject lines often include puns, jokes, or wordplay. Use a variety of different subject lines for different emails, too; if you rely on the same subject line or similar formats every time, subscribers will likely stop paying attention.
4. Personalize where relevant
If you have the appropriate data, email personalization is an effective way to show subscribers you see each of them as an actual person. Personalization can mean including individual names in a subject line, or focusing on specific products for specific customer segments.
5. Create a sense of urgency
The right subject line can increase open rates and encourage higher click-through rates to your business’s website. For certain promotions, such as sales or limited-time offers, you can communicate urgency in the subject line with terms like “limited time,” “exclusive,” “last chance,” “special offer,” “ending soon,” and more.
6. Use numbers and emojis to grab attention
Incorporating numbers and emojis into your subject line can help your email stand out in someone’s crowded inbox. At the same time, too many emojis can make your email unreadable or get it flagged as spam.
7. Use a consistent tone and style
Whether your brand is humorous or serious, warm or mysterious, elegant or quirky, inspiring or realistic, your subject lines should match your brand’s voice. Remember: A great subject line for one brand is not necessarily a good fit for another company.
8. Add complementary preview text
Preview text is like the subtitle of your email. It’s the small section of copy that shows up in someone’s inbox right after your subject line, but before they click into the email. You can use the preview text to offer additional context, tease an offer inside the email, or otherwise entice your subscriber.
Just a warning: If you don’t include preview text, email platforms will often pull copy from the first part of your campaign, which may be confusing for the reader.
9. A/B test to optimize
A/B testing allows you to send a few different variations of subject lines on the same email to your audience. You can measure the “winner” based on the open rates, click-through rates and other engagement metrics. Then, you can use this information to inform future email marketing campaigns.
10. Consider seasonal subject lines
Brands, especially ecommerce brands, tend to send a lot more emails around the holidays. Depending on your company’s products and services, consider whether incorporating seasonal trends, jokes, or offers would lead to more engaging subject lines during periods when inboxes are flooded.
Common newsletter subject line mistakes to avoid
Here are a few ideas of what not to do when crafting an email subject line for newsletters.
- Use spam words. There are several spammy words and phrases that put your newsletter at risk of getting flagged as spam. These include “apply now,” “cash bonus,” “eliminate debt,” “fast cash,” “$$$,” “profit,” “big bucks,” and more.
- Rely on clickbait or misleading subject lines. Clickbait refers to a headline that misleads or overly entices people in order to get them to click through. If subscribers are surprised by what they find after clicking, they’ll likely unsubscribe or report your newsletter as spam.
- Use all caps, special characters, or too many exclamation points. Avoid formatting or characters that would make it difficult for someone to read your subject line.
- Be too pushy. There’s a huge difference between enticing someone to open your newsletter and pressuring them to do it. If you’re overly promotional or pushy in your email subject lines, you’ll likely turn readers off.
Five examples of good email subject lines
Here are several subject line examples that follow best practices, while staying true to the company’s voice and style.
“Is your Game Day menu ready?” by ButcherBox
ButcherBox—a direct-to-consumer butcher that sources high-quality meat and seafood—incorporated a seasonal trend (the Super Bowl) into this newsletter subject line. The preview text complements the question posed in the subject line, encouraging readers to open the email for a simple solution to game-day party planning.
“✨New Metallics✨” by Baggu
Baggu—an accessories, apparel, and home goods brand—strategically used emojis in this subject line to announce a new product. The emojis help the subject line stand out and reflect the spirit of its new line of goods, while the preview text reinforces the meaning of the emojis.
“Getting Cheeky” by CUUP
CUUP, an intimate garments company dedicated to both style and function, gets creative in its subject lines while staying true to its brand voice. “Getting Cheeky” is a pun that works with their product of bras and underwear, especially when complemented by preview text that offers more context on what readers can expect to find inside the email.
“Personal Markdown Alert 🚨” by WRAY
In this subject line, fashion brand WRAY used personalization to alert a segment of subscribers that a jacket they recently viewed went on sale. If you have the right customer data, personalization is an effective way to engage email recipients.
“Last Chance for Early Access” by Fishwife
With a new tinned fish about to launch, Fishwife created a sense of urgency in this subject line. It encouraged users to sign up by midnight if they wanted early access to the soon-to-be-announced product.