Blue Utopia Blog

Getting emails read by creating better subject lines

Mon, Sep 12, 2016 - 10:30 AM

Email Subject Lines

Even with the proliferation of so many new communication mediums like facebook, SMS, twitter, Instagram and so many more, email is still one of the best and most effective channels to reach your audience.  But even though email is still a powerful tool, it can be difficult to get your supporter's attention.  

We’ve preached for years (ad naseum some clients will say) that there is only one sure method of effectively communicating via email -- consistently deliver valuable content to your audience.  That means taking the time to really talk to your audience about things they want to read. It means taking a longer term view of your online relationships as the begining of the journey.   

Everyone knows though that you have to start these relationships somewhere and many times, that’s in the inbox.  And where much of the challenge used to be getting people to read past the first few lines (remember Outlooks preview pane?), it’s also increasingly about getting the user to just open the email.  That’s where the subject line comes in.  We’re not advocating going overboard on the attention you give subject lines.  Most campaigns’ email lists are under 10,000 with somewhere between a 20-35% read rate.  So a phenomenal subject line that demolishes the alternative subject line by a whopping 20% results in an increased read total of 550 people. That's a substantial number and worth some effort but not at the expense of high-priority tasks in a resource-constrained campaign.   

So try to create subject lines.  Don’t’ go overboard.  Move on to the rest of the campaign.  With that in mind, here are 10 good practices for creating effective subject lines.

Ask a question

Sometimes an interesting question can spark curiosity and engagement.  Here’s an example

Have you seen the latest poll?


Get personal

Let's say you have an event and you need to send an email.  Here are two possible subject lines: 

a:  “Join us at the Doe Event”

b:   “Hi Melisa, will you be joining us at the Doe Event?

Wow, those are very different in terms of grabbing someone’s attention in a crowded inbox.  Most email vendors support dynamic content like this so just look for how to do that in your email program. 

Convey a concise value.

About half of all email is now opened on mobile devices where the screen size is limited to around 35 characters.  So get to the point as quickly as you can in your subject line.    

Here’s an example:  “Early Voting Starts Today!”

Use emojis in the subject line (sometimes)

Like them or hate them, people use emojis to communicate.  So using an emoji in your email subject line can be an effective way of identifying with your audience and increasing your read/response rate.  The problem is that a lot of folks have begun to emulate this so do this only where the emoji that can add a useful layer to your message. If you want to find emojis for your email, two great sources for emojis are Facebook Symbols and Emojipedia

Limit characters

There are a couple of reasons to limit the characters in your subject line.  The first is that most mobile email clients can only show around 30 characters. Try not to leave them hanging with a partial subject line. Second, it's more interesting for your readers to read a quick intro than it is to read a partial sentence.  

Be honest!

Not always but most of the time, your email should have a call to action (CTA).  No one likes to be deceived. If you are asking for money, do not deceive your audience in the subject line that you're not asking for money. This seems intuitive but it's not for everyone. Never use a subject line that is in contrast to the content and CTA of your email content. 

Appropriate use of names

Who an email is from can have an impact on your email performance. In general, it's good to have a trusted voice for your campaign or organization. That means that maybe you want to send all emails out from the campaign manager or maybe the executive director.  But sometimes, it's good to NOT do that.  For instance, if you have a portion of your list that is not engaging, it might be a good idea to send an email from another person, possibly the candidate.  Or the previous executive director or a member of the board. There's no single bullet here.  There's no one answer here but the point is to understand that who the email comes from can have an impact.  Understand your own email performance and test this. 

Your subject lines can be a reflection of your organization so find your voice. Keep your subject lines, like your emails themselves informative, friendly and interesting.

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