Do Your Email Subject Lines Matter?

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email subject lines

If your company uses email to foster sales and serve your customers, do the subject lines you use matter? Email marketers have to pay close attention to their subject lines in order to get opens and conversions. What if all you need to do is confirm an order or answer a question?

Even when your emails are more transactional than persuasive, it still pays to treat those subject lines with care. You may have already guessed the reason: Most of us get more email in a day than we’ll ever read. With such full inboxes, we tend to decide which emails we’ll open within just a few seconds. And what drives many of those snap decisions? The subject line.

This is why email marketers have so many tips and tricks for crafting an email subject line that gets noticed. You can learn a lot from their tactics, even if you’re not using your company email for mass marketing. Here are some of our favorites.

First, keep it short

Increasingly, email is mobile—55 percent of emails, on average, are opened on a smartphone or tablet. How does that affect email subject lines? Well, if you open your own mobile email app, you’ll quickly see the answer. Mobile displays only show about 50 characters of the email subject line.

The closer you can get your subject lines to that 50-character limit, the more chance you have of your email being recognized and opened. Or, if you must use a longer subject line, try to write it so that the most relevant words happen within that 50-character space.

email subject lines

What does your company voice sound like?

Emails coming from your company should have a consistent overall tone. It’s natural to pay attention to this idea when crafting the body of an email. But it’s all too easy to drift into using a dull, generic subject line like “Order confirmation” or “Information about our services.” That’s too bad, because a boring subject line may not encourage your recipient to read the rest of the email.

That’s not to say that a serious-sounding subject like “Information about our services” is always bad. If you run an investment firm with a calm, stable company voice, that subject line makes more sense. But other businesses might express the idea differently in their subject lines. A bakery might use “How we’ll make your party sweeter.” A dog grooming service might use “Who’s a good clean boy?”

That company tone of voice is an element of branding; it communicates the overall mood and personality of your organization. Anyone in your company who sends emails should absolutely be thinking about how that personality is coming through in email subject lines.

It pays to get personalized

When you include details your recipient will recognize in an email subject line, they’re much more likely to open it.

As an example, let’s say you needed to send a confirmation for a hotel reservation to a guest. “Reservation confirmation” is a fairly impersonal subject line. But using “Looking forward to seeing you April 28th” or “David’s April 28th stay” is so much more engaging.

The recipient’s first name is a highly-effective recognizable detail, and this is why it’s also used by many email marketers.

You could also use many other details, such as:

  • The customer’s company name
  • The customer’s city
  • The date they’ve scheduled a service with you
  • The name of a product they recently bought from you
email subject lines

What’s in it for them?

Simply put, the emails we tend to open are the ones that appear to offer us something we value. So how does that idea apply to a transactional email, like an order confirmation? There are a couple of tricks you can use.

First, it’s wise to make it clear in the subject line how opening an email will benefit the recipient. So, to take an example from Palo Alto Software (makers of Outpost and LivePlan): we receive emails every day asking for details about our business planning software. If we reply with a general subject line like “LivePlan information,” we’ve answered their question, but we haven’t done anything to communicate the benefit of our product. So instead, we get more specific (and engaging): “Planning your business with LivePlan,” or “How LivePlan makes planning easy.”

The next tactic is a bit trickier (especially when you’re also trying to keep to that 50-character limit), but it’s very effective: Think about your recipient’s primary concern related to the email you’re sending. Then, address that concern in your subject line.

Let’s take the order confirmation I mentioned earlier as an example. A subject line like “Order confirmation” is not only generic, it does little to address your customer’s most pressing question. Your customer wants to know when she’ll receive her order. So try a subject line like “We’re packing your order now” or “Your order is coming soon.”

Now you’ve confirmed the order and done a better job of capturing your customer’s interest.

email subject lines

Take it for a test drive

The next time you send a business email, try one of these subject-line tricks. Do you get a reply sooner? Did the recipient follow up with you? Did they take the action you needed them to take? These are all good indicators that you’re on the right track.

One last suggestion: If you’ve built an email voice and tone guide for your organization, it’s never a bad idea to include some suggestions for effective subject lines.This way, your team will all be on the same page. 

Posted in Email

Diane Gilleland

Diane Gilleland

Diane Gilleland is a content developer and customer advocate at Palo Alto Software. She spends most of her time building and polishing the help centers for Outpost and LivePlan.